I belonged for many years to a woman’s group in Worcester that met once a month to discuss a pre-selected topic. There were a few topics that were verboten, however: politics, pets and grandchildren.
I can see why. Nothing empties a room faster than an approaching Grandma clutching a brag book of grandchildren photos. The clever antics of another person’s grandchild are just about as interesting a conversational topic as the details of one’s recent operation.
That said, permit me to rhapsodize a bit about my granddaughter Amalía. No, she did not get into an Ivy League school, nor did she play Moonlight Sonata in a piano recital. She did not learn to ride a bike or even become toilet-trained. She can’t even sit up. Her latest achievement is managing (sometimes) to get her thumb into her mouth.
Amalia is eight weeks old today. (But officially two months old on Oct. 26, when she’ll go to the pediatrician for a check-up.)
Even though she can’t even sit up by herself, it’s a wonder and a delight to me to watch her discovering the world around her (including her hands and her reflection in a mirror.) I think I was too tired to savor this stage of development in my own children.
She sits (or lies) there, wearing one of her pre-Halloween outfits and with great seriousness watches the fascinating and puzzling world around her, looking to me as if she has some memory of where she was before and is now trying to learn the secrets of this new place.
This thought led me to look up some of William Wordsworth’s lines in “Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood”:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,Hath had elsewhere its setting,And cometh from afar:Not in entire forgetfulness,And not in utter nakedness,But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home:Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
That's how Amalía seems to me as she studies her new world--she came to us trailing clouds of glory.
She also reminds me of “New Soul” by the Israeli singer Yael Naim, a song that Amalia’s parents, Eleni and Emilio, included in her birth mix— to be played during labor and delivery:
I'm a new soul
I came to this strange world
Hoping I could learn a bit 'bout how to give and take
On Sunday October 9, daughter Eleni and her husband Emilio took Amalia to the Greek Orthodox church in Miami, Saint Sophia, for the ritual that marks her 40th day of life and introduces her to the church. The priest says a blessing both for the mother and for the baby.
As Eleni pointed out in “Fabulous at Forty (Days)” –posted on her blog, “The Liminal Stage”, many societies believe that the 40 days after birth are a special time when mother and baby should stay together indoors until the child is taken out on the 40th day. She mentions Judaism, Chinese culture, and Yogis among others. As Eleni writes on her blog,
“Like all rituals, there’s the liturgical explanation for the 40-day churching (we bring our babies to be presented at the Church the way Mary brought Jesus to the Temple), and then there’s all the folklore that rises up around it. …As with so many folk customs, this one crosses boundaries and spans multiple cultures.”
Amalia wore a beautiful dress for her first visit to church, and the brief ritual and blessing seemed a perfect way to mark her passage from the first 40 days of infancy to an individual ready to take her place in the church and the world.
Eleni summed it up in her blog post:
My favorite part of the entire experience was when the priest said, “Bless also this child which has been born of her; increase her, sanctify her, give her understanding and a prudent and virtuous mind.” I felt a thrill at that moment thinking of the little baby in front of me as a person with a developing mind, one which, God willing, will be prudent and virtuous and joyous and expansive, and all the things that mothers in all cultures wish for their baby.