Nurturing the Next Great Generation

Author: grandpateddy1

Ode to Joy

When I was growing up our house in Lexington had music flowing out of every window; my brother Nick practicing string bass or singing at the piano, Charlie’s rock and…


When I was growing up our house in Lexington had music flowing out of every window; my brother Nick practicing string bass or singing at the piano, Charlie’s rock and roll guitar, my mom’s accordion being played with wheezing gusto, my dad’s booming baritone – “This land is your land…”, or me playing trombone, or singing Bing Crosby Tunes like Pennies from Heaven. The piano was front and center as you entered the house, with various instruments leaning against it like pals. On Christmas Eve, every year, we gathered with our neighbors in the cold white darkness, my brothers and I huddling with our mayonnaise jar candle lanterns in one hand, carol music in the other, going door to door to sing Joy to the World and The First Noel and a dozen others. Singing was so much a part of our lives that it seemed perfectly natural to walk through the woods singing and harmonizing, like elves, or doing the same thing in downtown Lexington. It would have seemed strange to us not to sing.

When my dad was in his last days, long after he had forgotten what a spoon was, he would join us to sing all the old songs, remembering every word and intonation.

When my daughter, Abigail, was in the womb, I would sing her the Beetles’ Goodnight song, softly, “Now it’s time to say goodnight…”, and I’d picture her curled in her velvet blanket, soothed to sleep – and I’m sure in the months after she was born there was a hint of recognition as I rocked her to sleep on my shoulder at 2:00 am, “Good night, good night.”

Both Abigail and my son, Nicholas, sang throughout middle and high school; choruses, madrigals, musical theater. They both had high school trips to Armenia with their chorus, traveling throughout the country. While their repertoire of songs was extensive, it was the traditional Armenian folksongs that were the hit of their shows. Older Armenians would come up to them after each show, their faces wet with tears; during the long years of communist rule, they explained, they were not allowed to sing these songs, and hearing this group of American kids sing them – beautifully – was absolute happiness for them, a liberation. They were so grateful.

And here comes Henry. Christmas 2015. 15 months old, busting out of his shoes with energy, nearly sprinting from room to room (although a little unsteady, as if tipsy with life), playing with some cups one moment, the next holding up a set of newfound keys triumphantly and shouting “Keys!”, then chasing a cat beneath the kitchen table. At his age just entering a house is a kind of treasure hunt. I’d show him one thing, a book, a toy, and he’d play with it for a few minutes then move on to the next new discovery. What, I asked myself after a half hour, could I interest Henry in next?

I went into the living room and sat down at the piano and started to play a simple melody from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Henry came into the room, smiling, and I invited him to join me at the piano. I sat him on my lap and kept playing, singing along with the melody. Henry immediately reached out both hands and started banging the keys, as all kids do.

“No, no,” I said, “We don’t bang them. We play them.” I held his index finger and pressed it onto middle C. He giggled happily and, right away, repeated this with another note and another. He actually created a harmony hitting C and E at the same time. We laughed together, “You did it!” I said, “You’re playing!”

As I held Henry and he played the notes, I had the feeling – I guess you could call it a revelation – that Henry was not discovering the piano, but remembering it. The way he held his hands over the keys and extended his fingers, striking down with purpose and delight, the position of his wrists, the pure sounds that reverberated up through the old oak of the piano and the sounding board within.

Abigail captured the moment with a picture: Henry striking a note, perhaps his very first note, and looking up at me with an expression of joy, his Ode to Joy, played as only a fifteen month old could do. Whether he is a budding Horowitz, or simply another one of us – a person inclined to sing on hikes up Mount Washington or through the cool green woods – doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he’s on the path. I think music in some way will be part of his life. And perhaps someday this old piano of mine will be his, and his family’s instruments will lean up against it, ready for another get together when everyone’s gathered around it, not worried about a missed note here or there. The TV will be off. The stupid smart phones will be banished. And if I am very lucky, I will still be there to add my voice to the chorus.

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There is a point when babies go from babyhood to boyhood. One minute, seemingly, they are bundles of pink, interacting with us through howls and smiles, eating and pooping and…

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There is a point when babies go from babyhood to boyhood. One minute, seemingly, they are bundles of pink, interacting with us through howls and smiles, eating and pooping and peeing, and the next they are people. This transformation happens all the faster when observed from afar, as a grandparent. We don’t always have a chance to see the micro-moments building up to the change. We get a photo on our phones that says, “He took his first steps today!” And a video where he says, “Dad!” And we think, “Wow, that was fast.” It seems like such a miracle, even though this is happens a million times a day with a million children, and it always has, and that’s why there’s humanity.

