Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Waiting for Sweetpea -- An Embryo by Any Other Name

What do you call a baby that hasn't arrived yet, and hasn't reached full capacity? 

This was my dilemma when our daughter Julia announced that she was expecting our first grandchild. I first figured that I would call it he or she. But when I asked her and husband Matt if they knew the gender, she said, "Oh, we're not finding out. There are so few surprises in this world that we'd like to have this one."

All right then. How selfish of them. Didn't they know I needed a moniker to pin on this kid?
I thought back to when she first told Marie and me that she was expecting and said the baby was the size of a lentil. Yuk! What a stupid nickname for a baby. Lentil. Sounds like a Barbra Streisand musical movie. "Grandpa, can you hear me?"

But I remembered that we live in the Digital Age, so I asked Google, "What fruits and vegetables are the size of a lentil?" There was a long litany of lentil-like names, all unappealing, one popped up that seemed just right.

Sweetpea. Yes, a veggie the size of a lentil, but more euphoric.

What a great name! It's sweet! It's diminutive! It's non-gender-specific! I announced that this would be the name for this child in waiting. a way to personify this burgeoning life, and it took hold. 

Jim and Peggy embraced it, as did our son, Francis, and his wife, Angela. Soon everyone was calling the baby-to-be this name.

"How is Sweetpea doing?," we'd ask Julia ("Doing the calypso right now, I think," as she winced in pain.)

Julia used the name all the time. "I was in a business meeting, and Sweetpea got bored and started kicking my bladder. I think Sweetpea wants out!"

Julia kept up with her improvisational comedy throughout her whole pregnancy, and she could tell that the baby was getting off on her performing. "I swear, I think my adrenaline went right to Sweetpea, who thought HE was on stage. I'm sure she was saying to the audience, "Thank you everyone. I especially want to thank my mother who made all this possible." 

But now that we are near the end of this long strange trip, we four grandparents want to stop using Sweetpea and give it a real name. Problem is, not only do we not know the gender of the baby, we also don't know the names that Matt and Julia are considering. That is worrisome. It could be some really stupid or outdated names like Bertha for a girl and Elmer for a boy. Or worse, Bertha for a boy. (I apologize to any Bertha and Elmers who are reading this, but hey, face it, your names belong in the 19th century.)

So now we wait. What will the real name be? More important, what will this new person really be? Sweetpea carries the genetic fingerprints of parents, grandparents, millennia of traits going back generations. Will Sweetpea be a birder like Daddy and Grandma Peg? Will s/he get the facility with words that Mommy, Uncle Francis and Grandpop Pasquale have? Organization skills like Mommy and Grandmom Marie? Considered introspection of Grandpa Jim? The possibilities are broad.

What we really know is this. We are waiting for you, Sweetpea. We are looking to see the color of your eyes, the tint of your hair (if you are born with any), and whether or not you have a cleft in your chin. (The last trait comes from me. Hey, I want to have some positive biological imprint on this kid, certainly not my clumsiness with tools or my complete lack of physical coordination.) 

But regardless of any of this, you will be loved and warmly welcomed into this world. Just hurry the hell up, Sweetpea. It's been a long 40 weeks.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Waiting for Sweetpea

Part 1 -- Annunciation

In spring 2018, our daughter, Julia, and Matt, her husband of 18 months, conducted an ambush on my wife and me.

Julia and Matt drove up from Arlington, Virginia, to help Marie and me declutter our suburban home. We had sold the house a month before to fulfill a longtime dream of moving into the big city of Philadelphia. We were empty-nesters, having married off our two kids in a 10-week sweep in 2016. Now we were selling off or donating loads of goods, as we were bound not to have enough room in our (not-yet-found) new home to accommodate it. Marie had already retired, and I was hatching a plot to escape my employment in mid-June. What was the point of retirement if we were bound by the same old possessions?

So Julia and Matt rented a truck to pick up our castoff furniture, garden tools and other goods for their home in Virginia. It was a busy day. Matt did a lot of heavy lifting. Julia rummaged through the memories that Marie had dutifully saved for her throughout her life. they included cards that accompanied baby gifts when she arrived in the world. Papers from her elementary and middle school days that foreshadow her career as a writer. Books, lots of them, more than I could imagine reading in a lifetime, but Julia made short work of them. Again, that foreshadowing thing.

Reading the cards and other congratulatory notes from her many years of youthful accomplished, Julia observed that she received a lot of love over the years. Indeed she 
had. Even as a little girl, Julia was loved for her loving nature and admired for her intellect and drive.

She winnowed those items by about 80 percent.

We finally sat down to eat, all four of us tuckered out from the day’s work. Marie prepared a favorite Italian American meal of pasta, meatballs and sausage, and a green salad. I presume there was wine.

Julia decided to take advantage of the fact that we were together to make an announcement. While she had us together, she wanted to tell us her plans for my wife’s annual Christmas Eve feast of seven fishes (also known by its Italian nomenclature, “La Vigilia”). The event is well attended and much anticipated. A seat at the table is a hot item, so Julia surprised us with this request.

“I want to bring a guest to La Vigilia this year,” she announced.

I was surprised, even somewhat annoyed, and protective of Marie, since the seating around the table is tight. I was a bit miffed that she would impose on her mother that way, even months in advance.

“Who is it,” I asked. “Somebody we know?”

“Well, you don’t know the person yet, but I can guarantee you it will be small and not eat very much fish.”

I got it right away. I jumped up, put one hand out to Matt who was close to me, and I put my arm around him. “Congratulations, Matt, I said. In a burst of male empathy, I added, “Good job.”

It took a few moments longer for Marie to grasp that Julia was announcing her pregnancy. (It’s not usually like that. I’m traditionally the denser of the two of us.) Still, she stood up and asked plaintively “Are you telling me what I think you are?” 

Their eyes welled up (business as usual for these two). They hugged. This announcement was a moment that we were not entirely sure would come, especially this soon into Matt and Julia’s marriage. Julia did not know just how easily she would get pregnant in her mid-30s. Not that she had any reason to worry, but she was also not taking it for granted. That was why she decided to tell us so early, just four weeks into the 40 necessary to bring this child to full viability. 

“I wanted you to know now,” she said, “because I didn’t want the first news from me to be that I had a miscarriage.”

I asked one of the essential questions. "How big is the baby so far?"

Julia laughed. “It’s only about the size of a lentil.”

She was right. The baby had a long way to go before being able to eat fish on Christmas Eve.

We laughed our way through the remainder of dinner. Uncertainty be damned; this was a happy occasion, goddammit. Wine flowed for Matt, Marie and me, though not for the mother-to-be. Beside laughing, there wasn’t much else to say. This was a baby in theory only. There was a long stretch of road ahead.

Marie and I walked Julia and Matt to the door, hugged them over and over again and told them how happy we were. We watched them get into the car, and then we waved as they pulled away to return home.

When they were out of sight, I closed the door and set the latch. I turned and looked at Marie. Then I jumped up and down and stomped my feet on the foyer floor, pumped my hands in a celebratory motion.

“Yea!” That’s all I needed to say to Marie.

Sold our house after a week on the market. Retirement for Marie. A planned retirement for me. A new home at some point. Now to be first-time grandparents.

Yes, 2018 was going to be a big year.