Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Tyler and Bryce’s arrival in the world, Oct. 10, 2013, making this their “golden birthday,” an invented milestone, in their case doubly golden (twins turning 10 on 10/10), but a very real milestone as well — their first decade (of many, I dearly hope).
And my first decade as Papa Ken, their grandfather, a role I relish.
Here’s how our connection began, as described in my column immediately following their birth:
Last Thursday, I became a grandfather. Times two. On the most beautiful day of the year to date (the weather was grand, too), Tyler and Bryce Trainor came eight weeks early. At just over 3 pounds each, they weren’t exactly clogging the birth canal. Kristen pushed and an alert nurse had to make a pretty nifty basket catch of grandson number one.
Both boys seem fine so far, lounging in their luxurious suite at the Edward Hospital Hilton, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU, pronounced NICK-yoo), sleeping peacefully while they fatten up.
The next day, I made their acquaintance. I planned to take just a quick look. Be back in no time. Little bodies, sleeping, all wired up, attached to monitors — how interesting could it be?
There is no such thing as a quick look at a preemie in an incubator, especially when they happen to be your first grandchildren.
How interesting? Better than watching the first moonwalk. Way better. Utterly engrossing. So fragile, so precious, so beautiful, so innocent, so peaceful, so pure.
So alive. Suddenly I was falling down the long well shaft again, which I experienced 30 years earlier with my son, head first into the mystery.
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 intense “echt” I’ve encountered in a long, 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 of it is — this having a body, this having a heart beating non-stop for decades, lungs filling with air, this being alive.
Bryce and Tyler will grow quickly, I trust. In the future, whenever I watch them running around, I’ll think of this day, this first moment. The images burned in.
Since that day, I’ve spent a lot of time watching them run around, long-legged and lithe. Also bouncing on their trampoline; drawing and painting; transforming Play-Doh into “tasty” faux-food confections; building leprechaun traps out of cardboard; excavating sandboxes; navigating the Morton Arboretum maze; viewing Curious George, Paw Patrol and Harry Potter movies while cuddling on the couch; riding bikes on forested trails; selecting and decorating Christmas trees; creating Lego and magnetic-tile contraptions; swinging, sliding and climbing on playgrounds; reading to them, then having them read to me; wandering in the woods with walking sticks; conducting creative conversations in the car; hunting for treasures at Moore’s Toys & Gadgets in Wheaton, or Geppetto’s in Oak Park; eating dinner at restaurants where the food is delivered by model trains or at Culver’s where they eagerly track the ice cream special of the day; taking the Metra train from Wheaton to Oak Park and back; riding the hand-crank train at Rehm Park; attacking stacks of maple-syrup-soaked pancakes at George’s in Oak Park or Mapleberry’s in Carol Stream, building towers with the jelly packets while we wait for our food; riding the carousel at Brookfield Zoo; and spectating sports from the sidelines.
I don’t know how they liked their first 10 years on Earth, but I loved it. It coincided with my best 10 years on Earth.
They are beautiful in every sense of that word, and that word now has many more senses than it once did. They have reinforced for me the awesome responsibility of loving someone, especially the young someones who are so precious, so dear, yet so resilient and resourceful.
I cannot yet write the love letter that dearly wishes to escape my heart.
But this is a start.