Grandson Cole showed up at 4:30 Monday, just after my siesta—an hour of what Winston Churchill called “blessed oblivion.” With the exception of a kink in my neck, I seemed to be living within a cleansing breath. Rested. Peaceful.
Cole, on the other hand, was fresh off a visit to the doctor for vaccinations. The poor little poop took hits in both thighs. Daughter Elena said infants generally have two reactions to injections. They either conscientiously object by sleeping through the process or scream as though they had been knifed. Cole opted for the latter in a display that his mom imagined would for an adult have constituted finger pointing and expletives.
The result: Cole napped off the effrontery in his car seat, which was perched on the dining room table. While wife Kathy, Elena, and son-in-law Matt huddled in the kitchen to discuss how they might rip away at cabinetry to make room for a new refrigerator, I hovered over my grandson. His profile reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe because of the exertion, his cheeks were puffy, and the tip of his tongue stuck out—micro-raspberries blown at the man and his pricky needles.
I beheld for a minute, then did what I always do: rested my lips and nose like a feather on the top of his head and breathed in. My lungs were at once filled with . . . well, here’s the problem. There are no words for what takes up fleeting residence in me.
People marvel about how great babies smell, but their sacrament reaches way past our noses. A grandmother I know once gave the perfect response to looking at, holding, and smelling a baby. She scrunched up her round face, put fists beside her cheeks, trembled, and squealed, “Ooh, I just want to eat them up!”
Of course, not really eat them, as Jonathan Swift clowned in A Modest Proposal. More like receiving eucharistic baby-ness. Infant cup. Child bread of life. I’m not speaking figuratively. I mean this: When I run my finger across Cole’s cheek, look into his blue eyes, trace the delicate shape of his crying mouth, and rest my lips and nose against his sleeping head, I want to take the fundamental cole-ness of Cole into myself, to unite with his his-ness.
My grandson evokes in me a soul response. If I were the only parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or whatever adult to feel this bottomless longing toward an infant, I’d keep quiet, but my experience is close to universal. What is it about little ones that draws us close and takes hold of our eyes and won’t let go? If you put the Coleman family at the Taj Mahal, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the regular Gardens of Versailles, or, say, the Garden of Eden, we’d all look in amazement for a minute or two, then turn back toward Cole: “Aw, how’s the Cole-slaw, the Cole-meister, the Cole-o-rama, the Cole-mobile? How’s the widdle boody boody boo?”
Correct me if I’m wrong. What in heaven’s name is it about babies? On Monday as I stared at, kissed, and inhaled my grandson, an answer gave itself to me. Infants are new arrivals from eternity. They come from where we numb adults came from, and I believe they also come from where we are going. They were in the indescribably strong, gentle bosom of Forever, receiving milk and love songs from our cosmic Parent of Grace.
That’s it! That’s what I feel on my lips and breathe in as if my spirit were suffocating: Cole still has on his head the kisses of our Creator and on his cheeks whispered promises of mercy. The perfume hasn’t worn off yet. That’s it!
And I wonder: Did Cole hear my college friend Ken Sonnenberg–gone a year after graduation in a six-week gale of lymphoma–reading poems that may visit Pennsylvania as soothing breezes? Did he hear Fred Rogers say, “You’re going to be the only person in the world just like you, and people can like you just the way you are”? Sweet Lord! Did the cole-ness of Cole brush up against my mother in the vast lap of God?
Okay, this is a theological mess and a potential heresy, but I’m going with it. What better explanation? In that slight kiss on Cole’s head—and when you kiss your baby’s head?—I view worldly wonders, embrace every person I’ve loved, and dwell in the soft thunder of God’s heartbeat. I disappear into blessed oblivion with my recent immigrant from Mystery.
Finally Cole woke up, dull and dazed. Is it still a shock when he opens his eyes to our faces? He stared at me. He does that a lot. The kid knows a jester when he sees one. So I sang Marvin Gaye’s hymn “Got to Give It Up”—yes, in unapologetic falsetto:
I used to go out to parties
And stand around
‘Cause I was too nervous
To really get down
And my body yearned to be free
So I got up on the floor and found
Someone to choose me
No more standin’ along side the walls
Now I got myself together, baby,
And I’m havin’ a ball
Cole tracked me as I danced, probably confused about his new residence and all of our cackle and fuss. Not one smile for Gramps. No matter. Grandma Kathy bent close and said, “How’s my best buddy?” That got us a half-smile from his Buddha face. Plenty. More than enough. Eternity sighed in my chest.
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My family looks at me like I’m crazy when I sniff a new baby’s head and swoon a little,,,Thanks for this redemption! Brennan is the current poor confused baby to hear me moan “nice head, boy”, but I’m hoping he won’t be the last.
Ha ha! I knew you were a brother head-hog, Vince! Anybody who doesn’t swoon is in denial, right?
