The other night I said my goodbyes to Zoe while Sam and Tess, my son and daughter-in-law, had a micro-date-night downstairs. While they enjoyed some alone time, zoning out and watching an episode of the Sopranos, I sat in a swivel chair by an upstairs window, watching the diminishing, soft gray light of day fade from Zoe’s tiny, beautiful face.
This new family of three, together for not quite two weeks so far, has been through the fires of transformation together: 28 hours of labor, latching troubles, breast pumping marathons, bilirubin concerns, and days of limited, broken sleep for Mom and Dad. It’s no wonder new parents live under a thin veil of emotional stability. Baby Zoe wasn’t the only family member to cry in those first few days. Quiet tears streamed down Tess’s face when I went to say goodnight on the first night. But she and Sam sat side by side, buoying each other up. I hugged them before heading back to my Air B&B and wished them a manageable night.
The next morning, Sam made the mistake of asking me to remind him of the lyrics to a Peter, Paul, and Mary song called “The Cruel War,” a standard from his own childhood days of family song. When I got to the last verse of the hauntingly tragic ballad, I heard sobbing from the kitchen. My dear, grown son was overcome in the midst of spreading avocado on a piece of toast. I walked in and rubbed his back, strangely proud of this young man who has the strength and self-assurance to give in to tears, cathartic, cleansing tears.
I finally gave in to tears on my last night. I sat with Zoe for a transcendent hour, staring at my newest grandchild’s face. Her mouth puckers and opens, her brow lifts and wrinkles, a crumpled grimace then a crooked smile flits across her features and settles to peace again – I was mesmerized. Our homes are 600 miles apart, and I grieved at the thought of leaving, unsure when I will next hold that therapeutic weight of Zoe’s life in my arms.
I thought of the scene in Sleeping Beauty when fairies bestow blessings on the newborn Princess. In a makeshift mashup of storybook magic and prayer, I laid my blessings upon Zoe – good health, a bright mind, a strong body, curiosity, lots of laughter, and showers of love from all around. Oh, and a lifetime friendship with her Grammy, who fell permanently, hopelessly in love with her sitting by the window that evening, in the fading light of her eleventh day in the world.
I spent yesterday evening snugly crowded amongst the white-painted bookshelves of Seal Harbor, Maine’s impossibly charming, 130-year-old Public Library. There was just enough room in the tiny white colonial to tuck in an odd collection of about eighteen chairs, two of which made a grand pair of tufted thrones in the back sunroom, where I sat to sign books after the event.
The audience buoyed me up with their enthusiasm, their smiles and nods, a phenomenon I have missed through the Zoom days of book touring. I was struck once again with the miracle that is me giving talks to appreciative readers about a book that I actually wrote and published. Sometimes that fact daunts me, or makes me feel like an imposter. But this group with their open-eyed interest and probing curiosity affirmed a truth that stops me in my tracks. Holy smokes. This is really happening.
But it was two bigger miracles that fed the depths of my elation last night. It was all I could do to put my phone away for the talk, since my son and daughter-in-law were already well into their sixteenth hour of labor, waiting for their first child to emerge into this world as I greeted my audience. Only nine days earlier, we added another new member to our family clan, another granddaughter to join my daughter and son-in-law and their 2 ¾ year-old sister.
Overflowing with the joy of everything on this perfect summer evening, wrapped in a temperature that foregoes jacket or air conditioning, I drove away from the talk, windows open, below a ceiling of corduroy clouds, underlit in pink and gold by the setting sun. I couldn't stop smiling.
Sometimes it’s easier to sustain joy in solitude. My smile stuck for miles, uninterrupted by distractions. It was almost tiring, but I decided to hold on to it beneath the last flickers of evening light at a roadside lobster and Bar-B-Q stand on the side of the road. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and side of slaw with chunks of fresh pineapple, and I sat at an outdoor picnic table to eat. I had my pick. I was the only customer there, which suited me just fine. I savored the meal, but was more thoroughly fueled by the buzz of elation that proved to have tenacious staying power.
Were you feeling something like this, Robert Browning , when you wrote these lines?
God’s in His heaven,
All’s right with the world.
And my daughter’s family is enriched by a new sister, and my son will be a Dad, and the world is a beautiful place, and life has given me treasures beyond reason. So I wanted to relish the sensation, because of course those moments dwindle and fade like the afterglow, after the sun dips down and the air cools and another rotation of the Earth moves us along in time. But I must hold on to this moment and remember.
**Zoe Frances was born in the wee hours of August 11, to join her cousin Fiona and almost twin cousin Lucy. Happy Birth Day, Zoe! Everyone is doing well.
Robin Clifford Wood is an award-winning author, poet, and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her children, grandchildren, and granddogs.