A baby enters this world lugging her parents’ past and her family’s legacy on her slender shoulders. My youngest granddaughter did, and she doesn’t yet know it.
She was named for her two late grandfathers, men who were dead before she was conceived, men who nevertheless have wielded an undeniable influence on her simply because of the way they once inspired their children.
Lea Stefanie is her name, a vowels-bumping-into-consonants combination that conveys more cacophony than harmony. It’s perfect, though, to those who know her and the history that preceded her.
Lea is for my first husband, Leo, who died when this baby’s father was 9 years old. He never saw his son, our middle one of five children, grow up. He didn’t witness the proms, graduations and weddings, those fleeting moments when a parent glimpses the metamorphosis of boy to man. And yet … yet don’t you know he’s here just the same?
Stefanie is for her mother’s father, who did, indeed, enjoy his daughter’s milestones — all except for this precious last one. In his case, too, physical absence does not mean he isn’t present. He is instead an unseen power waiting in the wings.
Combine the two grandfathers’ names, Leo and Esteban, customize them for a baby girl born in the U.S., and there you have the new arrangement, as much part of her as that shock of stick-straight, raven black hair.
So yes, Lea Stefanie is the name my 2-week-old granddaughter will answer to, the inheritance I hope she will treasure. Years from now, she may want to flee her hometown, shun her bossy parents, ignore her old-fashioned relatives, refuse the entreaties of her older (but not by much) sister. Many of us do that in order to carve out an identity.
But her name — that’s something she will carry with her, always and forever, a tag, a title, a label that will provide her with boundaries and a sense of who she is. Where she comes from. Whom she belongs to. I hope she wears it as royalty might display a crown, with pride and responsibility, with love and a nod to those who enriched her life long before she came into the world.
Like Lea, I also bear a responsibility to the past. All grandparents do, but — if I may be so bold to suggest — grandmothers especially. We are a link to the yesterdays, the sturdy bridge to history and heritage. With us, from us, through us, grandchildren will hear stories, adopt traditions, learn recipes and values and the healing power of unconditional love. It has been thus for centuries and will remain so to eternity.
Grandmothers have changed over the decades, of course. More are working outside the home. More are single. More are traveling, returning to school, launching second careers. More live far from the extended family. Much of this is a result of societal changes and of lengthening life spans.
Be assured of one constant, though. Neither time nor careers nor amendments to family structure have frayed the ties that bind us to our children’s children.
I am not the grandmother my mother was. But neither am I the same woman who welcomed her first grandchildren, identical twins, in rapturous wonder almost seven years ago. I was a neophyte then, an apprentice. Now … well, now I’m a veteran, an expert in holding the future in the shape of a baby girl, winding her tiny fingers around my own knobby one.