From the first, Caroline adored babies. And now our baby has her own baby.
Growing up in Forest Hills, Caroline always stared in fascination at babies. The babies often stared right back, equally fascinated and sensing kinship.
At age 12, Caroline babysat regularly for a friend’s 6-month-old daughter. Soon word about her talents spread around our neighborhood. Other mothers, hearing of her reputation, sought her services, demand quickly exceeding supply.
Then, in January, 2018, Caroline became pregnant. She was living in southern Italy now, her husband, a native Italian.
In my visit to her that June, I saw her reveling in her state of expectancy. She wore midriff blouses proudly baring her swelling belly. She routinely caressed her stomach, as if to welcome the much-awaited fetus in advance.
I was home in New York City the day Lucia Antonia was born. I still have the voicemail from my wife, Elvira saying, with a throb in her throat, “She’s here. She’s gorgeous. Caroline is fine.”
That December I returned to Italy. My son-in-law, Vito, was going to pick me up at the airport in Rome by himself. Instead, Caroline surprised me there with Lucia in her arms. A photo shows me with my jaw dropped and my arms outstretched.
For the first time I then saw Caroline in action as a mother. Now, you never really know how a person is going to turn out as a parent. After all, some fine people turn out to be lousy parents. They just lack the right DNA to succeed. And let’s face it: being a mother is different from being a babysitter. It’s the hardest job on the planet.
But none of what I saw then, with Lucia only a three-month-old newborn — nor during my next two trips, with her 9 months old and a 15-month-old toddler — came as a surprise.
Caroline greeted Lucia every morning, after every nap and at every reunion throughout every day with a cheery hello and a bright smile, as if constantly meeting her for the first time.
Caroline talked to Lucia almost every waking minute, mostly in Italian but also in English, teaching her language by example — all while also mastering fluent babytalk.
Caroline reacted to any and all sounds Lucia made, whether whimpering or burbling or howling, and often mimicked it, just to let her know she was heard and, better still, understood.
Caroline felt everything Lucia felt — her laughter, discomfort, sleepiness and satiety, every flux of mood.
Caroline performed every chore — bathing her, dressing her, playing with her, carrying her around, laying her down in the crib to sleep — with exactly the same infinite patience and relentlessly upbeat attitude. She changed her diapers as if it were cause for global celebration, congratulating Lucia on every contribution.
Caroline dialed in and tracked Lucia down to the last detail — measuring how much she ate, anticipating how soon she might want to eat again, how long she napped, the frequency of her bowel movements.
Caroline frequently exclaimed, “Look at that face! Oh, my God! Is that the cutest face ever?” Issuing all these endearments as if still in disbelief at her good fortune.
Caroline more than once looked at Lucia and — recognizing she has finally become what she always wanted to be, a mother — suddenly cried with joy.
Lucia is now the lucky beneficiary of a tradition that goes back three generations. Just as Elvira flourished under her mother, Antoinette, and Caroline under Elvira, so will Lucia now blossom under Caroline. For 45 years, I’ve witnessed this succession plan unfolding seamlessly.
I can imagine no greater gift for a father than to discover in no uncertain terms that his own child is the most wonderful of parents, the model mother every child deserves. It’s a bonus on top of a bonus.
Caroline calls me almost every day from Italy for a video chat, usually while wearing Lucia in her lap. Through my phone I can see how loved our granddaughter must feel, how safe, how secure — and how smart, spirited, strong and sweet she grows.
Caroline was meant to be a mother. And she timed it well. Even for fathers, and especially so now, motherhood has never mattered more.
Bob Brody, a consultant and essayist in Forest Hills, is author of the memoir “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”