Well...we doubled our number of grandchildren last week. Isobel Smith Long worked her way into this world a little before suppertime on Friday, September 7. She joins her cousin Sean, who will be three years old right before the end of this year.
We were with Sean the morning Isobel was born, (attending our first grandparents' day at his preschool.) After returning home to lead worship over the weekend, we got right back in the car and headed for Madison, Wisconsin to welcome Isobel into the family.
I find myself making comparisons: cousin vs. cousin, birth in the 1980s vs. birth in the late 2010s, being a new parent vs. being a new grandparent.
Isobel Smith Long
Sean Chen (heart on his nose is temporary)
Isobel was born with sketchy blond hair, and is a little bald, like her father. Sean was born with raging black hair, like his father. "Sean" is the Irish version of "John," the first name on my father's birth certificate. "Isobel" is the Scottish rendering of "Elizabeth," the first name on my mother's birth certificate. Isobel was born the day after her parent's wedding anniversary, very much overshadowing their "leather" (4th) anniversary last week. And next year when we should be giving Alison and Nelson fruit and flowers for their 5th anniversary, we will be decidedly more focused on Isobel's first birthday cake. Sean was born the day after Christmas, and he will forever have a harder time than his cousin in getting people to focus on
I continue to be amazed at the differences between birth and child rearing these days in comparison to the days when my daughters were born. We didn't know the gender beforehand, although Alison and Nelson decided they didn't want to know until the baby was born. When my daughters were born, the nurses treated me like I was an alien about to give my own child a contagious disease. Until they were discharged from the hospital, I had to wear masks, gloves, and surgical robes. My daughters had no idea what I really looked like until I pulled up in the car to take them home.
As soon as my girls were born, I went to the hospital pay phone, took the change out of my pocket, and called all the grandparents. I don't know if there even is a pay phone in modern hospitals. Isobel's father announced the news to all the grandparents in a group text message.
In the early 80s, I took my Polaroid camera to the hospital and snapped photos with the babies nestled in their mother's arms. My sons-in-laws snapped those same photos with their cell phones.
The evening after my daughters had been born, I went home, showered, put some clean clothes on, and went out to eat supper at a restaurant. And even though I am an introvert, I showed the Polaroid photos to all the strangers in the restaurant...getting congratulated from everyone around. The day Isobel was born, I received the news while I was waiting at the counter to pay for sandwiches at a Subway. I showed my phone photos to the "sandwich engineers" and got congratulated heartily in Indian accents. None of the cashiers, either in the 80s or last weekend, offered to give me a discount to celebrate my joy.
My grandchildren get chauffeured around town sitting in car seats that I can't figure out how to operate. My own daughters also sat in car seats, but they were lots simpler in those days. I have a phobia of being sent out in the car alone with my grandchildren and not being able to get them loose from their car seats. In this phobia I have to wait until they learn to talk so they can step me through it.
And there are new rules about health these days that we didn't know about three decades back. Alison has already informed me that I am only allowed to kiss Isobel on the top of her head or the bottom of her feet...at least for the first six weeks. Something about a baby's underdeveloped immune system. And I'm fine with all the rules: just be sure and tell me ahead of time so I won't get scolded in front of the little ones.
But for all the changes between then and now, some things remain timeless: the heroic sacrifice of the new mother and the humble loyalty of the new father. It is holy to behold.
Nearly every culture on earth tries to subvert these two gender roles...in business, sports, military, and politics. We perpetrate the myth that the male makes the heroic sacrifice and the female should be humble and subservient. But in literal birth, a holy apocalypse reveals truths that are otherwise obscured. "Apocalypse" comes from a Greek word that means "
a sudden uncovering and revealing," something like a flash of lightning at midnight that abruptly illuminates everything we hadn't been seeing.The birth of a baby is a holy apocalypse. In such a moment, God reveals the truth about who we all are.
I've been part of the cast now for several births dramas, playing the role of both father long ago, and grandfather these days. It is a drama that leaves one thinking about virtually nothing else for days.
To be born a human is to be born of a heroic woman. Her journey toward giving life is inevitably inclusive of both ecstasy and pain. Her months of pregnancy alter her life, her body, her soul. Whatever life-narrative she thought she wanted for herself is hijacked...and she is born again, just as surely as her child is newly born.
And the child's birth is witnessed by a grateful father, crushed and pressed into a holy humility by witnessing the natal moment...and it is far beyond anything he could have imagined. Birth is one of those eternal human experiences.
It turns out that there is no real holiness without a mess. There is no new life without pain. There is no authentication of love until we see its courage.
bless my grandchildren...and their parents. May God bless all our children and all their parents. And may God bless all who hope and yearn to have children...with joy...and peace. And if God can throw in a good night's sleep occasionally...that would be perfect!