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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 75 tried to keep my mouth shut. I reminded myself that he didn’t come into the world for the express purpose of giving me grandchildren. It was his and Arcelia’s business. They had their careers, the economic challenge of parenting, and the imperiled planet to consider. Still, I did mention that I would be glad to babysit. AS A CHILD, I WAS WELL LOVED by both of my grandmothers in their different ways. “Grandma” took me to Quaker meetings, wrote out her favor- ite prayers for me in a little notebook, and took me down the lane to her sculpture studio, where she gave me clay to play with while she sculpted. I was her first grandchild, and when I climbed into bed with her in the morning, she’d take off her strange, black sleep mask, and reach out to me so that I felt the cool, soft flesh that hung from her upper arm, and she’d say, “Good morning, my number one grandchild!” My other grandmother, known as “Ma,” kept lemon drops in a white glass chicken on her dresser, and if you wanted one all you had to do was cough a little fake cough and she’d say, “My dear, you must have something for your throat.” Whenever we children visited, there were freshly baked chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting on a blue tin plate in the kitchen, and you were allowed to help yourself whenever you wanted. She always smelled delicious, of a certain perfume unlike anyone else’s, and she wore a gold chain bracelet with a tiny gold airplane dangling from it. I asked her why, and she told me it was a replica of the air force plane her youngest son, my uncle Morton, was piloting when he was shot down over Japan, and she wore it so she would never forget his courage. So small you couldn’t even read it, the serial number of uncle Morton’s plane was engraved on the replica’s wing. I learned from my grandmothers the amazing truth that my own parents had been children long ago. I was stunned to learn, for example, that my father had been shy and that my mother had been mischievous. They weren’t that way with me! I learned that sad things happen in people’s lives and yet they keep going. I learned of the turning of the generations: children turn into parents, and parents grow old and turn into grandparents. I WAS AT HOME IN BERKELEY when Noah called me on a Sunday afternoon from San Antonio, Texas, to tell me that Paloma had arrived. His voice was like a bowl of water he was trying not to spill. She was 20 minutes old at the time and they were still in the delivery room. Everybody was doing well. “Are you happy to be a grandma?” he asked eagerly, even though he knew the answer. “Are you kidding? Nothing could make me happier!” Then I heard Paloma crying in the background. She wasn’t exactly cry- ing for joy as I was. She was crying, Noah said, because they were sticking a needle in her heel to get some blood for a bilirubin test and she didn’t like it. Driving around Berkeley that afternoon, doing errands, alone in the car, I kept shouting out, “Paloma! Paloma!” I thought of all of the other babies born that day, all over the world, so many of them born into war or crushing poverty. There are about 353,000 human births a day on planet earth, and I felt like all of the babies that were born the day I became a grandmother were my grandchildren. On that day, the front page of The New York Times told of civil- ian casualties in Beirut resulting from Israel’s bombing of Hezbollah and I found myself wanting to propitiate the gods, God, the Uni- verse, whatever—to thank them for Paloma’s safe arrival and to ask them to keep her and all babies safe from such violence. What offer- ing could I make and to whom? Checking my e-mail that afternoon, I found a request for help from the Middle East Children’s Alliance and I made a donation in Paloma’s name—my first small effort, as a grandmother, to protect Paloma and all the others. WHEN I ARRIVED IN SAN ANTONIO, Paloma was two weeks old. She was asleep on her back the first time I saw her, so I could see her whole face. (Nowadays they tell parents always to put babies down to sleep on their backs because of SIDS. This was new to me.) Right away I saw how much Paloma looked like Noah when he was a baby—defined, not blobby, her whole self already present in her face. And I saw that she had her mother’s huge eyes. Soon she woke and Arcelia nursed her, and then I held her against my chest. I stayed for a week, in the hot Texas summer, leaving the house only twice to go to the grocery store. I did a lot of cook- ing while the family napped. I danced around the living room with Paloma, trying to soothe her when she was fussy by swinging her in my arms and singing to her. The more vigor- ously I jiggled her, the better she liked it, and she didn’t care if I couldn’t remember all the words to the songs I dragged up from the basement of my mind—Christmas carols and old Beatles tunes. When she fell asleep in my arms, I lay down on my back on the couch, holding her carefully against my chest, and I let her sleep on top of my heart for as long as she cared to. In that time out of time, in that air-conditioned suburban liv- ing room, I smelled her sweet head and watched the oak leaves shifting in the hot breeze outside the window. PHOTOBYARCELIAHERNANDEZ Susan Moon with granddaughter Paloma. SEPT 72-99.indd 75 SEPT 72-99.indd 75 6/25/07 5:12:47 PM 6/25/07 5:12:47 PM