With Henry, it was month 11 when it all started to happen. At the beginning of that month (August) there were the first steps, and an increasing number of words. And by the time I saw him at the end of the month for our family vacation in Vermont, the tentative steps had become more confident; he was practically sprinting. The first words, like “Dad” and “Down”, led to more complex shades of meaning, like “Yellow”. And more than this, much more, there was a recognition in his eyes when he saw me. I was grandpa.

Nancy had a cold that week and tried to limit her contact with Henry so as not to get him sick as well. Which meant that more often than not I was the one on the floor with Henry playing with blocks, stacking one on top of another, or running the plastic trucks across the carpet. Or sitting with Henry in mealtimes, talking with him, handing him the stray nibble of peach or bagel. Henry smearing his hands through the food bits and gooey yogurt, leaning sideways in his highchair, smiling like someone at a bar who’d had a lot of beer. Me commenting on each kind of food, asking what he liked best. Henry saying “na-na” (the closest he could get to banana) as Abigail or Ryan doled our more deliciousness.

In the lake on a warm, sunny day, Ryan and Abigail put Henry in a floating duck. At first Henry looked amazed, almost stunned. What was this? The whole idea of floating on water, the sense of the cool water, the fact that he could run with his feet beneath the surface and never touch ground. As we pushed Henry between us, projecting him across the surface, he smiled and giggled. A very happy duck.

As the week progressed, Henry kept changing fast right before my eyes. It occurred to me that I was also changing. Months ago, when I picked him up, I felt tentative. It didn’t seem like he was fully comfortable with me yet. I was still a stranger. But as each day passed, more and more I smiled broadly when he saw me, and held out my hands and said, “Come to grandpa.” And gradually, a little more every day, he did. He’d walk to me, arms outstretched like mine, and fall into my embrace. I’d pick him up, both of us accepting this now, me no longer a stranger.

On Saturday morning, it was time for Henry to go home to Connecticut. Abigail and Ryan were busy packing up all their stuff – a LOT of stuff. I’d forgotten about the flood of things required to care for a child. It was a beautiful day. I felt sad they were leaving. The week had gone by very fast, and I wished they could stay a few more days. I held out my hands to Henry and said, “Henry! Let’s go for a walk!” I picked him up and walked out into the field in front of our house. It was this field that I had imagined I would walk in with my grandchild back in February when Abigail first told us she was pregnant. The image I dreamed then, with my grandson walking as I held each of his hands, had come true. When I wrote a poem about that dream, I didn’t know if it would be a boy or a girl. So that blank had been filled in. It was now Henry in all his 11 month old glory, walking with me through the grass, his hair slightly ginger, his eyes beaming as he journeyed with me on this adventure.

We came around to the front of the house where, thirty years before, my mom had planted blueberry bushes. The bushes where were now six feet high, with bunches of ripe berries on each branch. I picked Henry up and rested him on my thigh, and picked a berry, “Oh look, Henry!” and popped it in his mouth. He chewed it with delight, and pointed at the bush hungrily, and I gave him another. This was clearly a whole new concept for him, that yummy food wasn’t just something that appeared on his high chair tray. It was out in the world, hanging on branches, and all we had to do was walk out and pick it. I could feel a connection between my mom’s planting the bushes, and Henry – who she never had a chance to see – enjoying the fruits of her labors. If there is a heaven other than the one Henry and I were already in that day, then mom was there, too.

When Abigail’s car was all packed and Henry tucked into his car seat, Nancy and I waved. Henry smiled, paused for moment, then waved back.

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Henry on Top of the World

As the youngest of five brothers, I always thought that when I had a family I would have five kids. I loved our brotherly banter, the hubbub of five, stuffed…


As the youngest of five brothers, I always thought that when I had a family I would have five kids. I loved our brotherly banter, the hubbub of five, stuffed in a van playing cards, joking constantly; this all seemed like the natural state of what a family should be. But after having two kids by the time I was thirty, I started to second-guess having more. Abigail plus Nicholas did not equal two; more like 4. Between juggling our jobs, daycare, the late night homework sessions, shuttling to and from soccer games, Nancy and I were both fulfilled and exhausted. I pored it all over in my mind. Was two enough? Nancy and I talked about it many times. On the one hand, we told ourselves, it would be nice to have a third baby, but even the prospect of having just one more child seemed overwhelming. We decided that the two wonderful kids we had were enough, a boy and a girl. We were done.

