When my wife, Nancy, was due to give birth to Abigail, we’d packed our bags and were ready to go when the water broke and the contractions came. It was time and nature that told us it was time to head to the hospital. I remember that feeling, the quickening of my heart, the excitement of heading into the experience as if it were a class 4 white water rapid, thinking I was ready but fearing I might not be – who could ever know?
This time, it was a phone call from Abigail that told me it was time. I’d just had a relaxing glass of Scotch, watching TV. When I picked up the phone I expected a casual check-in call from Abigail, but it was a different story. Abigail and Ryan were at the hospital already. Contractions were steady. And because the baby was breach (which we all knew already), there would be a C-section. In two hours. The rush of emotion and excitement all came back to me as if it were Abigail being born and not my grandson. I told Abigail I’d be driving down as soon as possible.
Nancy, at this time, was on a business trip in Paris, and I knew she’d be in a bit of a panic. I didn’t want her to feel badly for not being there, and was resolved to keep my calm and reassure her as well as my daughter that things were under control. Nothing, of course, is ever “under control”. When birth is involved, I knew from experience it was a joyous cavalcade of bodily fluids and wailing baby cries and slimy poop and the uncertainty of wondering if there would be the right number of fingers and toes, and the billion other concerns that overwhelm even the best prepared mom, dad, or grandparent. You take a deep breath, keep moving, and hope to God things will work out.
I slept fitfully between texts from Ryan and Nancy. At 2:30 am I received the text I had been hoping and praying for: Mother and baby are happy and healthy. His name was Henry Robinson Moore, taking my middle name.
I sat on the edge of my bed and wept. Thank you, God, I said. Thank you.
I hit the road at 3:30 am for New York, guzzling hot coffee in the darkness and light rain on the Mass Pike and arrived at New York Presbyterian hospital on the upper East Side around 8:00.
Abigail’s hospital room was quiet when I entered, save for the tiny murmuring of a baby, my grandson. The floor to ceiling hospital curtain surrounding Abigail’s bed felt to me like the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, pulled back to reveal the old man feverishly tugging at levers, only now it was Abigail in the bed holding Henry, smiling up at me, Ryan grinning in a fatherly way beside them, and I was the old man.
Meeting your own child for the first time is a rush. Meeting your grandchild is similarly exhilarating, magical and joyous. And yet there’s something more to it, another layer. The hard work of raising Abigail right, nurturing her and loving her, making sure she grew up in a nice town with great schools. Sending her to the college of her choice (George Washington, not coincidentally in the same city where Ryan – her high school sweetheart – was attending Georgetown). Celebrating her wedding on a beautiful old farm in Vermont with friends and family there to support her. All of these things formed a kind of foundation for her life that she could then build upon. And even though I could not see all these things at that moment when I held Henry for the first time, I was aware of them and felt the love and effort of all that parenthood as if it had been somehow condensed in time, right at the moment I saw this wonderful and handsome baby, Henry, my grandson. I held him in the crook of my arm and made no effort to stop the tears from streaming down my face.
I said, “Hi Henry.” He was so light and small. Deeply asleep. Content.
After I’d visited them for a while, I went back to Abigail’s apartment on West 74th and slept for a few hours. When I called Abigail to say I was heading back to the hospital, she asked me to bring the diaper bag, and the Boppy – a large horseshoe shaped pillow. When I arrived at the hospital room with the Boppy, Ryan and Abigail giggled at the sight of six foot six tall me holding the Boppy, with its multicolored illustrations of giraffes and elephants. Ryan looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Boppy. Maybe you’re Boppy”
For months all my friends had asked me what I wanted to be called. Grandpa? Pops? Gramps? I said I wasn’t sure, and didn’t know if it was actually up to me. When Ryan proclaimed that perhaps I was Boppy, it was as if I – in addition to the baby – had also been newly named. That this naming process was an extension somehow of the baby naming process. And this in turn meant that we had both been born, in a way. I was born into grandfatherhood. Henry into life.
It remains to be seen if the Boppy designation will stick. These things take time to figure out, and I’m in no rush. I have my whole life ahead of me.