As the growing number of parents wheeling a fleet of prams and strollers in our urban village testify, we are daily being joined by a wondrous number and variety of babies. Each one reminds me of an insight gained from parents I never met in person. When asked by the hosts of Good Morning America how they would account for the off-the-charts brilliance of their own small children, they first looked a bit baffled, and then concluded that it all started with telling them (in words) from their first moments how welcome they were. They went on to say that as long as the occasion permitted, they brought them with them, made them part of the event. Such a refreshing shot of love and good sense!
In my own life as Aunt and neighbor, friend of their parents, I have added a written component to my assurance of “welcome.” And so, I am told that more than a few “baby boxes” parents use to save mementos of their children’s earliest days contain letters I have written them upon their arrival into this world.
You may be asking, “What in the world does one say to that newly arrived boy, girl or twins you may not yet actually have met?” And let’s suppose the question takes on new perplexity in the smartphone era when letter writing evokes an earlier time more Jane Austen than twitter handle such as @RealFriendOfYourParents.
Generally speaking, I am touched and not a little puzzled by the insecurity I sense in dear and loving people who doubt their ability to put their very real feelings into words. And that especially applies when they find themselves at a loss for words at what I think of as the watershed moments of the lives of the important people in their lives.
Presuming the permission of Lily Alexandra Davis, her amazing Mother and my honorary niece and godchild Elizabeth Fogerty, and her father Ralph, and brother Luke Gerard, let me tell you what I am thinking about saying to that lovely little girl born just a few weeks ago,
I will of course start with the word “WELCOME.” (Which I ask the parents that I be allowed to say to babies I have never met before when I encounter them here in our urban village.) Take it that the word itself is mandatory, and that I firmly believe that the baby, no matter how new, “Gets it.”
Because I have had the privilege of knowing her grandparents, and indeed of being their de facto matchmaker, I will quite likely start there in Lily’s letter of welcome. She will want to know of them in the years before her mother and uncle, Dr. Robert Fogerty, were born. Of their beauty and vitality, love of opera, brilliance in science and the law. Their travels and love of adventure. I will tell her of her mother’s early days as a city child on East 68th Street, when she learned colors from traffic lights; and later in pre-suburban days, where she rode an airborne tram to their next home. Lily will want to know of her mother’s student days, ranging from the Ethel Walker School to the University of Colorado and Columbia Journalism School. I will tell her of her brilliant mother’s choice of corporate communications over an early flirtation with study of the law. Lily may want to know of the joy I felt when her father’s entrance into her mother’s life was explained to me as the strong sense of trust. Explained by telling her Godmother that deep assurance was a profoundly more important feeling than any “drama.” Happily, that reassured me that her parents had fallen in Like every bit as much as in Love.
I will remind her that her Brother Luke Gerard’s name evokes the assurance that his coming owed a great deal to his grandparents, even though both had made a too-early exit from his life before he was born.
Most vital will be telling this bright wee girl that even in the face of her long heritage, nothing is more important than that she be the very best one and only Lily Alexandra Davis she can be. That will reinforce this message: although she can rejoice in all the parts of her singular, personal heritage, nothing will ever outweigh the empowerment she will take from her own, rare singularity. That combination of gifts and qualities will make her world to be indebted to her for living here as a unique and irreplaceable “ingredient” in its glory.
Now, in the event you have not yet been visited by your own real “Lily Alexandra” be assured that you can participate in a welcoming ceremony for neighbors’ babies. That event is announced by a playpen (no I’m not kidding!) in the vestibule, near the doors of Saint Vincent Ferrer Church on the corner of Lexington and 66th Street. There you’ll find notes pinned to the playpen describing the endless requirements for the care and feeding of newborn babies. Take one or two, or as many as you will, describing such infant amenities as diapers and Desitin that you can purchase and return (as anonymously as you wish) to the playpen with shopping list note attached. The energetic and imaginative Sisters of Life who live in our urban village will gather and deliver them to those who will find them a most “Welcome” gift.
And while you’re shopping, consider buying a bit of stationery to use to say a long-term welcome to the next newborn in your own life.