A real act of daring

February 03, 2003|By Ellen Goodman

BOZEMAN, Mont. - We are watching the sunrise, my grandson and I. It's our time of day, when his sleep-deprived parents hand him over, warm and groggy.

Maybe this is why God created grandparents, I tell this newborn, who hasn't yet learned the difference between day and night, breakfast and dinner. At his stage of life and mine, our biorhythms are in predawn synchrony. As the first hints of red edge these Western mountains, we do the morning shift together.

It's been only a few days since grandparents, cousins, honorary aunts and uncles and friends began welcoming this boy into our village. Pictures and good wishes are still traveling across the Internet tribe.

Now sitting here, I wonder if there is a grandparent pheromone or instinct that goes unmentioned in the DNA research. There must be some chemistry that turns adults with opera subscriptions and espresso machines into people who put bumper stickers on their cars that say "Ask Me About My Grandchildren."

Logan was born three weeks early into a troubled world: War brewing with Iraq. North Korea threatening nuclear weapons. Suicide bombings in Israel. I run through the cliches that fit his best of times, worst of times. I remember the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. Then I smile at my grandson and ask: "What was your hurry?"

When he ignores my question, I rerun the family tape to other best of/worst of/ interesting times.

I was born in 1941, just months before Pearl Harbor and before the war in Europe became the Second World War. My daughter was born in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, in the weeks between the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Robert Kennedy's assassinations.

Our birth years were so dismal that even the wine wasn't worth the space in a wine cellar. We too were brought into a troubled world. For my mother and myself and my daughter, birth was/is a leap of faith over fear.

From time to time, my daughter and I laughingly ask Logan what he wants to be when he grows up. Are you ready to take your SATs? His birth projects us into the future, but it also returns us to that first moment when all we really want for our children is safety. When keeping them safe is our primary job and primal emotion.

Is there a parent or grandparent who hasn't checked the breathing of a sleeping newborn? Not in this house. Nearby there is a small store of safety equipment that his parents have acquired. A car seat for the rear seat only. A stroller with a seat belt. A carrier with a sturdy strap. A monitor to hear his cry from one room to another.

There is a cache of baby books as well, indexed so a parent can find the right page in the middle of an anxious night. In the favorite of these, the authors encourage parents in ways that make babies feel that their world is a safe place.

But is it? In the paper last week, there was a story about Somali parents who hired smugglers to take their children away, to Europe, to America. They gave them away to keep them ... safe. Is there a pheromone that also reminds parents - and their parents - of the limits to the safety zone?

After Logan's birth, I offered his family a blessing that I had learned from a friend who lived in India: "May your house be safe from tigers." My son-in-law smiled and assured me that there are no tigers near here, only bears and an occasional mountain lion.

Now the sun is over the mountains and my grandson is sleeping.

In this peaceful hour, I know that children are the real act of daring in a dangerous world. May your house be safe from tigers, little boy. And from the occasional mountain lion.

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Mondays and Thursdays in The Sun. She can be reached via e-mail at ellengoodman@globe.com.

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