When I neared 40, I had a vasectomy; I didn’t want to chance a pregnancy. In the operating room, the doctor played Lou Reed’s Wild Thing. Before he started cutting, he looked me thoughtfully in the eye and asked, “Are you ready?”

Lou Reed sang, “Wild thing. You make me Cra-zey!”

I hesitated just for a second. Then said, “Yes.”

About a month later, the dreams began. I felt myself hugging a child close, the child’s head nestled to my shoulder so I could never see his or her face. I felt the child’s warmth and love. And her sadness and hurt that I didn’t want her. I wept because I knew this was the third baby I could never have, severed from my future by the surgeon’s blade. I felt the child yearning to be with me, silently asking, “Why did you not want me? Why?” The dreams came on regular basis. A horrible longing to see and hold the child I had decided not to have. I wanted so much to hold my third child and see her face. I wanted to raise him as I had Nicholas and Abigail, to see them playing with him. The fact that this could never be was like what I imagined amputees experiencing as a phantom pain in a leg that was no longer there. What had I done? Each time wakefulness neared, I felt the child clinging to my shirt, hugging me, not wanting to let go, but knowing we had to say goodbye, that this life could never be. I said I was sorry. So sorry. I’d wake up sobbing. Then, a few nights later, like a child’s knock on my door, the dream would come again.

I considered having the vasectomy reversed, but decided against it. A lot of times it doesn’t work, and (I told myself, trying to convince the inner me) that the time to have my very best children had passed. I already had the best children. But that didn’t stop the dreams.

Over a period of five years the dreams occurred less and less, almost as if the third child started to give up on me. I didn’t want to play, so she went somewhere else. Or he felt too hurt to keep showing up and not be my real child in life.

Meanwhile, Abigail and Nicholas grew up. In hindsight it’s all in fast motion, but in the moment it was a richly layered experience in real time, the pencil marks on the wall showing their height gradually rising higher like sunflowers in a garden.

Last week, Nancy and I babysat our grandson, Henry, while Abigail and Ryan took their first trip since having the baby. We went for a walk in Central Park, pushing Henry’s carriage along the winding paths. The park was vibrant with all kinds of people bustling through, performers dangling puppets before delighted toddlers, tourists from every country snapping selfies, bike carriages weaving around joggers. It was early May, with beds of pink, red and yellow flowers bursting in patches along the walkways; a really happy place ¬–¬ but Henry was not happy at all. Usually when he’s in the carriage he’s cheery, or he falls asleep. That day, though, he was fussy – possibly from a tooth coming in. Nancy and I had to take turns carrying him to stop the crying. At one point, remembering what I used to do with Abigail and Nicholas, I put Henry up on my shoulders. I’m six foot six inches tall, so Henry had one of the best views in New York. He quieted down as we walked along, making cooing sounds and tapping the top of my head.

This is the part of the story where it’s tempting to tie everything up with a bow, but real life doesn’t fit so neatly in that box. I know the third child who visited me in my dreams will never be, and perhaps never was. Maybe she was my remorse at having to close the door on parenthood, and I know that he may visit again when I’m 90. And that’s ok. I can live with that. When you love your kids, you’re carrying on the love your own parents gave you, and that cycle of giving and sharing continues. It is in fact unstoppable. Henry, sitting on my shoulders on top of my world, smiling up at the trees and the big buildings and the great sky over Manhattan, made me feel content, and at peace with all my decisions that led to that moment. And a day later, when it was time to go back to Boston, I gave Henry a hug, and said goodbye.

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Henry’s First Solid Food

My life these days is sprinkled with little clips of magic that arrive on my phone when I’m in the middle of thinking of mundane work things – a meeting…

My life these days is sprinkled with little clips of magic that arrive on my phone when I’m in the middle of thinking of mundane work things – a meeting I have to prepare for, something I need to write for a client – and PING I have a new text message from Abigail with a photo or video of Henry that blows my mind. The latest was this video of Henry experiencing solid food for the first time. How can such a momentous thing fit on such a tiny spoon? In the not too distant future, Henry will grab a slice of pizza before a mid-term exam. And not too far after that, perhaps he’ll prepare a meal for his family. But here in his highchair, this unexpected world of food is still a fresh bright gift. I expect I’ll be thinking about this when I put chicken on the grill tonight. It won’t be the first chicken I’ve ever tasted. But I will pretend it is.

