Next to me, my great nephew sleeps on, lips occasionally twitching, elbow thrown across my chest, lifting now and then in dream-driven movement. Perhaps he hears the call of the referee while he stands at bat, primed to swing.
He crawled in at 6:55 a.m., having been told by his mother that he could come down and snuggle with me when he awakened in the morning. He pulled back the corner of the comforter of the guest bed and laid down quietly next to me. Within moments, his breathing slowed. He settled into a steady rhythm of deep inhales followed and forceful expulsions as he wandered the realm of dreamland.
Time has met the timeless. I am right here and nowhere else, reluctant to move lest I disturb this rare morning moment.
But simultaneously I am remembering how my mother and father snuggled grandchildren of similar ages. When my brother, Bruce, began his family — a little earlier than he expected — he and his wife lived with us, along with his daughter, Sandy, who quickly grew into a bright and sunny toe-headed urchin with a ready giggle.
Dad was intense in those days, feeling the weight of financial responsibility for two children still at home, and Bruce’s new family. His proud Marine Corps frame slumped into a chair in the living room when he returned from work. He regrouped with a scotch on the rocks. Dean and I knew to leave him alone.
But Sandy did not. She toddled in to the living room in her little dress. Dad set the paper down in his lap and picked her up. It was time for their game. Sandy showed Papa her protuberant belly; Dad immediately pressed the frigid cocktail glass against her tummy whereupon Sandy exploded into waves of giggles. With each repetition, the pressure sloughed off Dad a little more.
As serious as Dad could be, he was always game for a round of Patty Cake, “Tom Tinker” or plain old “Sausages.” When holding a baby, he would lightly touch her forehead and say “Tom Tinker.” Moving down the little one’s face, he found “eye blinker,” then “nose smeller,” “mouth taster” and finally, “chin chopper.” At this last label, Dad tickled the baby’s chin and said in a low voice at double-time speed, “chin chopper chin chopper chin chopper!” After initial surprise, small eyes looked expectantly at him, ready for another go. Which Dad obliged, again and again.
I return to the moment, to the sweet child sleeping next to me. Son of that toe-headed urchin. I pull my arm out of the covers and lightly touch his forearm: utterly smooth, skin stretched tight over thin bones, not an ounce of flesh to spare. The tendon twitches just enough to twist his wrist ever so slightly to the left. He sleeps on, the arm bone connected to the wrist bone, the wrist bone connected to the hand bones.
Connected to me, to his mother, and before me, Mom and Dad.