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By Ken Trainor
Come January, I will have been a newspaper columnist for 29 years. That also happens to be my son's age, and early on, he was frequently grist for my writing mill. He turned 1, in fact, a month after I started writing weekly in The Coloradoan, a Gannett paper in Fort Collins. My column that week was titled, "Celebrate – I've survived his first year."
Here's an excerpt:
"When I'm watching him asleep in my arms, I feel as if I'm falling head first into a very deep, almost infinite well, all the while shouting, 'Who are you?' At such moments I come frighteningly close to some primitive mystery that I'm not yet equipped to handle. I never would have guessed that love could be so painfully sweet."
I was smitten.
Last Thursday, I became a grandfather. Times two. On Oct. 10, the most beautiful day of the year to that point (the weather was grand, too), Tyler and Bryce Trainor arrived — eight weeks early. At just over 3 pounds each, they weren't exactly clogging the birth channel. Kristen pushed and an alert nurse had to make a pretty nifty basket catch of grandson number one.
Both boys seem fine so far, despite the early arrival, lounging in their luxurious suite at the Edward Hospital Hilton NICU (NICK-yoo), sleeping peacefully while they fatten up, except for the daily one-on-one (sorry, two-on-two) with Mom and Dad.
The next day, the most beautiful day of the year (for me), I made their acquaintance. My son, his mom and I went up at 1 p.m. Kristen cautioned us to be back by 2 because she had to keep to a schedule (breast pumping).
No problem, I said. We're just going to take a quick look. Be back in no time.
I learned there is no such thing as a quick look at a preemie in an incubator, especially when they happen to be your first grandchildren.
Little bodies, sleeping, all wired up, attached to monitors — how interesting could it be?
Better than watching the first moonwalk. Way better. Utterly engrossing. They are so fragile, so precious, so beautiful, so innocent, so peaceful, so pure.
So alive. Suddenly I was falling down that long well shaft again, head first into the mystery. We barely got back by 2 p.m.
Roger Cohen published a column in the New York Times the day these two were born titled, "Experience as it once was."
"The question of genuine, undiluted experience has been on my mind," he wrote. "Germans have a good word for something authentic: 'echt.' We have an echt deficit these days. Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost."
It's true. We live in a virtual world, which impoverishes us, detaches us, too often removes us from the real.
Watching Tyler and Bryce's doll-sized bodies breathing was the most "echt" I've encountered in a long time. I didn't think I could be more thrilled — until Tyler started stretching. Putting my well-sanitized hand through the porthole, I stroked the softest skin imaginable.
Being detached from authentic experience makes us feel less human. These two reeled me back into my humanity, a reminder of just how miraculous all this is — this having a body, this having a heart beating non-stop for decades, this being alive.
Bryce and Tyler will grow quickly, I trust. Whenever I watch them running around, I'll think of this day, this first moment. The images are burned in. They were the default setting in my "mind's eye" the rest of that day.
Irony of ironies, Oct. 11 was the 12th anniversary of the day my divorce was finalized. Yet here we were, Grandma and Grandpa, side by side like happy new parents peering into incubators at the beings our once-upon-a-time love helped make possible.
Coincidence sometimes seems to have a mind of
I cast back to 1984 and the love that gushed then as I'm gushing now. Once again, I'm a goner — feeling so vulnerable should anything happen to them. Every bit as vulnerable as these two are.
But I couldn't help looking ahead as well. I did the numbers. If I live to be 80 — the point, for me, where "borrowed time" begins — the year will be 2032. If Dylan lives to be 80, it will be 2064. If Bryce and Tyler live to be 80, it will be 2093. If all goes well, they have a good shot at seeing the next century. 2100. What will life be like? What will their children see in the 22nd century?
Two preemie boys in incubators not only make the present more real, they bring the future alive as well — and the past, too, since we're all part of some unbroken chain of succession, deep into time's recesses.
Perhaps the boys will read this column someday, maybe on one of their more auspicious birthdays. If so, I hope they'll keep in mind another anniversary the following day, Oct. 11.
The day I fell head over heels for them.