Monica, my daughter, married three years ago and was lately contemplating adding to the family. When she found she was pregnant, she set about decking a baby room, arranged leave from her work, and began seeing neonatal doctors. Then the gynecologist gave her a specific date for childbirth, and I started the long drive from Washington.
All through the drive I riffled through my memories of Monica as a baby and a child. She had been a lively, almost rambunctious child, and I could not recall her memories without a smile on my face. She was the undeclared satrap of our home, exploring every drawer of every room, asking the name of every visitor, ascertaining the function of every gadget in the kitchen. What a girl! I realized half-way that I was assuming that Monica’s baby would be a girl and she would be just like Monica.
The gynecologist’s prognosis was most impressively accurate – or the baby’s punctuality was most commendable. She arrived just on time. I cooled my heels in the waiting room until I was allowed in. Then I had my first look.
How Monica looked when she was born had blurred a little by now. This baby was just like a miniature doll. Though an eight-pound baby, she looked unbelievably small. When they placed her on my arms, she felt unbelievably light. In her swaddling clothes, she seemed tiny and fragile. I held her awkwardly, nervously, fearful to move or even breathe. The baby did not budge. She slept peacefully; only the minuscule quiver of her nose told me that she was breathing.
Her face had a reddish tinge. I was told it was the color a baby sported after its arduous transition to the outside world. She had soft dark hair all over her head. Again, I was told that it was transient and would fall off, to make way for her real hair, of genuine color. She had beautiful pink lips, occasionally moving even in her sleep. Maybe she was dreaming of milk. I looked at her hands and feet. Small, incredibly small, but adroitly crafted, a marvel of miniature art.
The nurse came to take the baby from me. The baby needed to go for her shots. She came back rather quickly. The nurse explained that only half the shots could be given; the baby apparently created such a ruckus that doctor decided to defer the rest of the shots. I was impressed that the new member of our family knew so early how to get her way.
She had always been my little girl. Even when she went to college, and later started working, I thought of her as a little girl. I showered her with unnecessary and perhaps unwanted advice, “Drive carefully” and “Eat what is good for you.” In the hospital room, she appeared in a new light. She had suddenly grown up. She was a mother now. I had not a single word of advice.
The doctor came just then and told us she had checked the baby and was glad to tell us that everything was fine. She advised the mother, as a matter of abundant caution, to spend the night in the hospital and left.
Some friends came to see Monica and the baby. They brought thoughtful gifts. The room looked full of things related to the baby. Her bassinet, her clothes, her diapers, her tiny blankets. Guests had bought bouquets of flowers and those were in every corner. Everyone seems to have brought a camera and wanted a picture of the baby or with the baby.
The baby fidgeted a little bit and went back to sleep. I held her and looked at her face. It seemed pointless to speculate whom she looked like. She looked like nobody. She looked like herself. That was fine. She looked peaceful. She looked beautiful.
What should I call this beautiful girl?
After I had held the baby for a long time, she opened her tiny eyes and peered uncertainly at me. Did she approve of me? Does she like being held by me? Alas, she gave no clue. A very inscrutable little person indeed.