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In Praise of Grandmothers

My grandmother, Harriet Fish – always just ‘Gram’ to me – was an extraordinary woman. My Gramp, Frederick Fish, was a successful salesman, and Gram didn’t have to work, but…

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My grandmother, Harriet Fish – always just ‘Gram’ to me – was an extraordinary woman. My Gramp, Frederick Fish, was a successful salesman, and Gram didn’t have to work, but she chose to work hard anyway as a national leader of the Girl Scouts. She met Gramp when they were students at Middlebury College, and married just before he shipped off to France as a pilot in the Great War. She was smart and sophisticated, a lover of poetry and hymns, strong willed and intense as the gusts that blew in off Lake Willoughby to the porch of her homestead. Her hair was red, though grey by the time I knew her. I picture her now at a family Bar-B-Q, 1966. Her cream colored Jackie Kennedy-esque dress tightly fitted to her five foot four, wiry frame; her nose angular, hair pulled back, chin up, one arm planted on a hip, a cocktail in the other hand, grinning at the excellence of the day.

She adored her two children, my mom and my aunt Lois, me and my four older brothers, and my three cousins. Adored us with an unabashed pride. She’d stand amidst my six-foot-six tall brothers and look up at us if she’d come across a forest of redwoods, and proclaim, “Isn’t this marvelous to have all you boys here today? It truly is marvelous!”

Gram was small but tough and rooted firmly in her conservative outlook and Church of Christ faith. She believed in God devoutly, while my own mom (perhaps reacting to her strict upbringing, thought all religion “a bunch of hooey”). Gram’s maiden name was Myers. She’d come from a family that had immigrated from Germany in the mid-1800s, and there had been some conjecture that perhaps the family had been Jewish and converted to Christianity upon arrival in America, something Gram denied.

Gram was a member of the John Birch society until she had an encounter with a member who asked, “Are you Jewish?”

“No,” Gram replied.

“Well,” the man said haughtily, “You have all the attributes.”

Gram resigned her membership on the spot, forever disgusted by their bigotry.

When my mom had her first baby, Calvin, Gram showed her the ropes with an efficiency and thoroughness worthy of a girl scout merit badge. Baby bathing, feeding, dressing, holding, check-check-check-check. It was the kind of crash course required for any young mother at the start of the baby boom. Good thing, because mom had five of us between 1948 and 1959, all boys. All huge.

Mom made no secret about wanting to have a girl, a yearning that only grew with time after each brother was born. I was her last effort, after which she gave up and got a dog, a chocolate lab she named Holly. When Holly had puppies, mom singled out the females and tied little pink ribbons around their necks. So when my eldest brother Calvin and his wife, Marcia, had a girl – mom’s first granddaughter – she was ecstatic. Mom’s whole life had been dominated by boys and men, all of us tall and constantly hungry despite the giant vats of macaroni and salad and the gallons of milk and roasting meat by the tub and the cornucopia of her garden consumed as if by a marauding hoard, plus the endless stacks of hidden Playboy magazines, the fist fights, not to mention Calvin’s homemade pipe bombs (as adults, my other brothers and I suspected Calvin to be the unibomber and carefully read the manifesto in the New York Times for clues). And suddenly, miraculously, quietly ¬– without any birth pain of her own – here was Laura. A girl at last! Mom immediately began sewing pink dresses by hand.

Mom was thrilled when our first child was born in 1986, another girl! It had taken a generation, but the genetic roulette wheel was finally spinning mom’s way. Nancy and I would have been equally happy with a boy or girl. The big thing for us was that we felt totally clueless in the ways of parenting, and were isolated from our far-off New England families. We lived in a third-floor walk-up in Brooklyn, way before this part of the city was cool, and certainly before we were “ready” to be parents. We’d read all the parenting books, of course, and Nancy had done her share of baby-sitting, all of which amounted to roughly nothing as this little baby girl, this totally new thing – our beautiful Abigail – squirmed and screamed in her crib. Was she ok? Why was she making that noise? Was the baby getting the right nourishment from breastfeeding? I remember that feeling of absolute terror of not knowing, the fear that I wasn’t holding her right, that something might break. When Nancy and I gave Abigail a bath, it wasn’t a joyful thing as I’d thought it might be; it was horrifying. What if Abigail slipped from our soapy hands and went under and got water in her lungs and drowned? At night, as Abigail lay in her bassinet, I’d lay awake straining to hear her breathe, deeply worried she’d stop.

