Lessons from a Grandchild

mother holding child in rocking chair

mother holding child in rocking chair

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”

~Mary Oliver

I am babysitting my grandson, so my son and his wife can have an evening alone. I have been at their house a few days and have let Henry take the lead in deciding when and how much to trust his Montana Gma, how close to let her come. He gives me cues. I follow. He has started coming to me. Just a little. I am happy to have that.

So here I am in their cozy home, for a little while, alone with this sweet sleeping child.  I hear him crying.  I go to my grandson in his little bed on the floor in the corner of his parents’ room. He is crying in the darkness, woken from a dream, or maybe from a dreamless sleep … by something. A chill? A small sound? The cat stepping across his blanket?  Or just coming to the light part of his sleeping when any little thing will make him drift up from sleep like a bubble of air rising in still water.

He is used to his mommy or daddy cuddling on the bed when he wakes in the night, so I try that… but I smell different. My humming voice sounds different. My body bigger, not mama’s not dada’s. He looks at me in the dark with wide eyes and cries some more. His daddy told me to try cuddling, try milk, try just rubbing his back. Try not to bring him out into the kitchen/living room into the light…well, that’s not working … so we go into the kitchen to make a bottle of milk.

He cries quietly in my arms. Watches me make the bottle. We go back into the darkened bedroom, wrap up in a fuzzy blanket and sit in the rocking chair. He pushes the milk on the floor. Not having that! I keep rocking. I whisper the song I used to sing to his daddy. I love you … bigger than a great big whale, softer than a bunny, greener than the grass. I love you farther than the farthest star, taller than a redwood tree, deeper than the sea… and within minutes he is breathing slow and calm, sleeping on my chest.

Regardless of how hard you try to follow the rules, to be good, you will always be led to what you’re meant to learn. The rhythm of things, of sleep and waking and grief. The movement. The heartbeat. The connection of breath to breath. This is what you needed to learn. To follow your heart. And that was always to sit holding him, breathing with your face resting on the top of his head, smelling the sweetness of his long curls and his soft baby skin. Tears wetting your cheek and the top of his head. Crying in the half-dark, not from sadness, or any sort of disconnect but from the wild and precious connection you feel with this small child. This child who possesses a piece of you. Who holds a big part of your heart in his chubby little hand and makes little sleeping noises against your chest.

In this moment. In the darkness. In the quiet warm house you know all you need to know and you stay rocking him for longer than you need to.


I end with an excerpt from another poem by Mary Oliver, Invitation:

… believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.


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