The new baby, the new grandfather, and the orange kitten
I wasn’t there when it happened. Paloma’s mother was there, along with a cousin who lives in Chula Vista with her own two children. I was at the house here in Baja, taking care of business. Taking care of business includes taking care of four dogs, six cats, and several dozen parakeets and canaries. When my wife is gone, there’s animal crap everywhere. And then there’s the work, trying to earn a living. The animals and the work. I don’t know which is more onerous.
They got down here three days later, Tuesday evening. My level of interest in the baby was remarkably low. I have been unable to get into the project. My wife was into the project about a half hour after Paloma told us she was pregnant. That was six months ago. I saw one sonogram of the fetus. I could see an arm sticking up with a hand and fingers. I told Paloma it looked like a frog.
“What the hell have you been doing,” I said?
I was told that the baby was beautiful. I have never heard anyone describe a newborn baby as being ugly, or looking like a toad. I was a little apprehensive. When I saw it (him) Tuesday night he looked normal. I have not seen very many newborns. The only one I can remember is Paloma. I write about that night in Bones. It was a profound experience for me. I could see that she was beautiful. No mistaking it. She looked like my mother’s side of the family.
So now I’m looking at her newborn. He looks okay. I can’t say that he’s beautiful, the way his mother was at that age (three days). He has her forehead. He looks more or less like Paloma, except that he has dark hair, like his Mexican father. Everybody expects that I will be happy, enthusiastic. There is a house full of cousins and aunts. I don’t feel very much at all. Everybody wants me to hold the baby. I don’t want to, but I take a run at it. People clap.
Later on in the hubbub the cousins are asking what the baby’s name is and I am surprised to hear that Paloma has named him Bradley Eden Smith. Bradley? She had told me she was naming him “Eden.” Okay. The Bradley is a surprise. I feel peculiar. It’s a first for me.
The next morning Paloma and the baby are downstairs. My wife insists that I hold him. There’s nothing there. I am aware that he has the general appearance of his mother, not his father. I’m okay with that. His father is problematic. And then the father is there. He picks up his son and holds him. I feel—I’m not certain what. But what the hell is he doing holding “our” baby. The baby belongs to “our” family. Paloma, her mother, and me.
The next day it is becoming clearer how much the kid looks like his mother. There are moments, looking at him, when for an instant I forget that he is who he is, and he becomes Paloma. I’m feeling some sort of connection with him, from some kind of odd angle. People who visit ask me how it feels to be a grandfather. It’s nothing to brag about. I feel uncomfortable hearing about it. I’m supposed to be happy about it. I’m not. I don’t know how to feel like a grandfather. What the hell’s that?
A couple more days pass. The baby, “little” Brad I suppose, has a powerful voice. When he cries it’s a big cry. There’s no whimpering. When he farts you can hear it in the next room. Paloma is happy. My wife is happy. Everyone who visits, and the visitors do not stop, is happy, congratulating me on being an “abuelo.” Even the men. It’s just not for me. Not yet.
One morning I’m holding Little Brad and decide to chuck him under his chin. It must tickle his fancy. A big grin lights up his face. It’s the same full-face smile that Paloma had when she was his age. I still recall the first time I saw her beautiful smile. It was morning, and she was three days old. She was in her crib in the dinning room and she smiled just for the hell of it. It was stunning. I called out to my mother, who was sitting in her wheelchair in the front room:
“Ma! I just saw her smile. You should have seen it. You’ve never seen anything like it.” That was when we were in Hollywood. I was okay about being a father. I was fifty-six years old. Now we’re in Baja, I’m older, and it’s different.
Another day passes. Then it’s morning and I’m in the kitchen making coffee. I hear a tiny little “meow” and see that the orange kitten, he’s four weeks old, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor where I could step on him. I imagine that he looks kind of bewildered. I pause and call his name: “Ricardo?” He doesn’t respond. He doesn’t understand Spanish yet. He just sits there, rather lost. I reach down to him.
Without thinking about it, I say softly, “Do you want granddad to scratch your ear? Huh? Come on kid. How’s that?”