During this time our telephone became so important to us, because in the dark heart of a Brooklyn night, it was our only link to my mom. The phone was our hotline for all things motherly. Nancy’s mom, Dorothy, was a help as well. But there was something about my mom’s surety, knowledge and firmness that was especially reassuring. Abigail, we learned, would not break so easily. Babies had somehow survived bathing and diaper changing and all manner of sickness for millennia, and Abigail would pull through as well.

When we did manage to span the distance between Brooklyn and Northern Vermont where my mom and dad lived, Abigail was soon in mom’s total embrace, riding her hip as she stirred dinner on the stove, being cuddled and kissed, being tucked in and read to at night. It was as if Abigail was mom’s baby number six, the one right after me, and no time had passed at all.

And last but far from least in my grandmother chronicle is Nancy, my wife of nearly thirty years. Nancy exemplifies a new breed of grandmother for our time, Henry’s time. She is five foot seven, with long wavy brown hair, lively and funny and curvaceous and fit and active. She works out a lot and looks ten years younger than her age. Nancy has an extraordinary strength, and above all a belief that “everything is going to be ok.” While others are holding their cheeks in tragic parodies of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” over the latest insurmountable worry (honestly, that’s me, I own it), Nancy just marches through it all and comes out the other side. It’s like she has her own force field. An avalanche of boulders would just bounce off her.

When Nancy holds Henry, she beams. A wide, joyous smile, eyes lit up. “Hi,” she says, “Hiiiii.” And Henry, no matter what mood he has been in up to that moment, beams right back. He coos with delight. Who would not?

This past week Abigail had a meltdown. She’d been working three days a week as a speech therapist at a school for special needs children. Henry had not been sleeping well, often waking up at 2am and staying awake for long stretches. In addition, his daytime naps had become a struggle because he refused to sleep on his back and would scream bloody murder for hours in protest. If he was placed on his stomach, he’d fall asleep instantly, but the pediatrician was adamant against stomach sleeping because of the danger of SIDS. The numbing fog of sleep deprivation, coupled with the drive to excel at work and prepare for the parent teacher conferences, plus the tiny New York apartment; plus the demanding dog; and the cat that didn’t like the dog and resented the baby (to the point where it took a dump on their bed in feline protest); plus [insert worry x, y,z here] all came to a head suddenly like wires overloading a circuit and Abigail broke down in choking sobs. She felt she was doing it all wrong. She was so busy at work and so incredibly tired she was doing a billion things but none of them well. She didn’t even have time to call back her friends who left messages of support. It was all too hard, too much.

Nancy got on the phone with her and helped her through. Everything Abigail was feeling was normal. Henry’s screaming fits were normal. Abigail herself went through a period where she refused to sleep. Abigail was actually doing a really good job. She was, in fact, a good mom. The grandmother hotline worked again, a line from one state to the next, a voice of experience to guide a daughter through the rough waters. But in a larger sense, a line that extended back to my mom, and Gram, and back through time hundreds and thousands of years, maybe to Eve herself.

Grandmothers, you see, are the glue of the world. They are the ones who have been there, through all the pain and heartbreak and happiness. They raised their children well, and now it’s all coming back to them; the wisdom they gathered as young parents is blooming again. To share and comfort, to be strong, to touch a baby’s head softly so even just the touch makes him calm down. They know what temperature to keep the bottle. They know the meaning of each type of crying, they can read baby poop like mystics analyzing tealeaves to predict the future, the onslaught or retreat of sickness, or whatever needs knowing that Google could never answer or dream or imagine.

They know, I think – all of them, every last one – from Boston to Bombay and all the lands between, that everything, every little damn thing, will be. All. Right.

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Henry at the Museum

It was a fine January day in Manhattan, the sun and frost vividly bright, as we bundled four month old Henry into his stroller on West 74th street and headed…


It was a fine January day in Manhattan, the sun and frost vividly bright, as we bundled four month old Henry into his stroller on West 74th street and headed off to the Museum of Natural History, me and Nancy and Abigail and Ryan side by side. When I had suggested to Nancy that we take Henry to the museum that Sunday morning, she was hesitant. “Isn’t he a little young to appreciate it?”

“He’ll love it!” I replied, not 100% sure he would but knowing that I would.

