|Laila Willow (holding her cousin, Harmony)
Photo by Hannah Joy Photography
The day she was born changed my life.
I remember turning to Mario and asking, “What is today?”
He answered, “August 30.”
We hugged and I whispered that he was now a Grandpa. He laughed, casting off my romantic mood. “Thanks a lot, now I feel really old!”
She was born in Kansas City, to my step-son, David, and his wife, Lennae. We heard from David after the event was completely over – Mother and baby were doing well. It was a very intimate birth – a delivery by a midwife of our first granddaughter brought into this world in a hot tub.
It was the first of many facets of unconventionalism. Not only was Laila’s birth unconventional, her name definitely was. “Laila Willow Rodriguez,” I kept saying to myself, over and over and over. I was hoping that one day it would just roll off my tongue.
Since we were not present for the birth, we didn’t meet the little one until she was about eighteen months old. David and Lennae brought her to California (bravely) on an airplane, and when I first saw her, I thought that she had the greenest eyes I had ever seen. “Oh she’s so beautiful,” I gushed. Laila clung to Lennae, afraid to let go and be delivered over to the new person fawning over her. I was advised (by Mario) to give her time and to dial it down a little.
That week I started to do grandmotherly things with this new little person. We walked around the grounds of the hotel and observed geese. She hid behind curtains and resurfaced, making us all laugh. She ate frozen blueberries. She had her own toys and books. She seemed content to be around all of us adults, wide-eyed listening to our conversation. Every time she looked at me I smiled; she started smiling back.
Near the very end of the week, right before they were all scheduled to go home, Laila finally warmed up to me. I asked her if she wanted to water my garden and when she agreed, we went outsode. I found a bottle of soap bubbles and started blowing them. For each one I blew, she popped it.
I cannot explain in words the magic of that day. I became familiar with the simple pleasures of grand parenting. A grandparent loves a child just because they are; they don’t have to anything to be special, they just are. My daughter-in-law took a snapshot of that day; it was before cell phones or instagram. I kept it on my refrigerator all the years we were in Africa; it remains tattooed on my heart.
Today Laila turns twelve years old. She is our eldest granddaughter, and for that reason she will always be the one we see as the catalyst - the one who changed our lives. She continues to sail into unconventionalism. She is brilliant and thoughtful and loves reading. Recently she has taken up a love of fashion design and mixed martial arts. Right before the school year she shaved the sides of her head and dyed her hair a bright red; it looks so cool. Even better than how it looks is how it fits her. Just like her name, Laila Willow, it is a fresh splash of beauty in this world. And it now her name does roll off my tongue, just like it was meant to be.
Happy Birthday, Laila Willow. You changed my life for the better – and I love you for that and for so much more.