I am talking on the phone to my daughter-in-law in Paris. In the background, I hear the merry chirps of 18-month-old Audrey.
"She's taking off her shoes and putting them back on," Marie-Christine tells me. "And she has learned the word for shoe. She's saying 'chaussure.' "
The French word for shoe. There's a tug at my heart. Our only granddaughter is going to speak French. Our son speaks to her in English, but she hears French from everyone else.
When she visits later this summer and I talk to her in English, will it awaken some memory of those precious days in Paris when she was new and I sang "Rock-a-bye Baby" to her?
Sir J.M. Barrie said, "God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December." For me, it was the roses in December first, and now there are the memories:
Our son, Ben, telephones to say that Audrey has arrived.
"When can you come?" he asks.
"As soon as I pack my bag," I answer. And I bravely travel alone to Paris to play my new role as grandmother.
I arrive during a transportation strike and in a snowstorm. I find my way to Les Invalides, where Ben meets me at last. The pleasure of seeing him, radiant with new fatherhood, is matched only by the joy that awaits: seeing the new mother and baby.
Ben has to return to his office, so he draws a street diagram for me and shows me where to begin. There is no possibility of getting a taxi on this wet, strike-bound afternoon.
I walk through a warren of Left Bank streets for more than an hour, and finally arrive at the clinic, boots covered in snowy slush, and so excited I ask for directions in dreadful Franglais.
Up two flights of stairs, down a corridor, and there they are! The new mama is in the private nursery attached to her room, gently washing and crooning softly to a tiny naked person. My heart is full of love for them both!
And then I hold my granddaughter for the first time, oh so carefully. Her skin is like peau de soie, and from her downy hair rises the unmistakable scent of roses.
It is dark when I walk back to the apartment, but in spite of the December gloom, I am thinking of roses.
A day later, Marie-Christine and Audrey are home, amid the clutter of baby gifts and diapers. In the white-and-turquoise ruffled crib, Audrey sleeps under a down coverlet. A wallpaper border of elephants parades around the room.
"Ah, Babar," I say to Ben.
"No," he replies, "we're bringing her up to be a Republican." Does he mean the American kind or the French kind?
It is Sunday. We have breakfasted on pastries and bread warm from the ovens of the boulangerie downstairs. Now I hear the new parents giggling like children as they give Audrey a bath on a pad on top of the washing machine.
Audrey's fifth day at home, and I star in a classic grandmother role. After a late feeding, Audrey refuses to be calmed. At 3 a.m., I offer to take her so her parents can get some rest. I walk, sing lullabies, and finally the old rocking chair we sent them from America works its magic and we all sleep.
ONE evening, I am on duty with Audrey while her parents create a splendid meal: guinea hen stuffed with sausage and chestnuts, followed by a crisp baguette and four kinds of cheese. At the end is a homemade tiramisu. (What else did I do in Paris besides care for the baby? my friends will ask. "I feasted!")
I am going home tomorrow. Audrey stirs in her crib, and I decide it won't hurt, just this once, to pick her up in the middle of the night. Three weeks old, precious beyond price, child of my child. When will I hold her again? Will she be walking, talking? Will she know me? I try not to think of all I will miss, but to savor this moment.
She is wearing a long white batiste dress with pink smocking and ruffled cuffs, and the hem is gathered by a satin ribbon tied in a bow. She leans back against me as I sit in the rocking chair, the top of her little head soft as silk. There is still the scent of roses. In the dim light, she waves her arms slowly in the air, with delicate fingers extended. Now and then she hiccups.
We look out the window at the lights on the Eiffel Tower. We don't need moonlight to cast a spell. She is a fairy princess, I think, or an angel, newly arrived.