Henry was in his furry brown bear suit with only his eyes peaking out. This level of insulation on a four month old is similar to a space suit worn for a moonwalk. You know there’s a person in there somewhere. Henry went to sleep almost immediately when we started walking, but when we entered the museum he stirred awake, and before long started to get fussy. The side entrance to the museum that allows for strollers leads into a multi-story area devoted to space exploration; a huge bulbous white structure rose above us like a space ship that had recently landed, so Henry in his own furry bear space suit – now with his little arms waving – resembled a tiny astronaut in distress. Abigail lifted him out and rested him against her shoulder, which did nothing to calm him down. The thought that he was indeed too young to appreciate the museum occurred to all of us, but we’d already paid our admission fees and chose to continue our mission to go where this baby had not gone before.

Abigail and Ryan teamed up to peel the bear suit off of Henry and took turns carrying his cranky self farther into the museum. As a grandpa, Boppy, I found myself rediscovering the process of trying to understand why Henry was fussing. Diaper need changing? Hungry? Tired? Maybe, or maybe he just needed time to orient himself and wake up after his journey through the Manhattan outer atmosphere.

We entered the section of the museum devoted to mammals of North America. I remembered being there years before when Abigail and Nicholas were little. So here I was, instantly – it seemed – transported to a future where I was a grandfather, walking possibly across my old footprints to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains and their myriad beautiful beasts.

In case you haven’t been to the Museum of Natural History in New York, I’ll paint a picture of it for you. The museum, established in 1869, has wood paneled walls that open onto glass enclosed vistas designed to showcase animals in their natural habitat. The glass for each showcase is around twelve feet high, and as much as twenty feet wide, the taxidermied animals frozen in poses like photographs you’d see in National Geographic, amidst rocky landscapes or grassy vegetation, with beautifully painted dioramas that extend far off into the distance. The rooms with these exhibits are kept dim and mysterious, so that when you come upon a showcase the light of the whole scene glows with an invitation to explore.

And it was at the first case we came to that the natural world in all its glory was revealed to Henry. I can’t recall now if it was bison, or elk, or panthers shimmering behind the tall glass; I think I can’t remember that detail because it was the look on Henry’s face that transfixed me. Abigail held him up by the glass so that his feet stood on the railing; his whole face was transformed with wonder. His eyes went wide, his little jaw dropped slightly as if to say, “Oh!” I remembered my dad telling me that we adults should “never lose our capacity for wonder,” for it was this ability to see the world with wonder, with all its magic, that allowed us to be fully alive and discover new things with the same delight as a child. Henry was lit up like a twenty-pound living light bulb of wonder. It was all so new to him, so extraordinary. What was this THING before him? There was no point of reference for this vista, this animal (what is an animal anyway?). It was just pure awe. It was amazing for Henry, and it was extra amazing to see him being so amazed. We snapped a picture that captured the moment; the best thing about the picture is the reflection of Henry’s face in the glass.

We moved on and visited other animals and other places, and while Henry was curious, it was clear watching him that these other animals, just as beautiful as the first one he saw, could not equal the first one. There is, after all, in all our lives, only one first moment when we see the first giant and amazing animal shining behind the tall glass in one of the world’s most beloved museums. After that the sensory bar has already been raised and it might take something on a whole new level to bring back the wonder that my dad cautioned me to never lose. But I do think, for me, that I have surely not lost my capacity for wonder, for that’s what I felt when I saw Henry at the museum.

Henry got cranky again about an hour later, as babies do (diaper, hungry, tired?), and Abigail bundled him back into his bear suit for the journey back to West 74th. Ryan and I peeled off from the expedition along the way to get takeout from Shake Shack. It was one of the best burgers I’ve had since I was a kid.

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The Christening

It’s incorrect to say that time travel is impossible­­, for we travel through it constantly, only in a forward motion. The question becomes, can we see the future beyond the…


It’s incorrect to say that time travel is impossible­­, for we travel through it constantly, only in a forward motion. The question becomes, can we see the future beyond the present moment. Seeing the future is different from predicting it with any degree of certainty, and in this sense I believe we can imagine the future sometimes very well, with hoped for images coming to mind, and if we are very lucky they come to pass. This was what Henry’s Christening weekend was like for me. It was full of moments that maybe I dreamed a while back when thinking about Henry’s arrival in our lives.

