By Kay Etheredge
Our granddaughter, Charlotte, came two weeks early as a global pandemic raged. Our son, Grant, called us just after supper on Thursday night, March 20. We threw our things in suitcases, made a quick call to our pet sitter and left for Jackson, MS. We made it around 1 am, just a short time before Charlotte made her entrance into this turbulent world.
Grant face-timed my phone since he was the only one allowed at the hospital with Chelsea. Grant’s voice was weary but proud as he said, “Let me introduce you to Charlotte Mercy Etheredge”. Chelsea, looking wonderful, held our newest granddaughter in her arms. It was a beautiful, but surreal, moment.
Jim was able to stay until Monday morning but had to head back to Birmingham. I stayed to help with the other children, aged 4 and 17 months. Because of illness, Chelsea’s parents weren’t able to be there and even though I know she needed and wanted her own mom, I was thrilled to be able to help. Grant designated himself as the runner. Anytime we needed groceries or anything else, he was the one who went out. We prayed for protection from covid-19 for us all.
One day, Grant made a quick run to the store and while there bought some Legos that he could build with the older kids, and he bought a puzzle. He said it was the last puzzle on the shelf, and he didn’t realize until he got home that it was much too hard for the children. He spread out the pieces on the table and we began to assemble the border. Grant, an engineer and methodical in his thinking, began to separate the pieces into piles…darker green here, lighter green here, white for the waterfall over here. With a new baby in the house and 2 toddlers there wasn’t a lot of time but we did the puzzle in increments. Five minutes here, 30 minutes there, a few minutes before bed…sometimes we worked independently and sometimes we sat down together and fit in the pieces.
Grant became philosophical at one of our puzzle table gatherings. “I thought Henry was a baby until we brought Charlotte home. He now looks huge and it’s scary how fast that happened”. I said, “Grant, I thought you were a baby too, and then I blinked and you now have three children of your own”. Normally he would roll his eyes at Mom’s sentimentality but I think as we both held our puzzle pieces in mid-air, he got it.
Jim was coming on Thursday to take me back to Birmingham. Wednesday night as we all went to bed, there were still big gaps in the puzzle. I felt determination mixed with a bit of desperation, that I wouldn’t get to see the puzzle completed. It saddened me, and I began to make comparisons to parenting. I was grateful to be a part of Grant’s family…to see my son who was the kindest little boy, grow into a man, a husband, a Daddy. To see him wrestle with his kids on the floor and growl and make them giggle and to see his patience as they clung to his neck and climbed all over him. His thoughtfulness as he bought a puzzle to try and make the long days of social distancing more bearable. To know that in spite of our mistakes in parenting, he will be fine.
I awoke Thursday morning and Grant was at the table. I joined him. We filled in gaps. Grant patiently found pieces that fit and called Caroline, the oldest, over to place them…to make her feel like she was part of the process of accomplishment. And then, the last piece went in. I took a picture as Caroline posed proudly beside it, wearing her princess nightgown and trying to figure out in a 4 year-old way how the change in family dynamics will affect her.
Jim came and we couldn’t wait to show him the completed puzzle. I’m sure it has long been boxed up by now, but when I think of the pandemic and the late night drive to Mississippi, the arrival of Charlotte, and a million other things that transpired during those short days that I was there, the puzzle is a big part. We worked together. We laughed. We probably annoyed each other some. We marveled at the miracle of new life. And we pieced 300 puzzle pieces together and came out with a beautiful scene that had highs and lows and sunshine and shadows.
Outside a pandemic raged, but inside there was family. A new baby. Warmth and love. We drove away with them all standing in the yard and waving. The sun shone and just for a moment it was easy to put our anxieties about covid-19 aside. It seemed so normal. Our daughter-in-law, Chelsea, holding the baby. Henry and Caroline waving and pretending to run behind us. And beside them all, our little boy who suddenly is a grown man with a family of his own. I am proud to call him son, and they will be, with
God’s grace, just fine.