Loving Vivi

To help with our four-month-old granddaughter, my wife and I took a flight to Denver.

‘Five months, in one week from now,’ my daughter proudly corrects me, as I write this.

Our granddaughter’s name is Genevieve, and we call her Vivi. The name fits. She is a Vivi, if I ever met one: round porcelain face, little nose and chin, full, pursed lips, and vivacious, deep gray-blue eyes. Her hair is straight and thin, falling on her tall forehead in delicate strands. She weighed 14 pounds at her last checkup. Like all babies she sleeps, and she fusses. It’s been a long time since I have held such a small and tender child in my arms.

The touch of that indescribable baby skin, the eyelids falling tired over expressive eyes and taking in with them an entire new world, the shaky little hands trying to grab and hold the bottle, the little feet, tiny toes and translucent nails, the rings of baby fat, all bring back memories and a peaceful happiness that comes from a place that cannot be explained.

‘Think about it,’ my daughter philosophically says. ‘Babies are entirely helpless and rely on us for protection, food and sleep, but they know how to communicate. They laugh and cry.’ I look at Vivi in her father’s arms, reaching out to his face and touching it, stroking it, puling at his brown beard, and laughing with him. Indeed, she communicates.

I generally know my way around Denver, but I drive a rented car with a baby in the back seat, on streets that are new to me. The car seat fits differently than I remember from earlier times, and the stroller is lighter and easier to open. The diapers are thinner and more absorbent. The ‘play pen’ of my parenting past is now a ‘pack and play.’ When I don’t remember the words to a lullaby, all I have to do is enter the first line on the iPhone. Our daughter’s house squeaks. Our house in Maryland squeaks also, but in a different way. The air is less humid than in Maryland and the weather patterns more abrupt and surprising. The mountains I loved so much for hiking and skiing are still rising against the western horizon, but I do not look at them for my elation and entertainment. I have a more important task ahead of me.

Every time I want to write, my wife is kind enough to tell me not to worry, she’d take care of Vivi on her own, but I cannot do it. I feel emotionally involved with every wiggle, chirp, hiccup, laughter, squirm and diaper change. So, I gave up writing for now. There will be time.

The other day I started reading Following Atticus by Tom Ryan, a book that describes the author’s thoughts and experiences while climbing the mountains of New Hampshire with Atticus, his miniature schnauzer. Besides being a pleasant and enjoyable read, the book touched me on many unexpected levels, and enriched the stream of feelings stirred in me by my little granddaughter. Due to her, I am here in the proximity of the Rockies, and this book about hiking can only revive my memory of forgotten strolls. There are many and 12 years ago I had hiked the Whites together with my daughter. Also, one inhabitant of my daughter’s household is a miniature schnauzer, appropriately named Spartacus. Atticus and Spartacus have a lot in common besides their breed, and I vividly see the similarities; but while the former never had to cede his place of importance in the eyes of his owner, the latter had no choice but to accept being relegated to second place when Vivi arrived home from the hospital. I appreciate his modesty and I assure you that our mighty Spartacus observes the new princess with a kind gaze and pricked ears.

Yesterday we drove to Boulder, had a nice lunch with a good friend and pushed Vivi in her stroller through the animated walking mall. She behaved like a trouper. Today, we accompanied Vivi and our daughter to the daycare center — it will be a four-hour trial in preparation of their more permanent arrangement next week after our departure. Looking through the large windows into the nursery we watched our daughter tear up when she handed Vivi to one of the teachers. It was the first time, and yes, such moments do come. Tomorrow we have Vivi to ourselves and plan to visit the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art in downtown Denver. Thirty-nine years ago, we visited The Cloisters in New York City with our then six-month old daughter. ‘You can’t expose them to art early enough,’ was the inspired comment of a woman visiting in the gallery.

The comment might have been tongue and cheek, but she was right.

When I look at Vivi I’m not sure of what is going on in her mind. Is there only an instinctive reaction to stimulation, like being hungry or cold or insecure or sleepy, or are there cognizant processes as well? Logical thoughts? Rationalizations? Cause and effect? People don’t remember their baby years later in life, but is it because they forget?

One thing I do know. I’ve never seen a baby as alert as Vivi, an infant that smiles as much as she does. It is not a transcendent smile that happens. No, her smiles are targeted and in response to what goes on around her. When people look at her with warmth and love, she rewards them with a smile. Parents and grandparents always think their offspring is the most beautiful and special in the world, but Vivi really is, and I don’t care what others think of me saying this.

Once, a colleague of mine told me a nice story. His daughter had two children, his grandchildren, perhaps three and five years old. They came to visit and stayed at his house. In the morning, they woke up early and started making a ruckus laughing and jumping up and down in their beds. ‘Nothing caused them to do it,’ my colleague said. ‘It was just happiness from within. How can somebody be so happy by simply being alive?’

That’s right, little Vivi. Be happy for being alive!

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