Henry wore the Christening dress that I wore as a baby, that Abigail wore, and that my dad wore – and possibly his father before him, white and flowing with fine lace, a bit of the 18th century with a 2014 baby inside. Abigail held Henry by the windows of the church with the opaque early winter light shining on them. Henry, asleep. Abigail looking thoughtful and loving, a proud mom. During the ceremony, the old Catholic priest dabbed holy water and oils on Henry’s forehead, and shared the symbolic meaning of each. The cool water woke Henry up, and he looked dreamily at us as one cheek rested on Abigail’s shoulder. After the ceremony (or maybe an unofficial part of it) everyone snapped pictures. Abigail and Ryan beamed. Henry let us know he was ready for lunch and kept turning his head to look for the milk truck.

That night, Abigail and Nicholas sat Henry down and performed a puppet show for him using hand-puppets I used to amuse them with when they were little. One puppet was an Amish man, the other a Hasidic Jew, one a nun, each equipped with boxing gloves. The kids enacted a hilarious religious war as Henry looked on, wide-eyed, his arms flailing about like a conductor’s.

Nicholas and I sat with Henry on the couch and read to him. Pat the Bunny never goes out of style. Henry cooed and looked at the pictures, gnawed his hand in saliva-strewed contentment. When I saw the video of us reading to him, I saw a grandpa and realized that was me. And saw a grandson, and realized that was Henry. I traveled through time for that moment, and it was good to arrive there.

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Becoming Boppy

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…

Holding my grandson for the first time. Mr. Henry Robinson Moore.

Holding my grandson for the first time. Mr. Henry Robinson Moore.

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.

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Boy or girl?

June 8, 2014 When my kids were born, their sex was a question mark until the doctor uttered the words, “It’s a girl” (Abigail), and “It’s a boy” (Nicholas). I…

June 8, 2014

When my kids were born, their sex was a question mark until the doctor uttered the words, “It’s a girl” (Abigail), and “It’s a boy” (Nicholas). I liked the old fashioned surprise aspect of it, the not knowing. Now that Abigail is having a child of her own, she has chosen to know. I can understand why. She can prepare in advance to buy – and receive as gifts – the things most relevant to the baby’s gender. And I think there is also some satisfaction in the certainty at this stage, when so many other aspects of her life are not certain. This one thing she and my son in law, Ryan, can know.

So, last week I learned, it’s a boy. Simultaneous with this announcement came the newest ultrasound, showing my grandson in profile. He looks just like Abigail. And she looks a lot like me. A nose with a bit of a ski jump. High forehead. A prominent mouth made for eating and laughing boisterously.


Just as Abigail can now prepare by buying boy clothes, I can prepare for having a boy as well. My mental preparation has already begun. When I first heard Abigail was pregnant, I got these images in my head of walking with the child in our field up in Vermont, and sitting together by the bonfire down at the beach. Now my imagination is more specific. All my dreams are of boyhood. I know about that well, because I was one, and all my four older siblings were boys, too.

Boys are different. We didn’t just build big dams of dirt in the backyard, and fill up a reservoir of water with the hose. We also stuck firecrackers into the wall of the damn and blew the fucker up. It was not a little dirt dam behind 25 Oakland street. It was a massive concrete Nazi dam, and we were commandos sent in to destroy it.

In grade school, me and my friend, Chopper (named that because his mom liked lamb chops), didn’t huddle in the basement when the hurricane hit New England. We found the biggest pine tree in the yard, and we climbed it during the height of the storm, the limbs and trunk swaying like panicked arms before the force of wind. We went as high as we could go, laughing, until the trunk was so narrow we could join arms.

When my son, Nicholas, was a toddler, I saw boyhood again from the angle of fatherhood, and I remembered what it was like to be that boy, and have a father. I tumbled and roughhoused with him, as my father had with me. One time when Nicholas was in grade school, his two front teeth were loose and on their way out. I was on my back on the couch, tossing him in the air with my feet (being airborne is always good), and his knees knocked back and deftly removed the teeth. This was simply helping nature along, in our view, as the teeth were going to come out soon anyway. But it didn’t stop him from informing his grade school teacher that “Daddy knocked my teeth out.”

Boys live in Neverland. Peter Pan is always there, and Tink. The flying and knocked out teeth and cuts and bruises of our adventures are badges of honor. The lid of the family trash can is our shield. The nearest stick is our sword. And we battle Captain Hook at every turn. At night you can just make out our shapes crossing the sky, the stars temporarily gone where our shape blocks them out. Wendy can come and visit, but ultimately this is our place. We will never grow up.

I am looking forward to meeting my grandson and having these adventures. They will all be new again.

