I have a foster grandson. The unexpected, chaotic, shape-shifting circumstances that led to this little boy’s emergence into this wide world have served as the inspiration for my third novel.
But back in the “real” world, the one in which my son and daughter-in-law are forever forging their unexpected lives day to day, hour to hour, exhausted and improvising; well, there is only today.
My son worries that my taking care of the now 11-month-old baby one or (infrequently) two days a week is an unfair thing to ask, a burden to me, a toll on my body as I continue to recover from a back injury. I, in turn, worry about him, nearly every minute, as is my right.
The baby boy, in the meantime, thrives, blossoms, works to figure out the world little piece by little piece, babbles, bangs things together, tests gravity continually to see if it will really always make objects fall – every! time! – touches, pats, dances, sings. Nothing can match the thrill of eliciting a full-on belly laugh from him. You just never know what will strike him as simply hilarious.
This past weekend I took him to Chicago’s wonderful National Museum of Mexican Art for their annual Day of the Dead exhibit. I try to make it down every year for this; it’s a highlight of the city’s cultural year. I had forgotten to pack the stroller for our outing, and so had to carry baby D in my arms through the museum.
D took it all in, as he always does. The entire time, his expression was what I call “The D Amazed Face” – mouth slightly open in sheer awe, eyes drinking it all in. When he took particular notice of something, the tip of his index finger would wander into his mouth, much as it might with a thoughtful adult.
It turned out to be quite fortuitous that the stroller had been forgotten, as D kept both of his little hands gripped tightly to my clothing – one on my sleeve, the other clutching a bunched up handful of sweater from around my neck. He eagerly took in the whirl of weird shapes, wild colors, scads of flowers, platefuls of play food – but only if he could maintain the abiding sense of being safe, and secure, and loved. Every so often, for a little extra reassurance, he would burrow his face deep into the pit of my arm, just for a second or two, then resume his amazed examination of this brand new world.
The chance to share in his amazement at this wide world is a privilege, indeed. The chance to offer him whatever measure of safe harbor I can is an honor. In some ways, there is nothing that allows life to make as much sense as the simple act of holding a baby.