Lovely John! Cole has very cute cheeks and has that wonderful sweet baby scent. I can smell him.
Thanks, Lily. I’m a trifle obsessed these days with that little varmint.
I just want to eat him up.
Seriously. It’s a miracle babies don’t disappear from getting kissed, sniffed, and nibbled down to nothing.
Beautiful post. I still feel this way about my grandson, and he will be four next month.
No kidding? Congratulations! Cole’s birthday is November 30th. Being a grandparent is one cool gig, ay?
A little over 12 hours after I wrote my comment, our grandson was on his way to the hospital with a possible tumor behind his left eye. He had a CT scan and an MRI today, and we will hear results tomorrow. I would greatly appreciate your prayers.
Just read your news to my wife. We’re feeling your fear. Please know you have both of our prayers, Deb.
Thank you so much. I appreciate it more than you know.
Please let me know how things go, Deb. I’ll be thinking of you and yours. Blessings, John
John, here’s an update on my 3-year-old grandson, Ben: He was first taken to the children’s hospital in Chattanooga on Thursday where he had a CT scan, an MRI, and an angiogram. He then was taken by ambulance to Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta. Neurologists at Scottish Rite diagnosed him with an arteriovenous fistula in the brain. This means a major artery and a major vein that are supposed to be connected only by a bed of capillaries are actually connected to each other. This is causing pressure in his brain, especially behind his left eye. He probably was born with this, and it just now has manifested. He is at home as of this afternoon but will have to return to the hospital, this time at Eggleston Hospital at Emory University in Atlanta, for brain surgery. A specialist at Emory will be reviewing the test results on Monday, and the surgery probably will take place this next week. Thank you for your prayers. Please, please continue to pray. This is a very rare condition in a young child.
Hi, Deb. Wife Kathy and I just read your message together. I don’t pretend to know how prayer works, but I’d be more than happy to put Ben on my congregation’s prayer (e-mail) chain. I wouldn’t mention your name–anonymous thing. Such a loving group of people. They’d certainly love to hold Ben in prayer. Either way, okay. Peace beyond understanding, John
John, I would be most grateful if you would add Ben to your prayer chain. The more prayers the better. This little guy is the light of my life, and all we can do is place him in the hands of God and the doctors who will be treating him.
Oh! You capture the essence of love for babies so exquisitely!! He is definitely nom-nom with his “standard issue baby head” lol! You must be the best grandfather in the world. You soak up life’s delicacies so wonderfully.
Thanks, Kerry. Cole is the one yum yum in my life that doesn’t make me fat(ter) and torpedo my liver.
Arguably one of the most beautiful posts I have ever read – Coleman is “babelicious” (somehow there are no adjectives exquisite enough for babes are there?)…and I love the choice of song that you chose to welcome his wakefulness. The sensory delight of a baby – like nothing else.
Thanks, Mimi. “Got to Give It Up” for that babelicious little critter! “Sensory delight”: perfect description. Peace.
Hope. Sacred hope.
Hope. You got it, Sally. I live on that word . . . helps me get out of bed. Peace.
The only thing that would have made this post better is a video clip of you busting out the Marvin Gaye. 😉
Beautiful job, John.
Gracious, Nancy. You have no idea. The vid would go viral: like a whiskery Jackie Gleason trying to sing soul. Eek! Thanks.
Hence my demand for the video. 😉
In yoga we learn that when an infant is born, their crown chakra ( soft spot) is wide open since they have just arrived from the divine. As they grow, that closes and the third eye – discernment – develops. Interesting. I think we sense this in our little ones and make us want to connect deeply with that energy. Peace Judi
Hi, Judi. I’m grateful to learn of the crown chakra. This baby stuff resonates in so many ways–wonderful! (The blogosphere is full of many wise, generous souls–yours among them. I didn’t expect to be so enriched when I started blogging. What a great ride.) Peace and best, John
Having a seven-ish week old nephew, I totally feel where you’re coming from. This is the best post I’ve ever seen written about the beauty and wonderfulness of babies. Nice job, John!
Thanks, Rose. I really appreciate your compliment. I’ll probably get to have lunch with daughter and grandson today, so I’m smiling already. Hope the skies clear in your neighborhood! Peace, John
Just had to drop in and say, found out a few minutes ago I’ll get to see my nephew on Monday. Happy dance! 😀
Yahoo-ski! Dancing my chunky-guy happy dance for you here in Erie, Pennsylvania. Peace.
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I can smell that sweet baby’s head just looking at it. Particularly stunning post, John. Just beautiful.
Hi, Mary. Thanks much. When my own daughter and son were babies, I was slogging through anxiety and depression–not conducive to taking in the miracle of new life. I’m really grateful for this opportunity to have another shot at it with my grandson. Peace.