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On the Engineering of Memory

April 13, 2014 My impending grandfathership has sunk in finally. It’s much less of a shock than it was when Abigail first shared the news. And now I seem to…

April 13, 2014

My impending grandfathership has sunk in finally. It’s much less of a shock than it was when Abigail first shared the news. And now I seem to be in a new phase, pondering what being a grandfather is all about and how I can fully experience the joy of it – for myself but more importantly for my grandchild.

What occurs to me is that when we think of “grandfather”, most of the time it is a memory. We typically experience grandfathers for a brief span of time, when we are very young and up to our teenage years. Grandfathers don’t live as long as grandmothers based on average life expectancy, so this span is all the briefer and more precious.

My grandfather on my father’s side, Roland Page, died young, when my dad was only 7. He died of tuberculosis. My dad would tell the story of sitting by his father’s deathbed, his dad coughing violently, and dad would rub his dad’s chest to help make it all go away. Dad always blamed himself for not making it all better, even when his adult rational mind told him this was unreasonable. This may have been my dad’s most vivid memory of my grandfather.

This is one of the great conundrums of memory. That we often remember the traumatic things more than the pleasant things. The reason for this, according to research studies, is that adrenaline released during stressful events acts like a kind of memory glue. Fortunately, this glue also works (probably to a lesser extent) for emotionally satisfying events. It’s the average, every day satisfaction we experience that is forgettable.

What I’d like to do as a grandfather is work to engineer just the right good memories of me with my grandchildren. So for their entire lives the good times we had together, and the lessons I’ve taught, are the things that come to mind when they see a picture of me, or they’re in a situation at work or life when they need to make a decision and choose a course. I’d like to think that the joy and wisdom I instill can live on and do good things when my physical body is no longer around.

As I start to think about this process, of course my own grandfather memories spring up. Meet Fred Fish, my “gramp” on my mother’s side who lived until I was 19.A pilot in the First World War, a full Colonel in World War II, he was a towering and unique character. As a young teenager, I visited him and my gram in their retirement in Tucson, Arizona. One late afternoon we were at the summit of “Mount A” the tallest point of land in Tucson. Gramp saw these guys wearing WWI-style leather pilot helmets and jumping off a parapet of rock in their hang gliders. Gramp introduced himself (as a salesman he was good with people) and regaled them with stories of his flying days over France and Germany.

At our family farm in Vermont, Gramp and Gram rented cottages on the shores of Lake Willoughby. I see him now pushing a red wooden wheelbarrow piled with brush down to the fourth of July bonfire at the beach, sprinkling kerosene on the damp branches, and the flames leaping up and reflecting on the water. We’d all sing by the bonfire, my mom and dad, gram, my four older brothers, my cousins, the sparks flying up and mixing with the stars. Gramp would sing “The Foggy Foggy Dew” in his rich, wavering baritone, dressed in khaki head to foot, in his 80s and bent over, one hand outstretched as if to conduct his own voice. His nose aquiline in his long face, big ears jutting out at either side of his cap – “I once was a bachelor and lived all aloooooooooone!” Then he’d sing it again half an hour later because he’d forget, or wanted to torture my grandmother.

Another memory: Gramp would take me and my brothers to Howard Johnsons for the all you can eat fish or clam dinners, and we did in fact eat all we possibly could. His light blue eyes would glitter, and he’d smile and say “I love to see a boy eat.”

There is also the memory (one that surely results from a little too much adrenaline), of gramp tasking me with cleaning out the cottage septic tanks – by hand. We had to lower a bucket into the foul smelling goo, and heft it out, attempting all the while not to puke.

I’m grateful for all the memories of gramp, from the sublime to the stinky. Gramp could easily have been shot down by the Germans over France, bombed by them in London, or fall to natural causes before I ever got a chance to know him. He’ll always be a part of me. And I sing the Foggy Foggy Dew with my brother down at the bonfire, remembering him, laughing, drinking wine together as the stars come out.

I acknowledge that my quest to architect memory with my grandchildren is oh so baby boomer. Can’t we just age like everybody else without trying to do it better? Does being a grandfather in this decade really have to be engineered like a new smart phone? 55 isn’t the new 40. 55 is 55. I get it. But the reality is that my life expectancy is greater than that of my father or his father – not simply that I may live longer, but the quality of life I experience in later years will hopefully be on a different level than what was possible in previous generations. With luck, and good science, me and my grandfather peers can and should take full advantage of this time bonus to be good grandpas in new ways, with more opportunities to instill the warm and enduring memories. Less decrepitude. More hiking mountains with our grandkids on our backs. More stories by the bonfire. More love.

This will be fun.

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