Note: The story below is from our Jan./Feb. 2015 issue. For the full story download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
The quiet determination that shows in Ava’s eyes at 14 months old (well, more like 11 as related to her due date), has served her well since the beginning of her life, as has her mother’s gentle hold.
Actually I couldn’t keep myself, on several occasions, from saying that very thing: “Could you just stay with Ava for the rest of the time she’s here?”
This was on the 14th floor of Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, and while there may have been tears at my eyes, I hope I smiled enough to let each nurse know that it was a compliment rather than a literal request.
Ava, the eighth of my wife’s and my nine grandchildren, was born at 24 weeks, and weighed a pound and an ounce. These numbers were at the threshold of where the Carilion NICU (“nick-you” sounds so much less ominious than the neo-natal intensive care unit that it stands for), recommends the weeks and weeks of worry to follow. And there buried amid the wires and tubes and warmers, Ava appeared, for the first weeks of her life, more fragile and not much bigger than a new bird.
And every one of those nurses – some gregarious, some quiet, some doing play-by-play as they worked, some going industriously and silently about their serious business – had the same approach to the tentative, scared-witless granddad visitor: Well, she’s pretty good right now, but that’s just right now; we just don’t know exactly what will come next.
It was the perfect blend – even to he in deep need of real news – of reassurance and reality, of yes, it’s good you’re here to see her, and yes we hope you can do so again in a few days.
At times when Ava was being tended to, I’d go out to the waiting room there on the 14th floor, which looks out over the Rivers Edge sports complex and on out over Roanoke. Sometimes there was a grandson playing on the fields below, coached by a son. Sometimes the sun was setting off to the west, and sometimes that combination of the person behind me and the people below me – including those in Roanoke houses out of my immediate view – swelled up in me to the point that I felt like I might explode with emotion.
I tried hard not to. And I tried hard not to get too hopeful or too pessimistic about the tiny girl’s chances.
And I have tried, over the year-plus since she was born, to find a way to talk about that time and that girl; but I have worried, superstitious person that I am in some realms, that I might somehow compromise her steady and amazing progress.
It is no small measure of compliment to those NICU nurses that I’ve overcome that fear. That I re-stir that ever-nearby risk of tears as I thank them – and thank Ava’s deeply devoted mother and her doting father – for the stunningly beautiful little girl she is today.
I had no inkling, 12 years ago, what grandparenthood would hold. The love that has built in me for the two 12-year-old boys, the 8-year-old girl (who seemed so tiny at just over three pounds at birth), the 7-year-old boy, the 4-year-old boy, the 3-year-old girl, the year-plus-old boy (born two days before Ava and seeming so tiny at just over three pounds), and the 6-month-old girl has deepened with every passing month since the first boy was born. The miracle girl has somehow spread a thick layer of even deeper love back over all of them – an additional miracle. It lives in me with an intensity I did not know could exist until I made those visits to Belleview Avenue summer before last.