The Smallest, Biggest Story Ever
‘Though she be but little, she is fierce’
After I had given birth to Anna, my first child, more than 30 years ago, I was still tired from the experience when the morning news came on the television. I turned to my husband, who was holding our baby and I said, half-joking, “Did they report the news of Anna’s birth yet?”
Pete didn’t miss a beat. “No,” he replied. “But you journalists always miss the big stories.”
A baby is a little story and a big story all in one.
A little story because, on a planet of 8 billion souls, what is one more? In the U.S., the combination of births, deaths and net international migration increases the population by one every 27 seconds, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
If you count births alone, in America a baby is born every nine seconds.
Worldwide, 4.3 babies are born every second of every minute.
That’s 258 life-changing stories in one minute alone.
One of those seconds belongs to Anna’s daughter and three other birth companions, born somewhere across the planet, perhaps equatorial Africa or the mountains of China; a fraction of that second, at 8:05 March 29 on a sunny morning in Connecticut, is Riley’s alone.
She came squalling into our world at a robust 8 pounds, full of opinions already, mostly taking issue with being summarily yanked from her warm space into light, cool air and the waiting arms of her parents.
“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” True today as it was when Shakespeare wrote that memorable line more than 400 years ago.
Thank you for reading! I hope you become a free or paid subscriber.
Anna suggested that the onslaught of relatives could wait while she recovered and Riley settled in.
So the day of her birth I ignored emails and spent the day painting the kitchen.
It gave me time to think of all that Riley will see.
She was born a century after women gained the right to vote. She will grow up in a world where Artificial Intelligence is common, the planet’s climate is changing, where democracy is in question and where, the U.S. Supreme Court and some state governments are rolling back women’s rights. She and her mother are healthy, thank God, even though, shamefully, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among developed nations, a rate as much as 10 times higher than other wealthy countries.
There are so many things that need fixing. Already, Riley has her work cut out for her. She may need that fierceness after all.
Riley is blessed with a universe of cousins, a glorious, multi-cultural quilt of America itself. They are Portuguese, Italian, Irish, Polish and African American, most born in the last five years.
They are not her only inheritance.
Riley already has other gifts from her ancestors, stories of strong women who came before her. Some have become family legends.
One involved my father’s grandmother, known as Nana to all her descendants. Nana’s husband deserted her early in the marriage, leaving her with a 3-year-old daughter, Bess, to raise alone. Soon after, mother and daughter were caught in the Titusville Flood of 1892, a terrifying conflagration that killed dozens. The flood nearly swept Bess away.
So Nana was understandably short- tempered when, soon after, she received a telegram from Texas: “YOUR HUSBAND WAS SHOT DURING A CARD GAME. WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH HIS BODY?” Her two-word reply? “BURY HIM.”
Nana lived to old age; Bess married, had children and taught school for more than 30 years.
Some family legends are still alive. Riley’s great-grandmother Herminia is one. She emigrated to America from the Azores as a child, worked in Connecticut mills, raised five kids, and at 85 looks fabulous. She is strong, too, but even better, she is generous and kind.
There is no magic juju to life, I thought as I painted. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Riley will have her challenges and struggles along with everyone else.
But she already has something she can count on, and it became obvious over the next few days: Love.
I was with my granddaughter Ellie as Anna and Rob brought Riley home for the first time. Three-year-old Ellie was so excited she clapped and jumped up and down as her parents emerged from the car holding her baby sister.
Soon Ellie was settled on the living room couch, surrounded by pillows, holding Riley in her small, sturdy arms.
Ellie stared down in wonder at her tiny sister, and looked up at all of the adults in the room, her face radiant. Her parents smiled back. Even Biggie the Pug sniffed Riley approvingly and wagged his tail.
It’s a small family, and a little story - but an important one, too.
And I, a journalist, a grandmother and privileged witness, was able to see the very heart of that crucial story unfold, right in front of me: The birth of a love that will last like diamonds.
In the end, there is no bigger story than that.