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Guest column: The best parenting moments often have little to do with manuals, everything to do with magic

A tender moment between a great-grandpa and his new great-granddaughter creates lasting connection

Messy little baby is eating snack and licking bowl.
If a great grandfather wants to feed rhubarb sauce to a young baby, you let him.
Getty Images / iStockphoto
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While expecting my first baby, I read every parenting book I could find. I took notes, highlighted, memorized. I was going to do everything perfectly. And then her great-grandpa came to town.

He was driven up north to meet his first great-grandchild. It was what would be his last trip to North Dakota – or anywhere.

We gathered around my in-laws’ kitchen table. He gingerly cradled his great-granddaughter, and she flashed big toothless grins at him.

The coffee was flowing, and everyone was talking at once, afternoon sunlight dancing through the lace curtains. We propped Kristel in a wooden high chair, old enough to make one wonder how many generations it had held before her. She hadn’t quite mastered the art of sitting, so we looped a dishtowel around her and tied it behind the back of the chair to steady her. We put a wooden spoon on her tray, and trying to grab it kept her entertained.

My mother-in-law brought small bowls of rhubarb sauce, beautifully red, still warm, not too sweet, just tart enough. She was using up last year’s bounty to make room for the new crop growing in her garden.

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Grandpa loved it. And he decided his great-granddaughter should have some, too. He didn’t say anything, nor did he ask if it would be all right – he simply started directing a spoonful toward her.

I was horrified. Kristel didn’t eat people food yet. I had tried rice cereal on her, as advised by her doctor and the baby books, but she had no interest, and it would be six days before I would make a second attempt. So her first solid food was scheduled, but it would certainly not be rhubarb. Rhubarb was not among the First Foods – it wasn’t even in the baby books! This was not going to happen!

Except that it was happening.

And no one else was paying attention to this enormous deviation from protocol. I tried to think of how best to stop it and came up empty.

The things that really matter aren’t always found in parenting books or how-to manuals. And we don’t always know when they’ll happen. All we can hope for is that we’ll recognize them when they come along and have the good sense or divine guidance to not get in the way.
Athanassia (CeCe) Rohwedder

And then I saw what was really happening: a very old man was balancing a spoonful of thick liquid in his gnarled, shaky hand, moving it slowly but surely toward a very young baby barely balanced in a sitting position, babbling, triumphantly waving the long-elusive wooden spoon like a baton.

She eventually noticed this object coming at her, and she was intrigued; she stopped conducting and opened her mouth – which she had never done for the regulation rice cereal.

I’m not sure how much rhubarb sauce she swallowed. Some spilled along the way and on her nose. Red drool flowed down her chin, but she smiled ear to ear, smacked her lips, and flapped her arms with glee.

Homemade rhubarb compote
"I’m not sure how much rhubarb sauce she swallowed. Some spilled along the way, and on her nose. Red drool flowed down her chin, but she smiled ear to ear, smacked her lips, and flapped her arms with glee.<br/>This brought a great smile to great-grandpa’s face, and a repeat performance."
Getty Images / iStockphoto

This brought a great smile to great-grandpa’s face, and a repeat performance. I was still trying to figure out what to say, but now everyone was watching, which made interfering more challenging.

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In my frozen state, I watched the second spoonful. By now, Kristel knew what to expect, and she was perfectly still. Determination was written all over Grandpa’s face. His mouth was ajar, tongue pushing against his top teeth in utter concentration. Her mouth was wide open (fickle child!) in eager anticipation. The rhubarb-laden vessel was nearing its destination. They locked eyes. The very old man and the brand new child were focused on each other – and the rhubarb – and it felt that no one and nothing else existed for them. This was their moment to share.

I silently thanked God for striking me silent and letting that moment be. It didn’t come again.

Kristel saw her great-grandpa once more, a year later. He was in a nursing home, a strap wrapped around his waist and tied behind the back of his wheelchair to steady him. He needed someone to feed him.

The things that really matter aren’t always found in parenting books or how-to manuals. And we don’t always know when they’ll happen. All we can hope for is that we’ll recognize them when they come along and have the good sense or divine guidance to not get in the way.

Today, rhubarb plants all in a row hug the south side of Kristel’s house, proud descendants of a single root from her grandmother’s garden.

This article was sent in by an OTMOM reader, Athanassia (CeCe) Rohwedder. If you have a story idea, please feel free to send it to moms@forumcomm.com.

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