Dear Ellie — Thirty-three years ago, Opa and I came across a quote we really loved. “Having a baby,” it read, “is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.”
Exactly! we both exclaimed, screeching with deranged laughter. A bowling alley! How very precise!
(Picture us then: Sure, we were young. But our eyes were bloodshot, our faces drawn, our bodies and minds sleep-deprived. Our formerly carefree lives had disappeared, banished by a squalling, eight-pound tyrant who delighted us and terrified us: Your mother, our firstborn, our own personal bowling alley.
(Opa and I both suspected we’d never be the same after her birth. We were right.)
Anyway, moving quickly to 2015 and your own babyhood and bowling alley status, you made your first visit to Texas for Thanksgiving last week. You were accompanied by your parents, your wardrobe, your pacifier, your stroller, your carseat, and enough diapers to contain a diarrhea epidemic. Babies may be small, but they don’t travel lightly.
Your grandfather and I are in agreement that you’re the most gorgeous, perfect, and lovable baby we’ve ever seen — right up there with your mother and Uncle Nick.
You won’t remember this Thanksgiving, though. So let me tell you about it.
Your parents took you to the nearby state capitol (whose dome is taller than the U.S. Capitol’s. Texans know such things, since we measure it every few years, just to make sure.) You seemed right at home there.
At the table, most of us inhaled large helpings of turkey, dressing, pie, and wine. You dined more abstemiously on breast milk.
When you were happy — when you laughed or vocalized or smiled your big, gummy smiles — we were all happy. Insanely, ridiculously happy. We fell all over ourselves with sheer delight.
When you were unhappy — when your brow furrowed, your mouth screwed up, and you began to bellow — we were, individually and collectively, a mess.
Oh, my God! Is she hungry? Bored? Wet? What, oh, what?
We must have looked strange to you — two or four or five panic-stricken adults thumping and crashing around you, searching rooms, desperately seeking a pacifier, a bottle, a diversion for you, any diversion. We bounced you on our knees, we hoisted you up high, we made ridiculous faces we hoped would amuse you.
“Babies are so self-absorbed,” your mother, the former baby, commented dryly.
More than once, I thought about the baby-as-bowling-alley witticism. But I’m older now, more removed from the daily fray. Grandmothers, I should brag, have more of a meta view on family life.
So, here’s my two cents: Calling a new baby a bowling alley vastly understates her influence. The bowling alley phase comes and goes, finally disappearing and eventually recalled fondly.
You’re so much more. As a three-month-old baby, your presence in our family’s life has changed us all, shifted the ground under our feet. You’re more like an earthquake — a gentle, benevolent earthquake, but still an earthquake — in our lives.
You have begun a new generation in our family. You’ve made our daughter and son-in-law parents, our son an uncle, us grandparents. You’ve changed our roles in the family and made us see one another differently. You’re our stake and our foothold in the 21st century.
The two of us, in a deep cuddle.
That’s a lot to take in, huh? Too much pressure?
No wonder you watched all of us with wary amusement in your deep blue eyes. No wonder you fell asleep so easily. No wonder you screamed your head off now and then — just because you felt like it, just because you could.
It was a lovely Thanksgiving, so different because of you.