Her Pinkness adds a new glow to a bubbes cheeks

The call came at 7:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 4, just as I was leaving for work. It was my son-in-law.

"Congratulations!" he said. "You're a grandma."

"Mazel tov," I replied.

I rushed out the door, picking up a box of "It's a girl!" mints to put on the reception desk at the office. I got almost nothing done for several hours — except talk to my son in France, my parents and brother in New York, the florist, the airlines and my daughter, Niki, in the hospital in San Diego.

Lindsay Brianne Wickenhiser was born. I was a bubbe.

That night I got to synagogue early. I was filling in at the last-minute as cantorial soloist and put on the plum-colored suit I had worn for my bat mitzvah in March. Not too many people get to become a bubbe and a bat mitzvah in the same year.

My friend Mary gave me a sweetheart rose corsage. I stood on the bimah and beamed. While I usually have major angst about singing solo, that night I had none. The force was with me.

Rabbi Allen Bennett told the assembled at Alameda's Temple Israel, "If you notice that Janet looks a little taller tonight, it's because she's floating off the ground. She became a grandma this morning."

A week later, I stood in front of the San Diego airport as my daughter pulled up. In the back seat was a sleeping little pink girl in a brand new white dress and a tiny ruffled headband. I would be seeing a lot of those headbands in the next week. I nicknamed the baby "Her Pinkness."

On the airplane, I had shlepped along an 8-quart soup pot as a gift for my daughter as well as cookbooks, Jewish and Chinese, that I planned to use during the week. But some recipes don't need a cookbook. Chicken soup I cook by instinct.

We pulled up at the supermarket so I could buy the makings: a whole chicken, carrots, leeks, parsnips, dill. I showed my daughter the essential steps — skimming the gunk off the surface as well as my own techniques. Then I let the soup do its magic. The house filled with the aroma.

I picked up my new granddaughter and carried her into the kitchen.

"Lindsay, this is what chicken soup smells like. Get used to it. It's part of your tradition."

Lindsay and I got to know each other — gradually. I discovered that she tolerated my singing a lot better than her mother — and my mother — did. In fact, sometimes when nobody was listening, I sang a Yiddish lullaby that nobody in my assimilated family had ever heard of. I even gave "Musetta's Waltz" my best shot. But the truth is, I think her favorite was "Molly Malone."

She also liked the sounds of the laundry room. One day when she was particularly fussy, I happened to waltz her into the room while the washer and dryer were spinning. She immediately quieted down. Who knew?

Midway through my visit, Lindsay's scab from the umbilical cord fell off and she had her first bath. Camera ready, my daughter and I filled the tub, prepared the baby and put her in. The water was fine, and Lindsay seemed happy. Then she did the unmentionable. I thought it was funny. My daughter was not amused.

"Did I ever do that?" she asked.

"Oh yes," I answered. "And so did your brother, including one time when you were in the tub with him."

I cleaned out the tub and refilled it. My daughter cleaned Lindsay.

"OK," my daughter said, "first bath, take two."

Lindsay liked her bath. Unlike my daughter, who became one red scream in the white plastic tub I had placed on the kitchen table 29 years ago, Lindsay was contented, at peace.

But like my daughter and her younger brother, Lindsay has her fussy time. The dinner hour. It doesn't matter when dinner is, or even whether it's the same time every night. Babies know. When my kids were young, I called it the happy hour. It's one way for mothers to lose weight.

One afternoon, Niki said to me, "Why does it feel as if I can't get anything done?"

"Because you can't," I replied. "Welcome to motherhood. After your brother was born, I used to say my day was one long interruption and that I didn't keep house, I kept car, because I was constantly shlepping children around. But this too shall pass. They grow up too soon."

As I write, I'm about to take a second trip to San Diego. This time my parents will be meeting Lindsay, marking their passage into great-grandparenthood. It is a blessed moment, linking four generations.

What does it mean to be part of that chain? It's a recognition that we are a people with a history and that the birth of a child is a miracle, filling us with a sense of purpose — a window into the future.

As my congregation ended the Shabbat service on the night of Lindsay's birth, the rabbi said a special blessing for me, celebrating my good fortune but recognizing that I now have obligations. I pray that I carry them out with love, joy and understanding. And I pray that one day I will be able to hold my great-granddaughter.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].