When my younger son, Aaron, was 3 or so, he had serious ambitions: He wanted to be a race-car driver or a superhero when he grew up. That was about the time I gave him the chance to name a litter of kittens. They were, perhaps, the only felines ever to answer to the unforgettable (no matter how hard I tried) names of Bionic Man, Bionic Woman, Bionic Man Junior, and Bionic Woman Junior.
A year or two later, when he suggested the name "GI Joe" for a certain bundle of Creamsicle fluff, I exercised a mother's veto and named the kitten "Katie" instead. As Aaron grew older, I somehow managed to restrain myself from inviting him to name the various puppies, kittens, ferrets, and fish joining our household. Somehow, I couldn't picture myself calling in the dog with a name based on a computer game ("Queen of Doom! Queen of Doom! Come in, girl!") Nor was I crazy for the name Beavis or Duke Nukem.
As time went by, the life of a race-car driver or a superhero didn't appeal to him as much. No, he became much more practical and mature about the various career paths beckoning to him: jobs such as disc jockey ("They actually pay you for playing music all day!"), rock star, and pro football player. His future profession was sure to be exciting, extremely lucrative, and - most important of all - something at which he could become famous.
But, as we all know, life sometimes has a way of interfering with our most glamorous aspirations. And so Aaron eventually went into the service. He and his wife, Wendy, were stationed in Germany. When we asked, speaking rapidly at 80-plus cents a minute, how he liked his job, he laughed and said, "Guys! I throw huge bags of mail all day, that's what I do. So, how do you think I like it?"
Soon after their daughter was born, we flew over to hold our first grandchild. On the way, I wondered out loud, "Can any baby in the world possibly live up to the elegance of the name 'Victoria Grace'?"
It took me about two seconds to discover the answer to that question. Victoria was that rare combination, in my absolutely unbiased opinion, of brilliant and beautiful - even at the tender age of three months. I wasn't surprised to find myself falling totally, helplessly in love with her. But what I was unprepared for - absolutely - was the experience of watching my son with his daughter.
As soon as I saw him at the airport, I knew something was different about him. His eyes sparkled as he held his daughter up to meet her grandparents. "She smiles and coos and laughs," he told us proudly. "And don't you think she's as beautiful as her mother?" Indeed we did, we told him, curving our arms around Victoria, inhaling sweet baby fragrance, and beaming at Wendy. "She likes to be held like this," he told us, demonstrating. In short order, we learned about Victoria's sleeping habits, eating habits, and burping habits. In their apartment, we were given the tour: Victoria's beautifully decorated bedroom, her favorite toys, the swing ... and the nonessentials, like the bathroom, kitchen, and our bed.
We spent the week passing around Victoria with great pleasure, the four of us claiming turns to hold her. When we ate, she charmed us from her swing - that battery-operated wonder next to the table.
One evening we went out to dinner. Victoria began to fuss. This was unusual. Victoria wasn't much of a fusser.
"She's bored," Aaron told us. "I'll swing her in her infant seat. She loves that - reminds her of the swing at home. There's not enough room in here, so I'll go outside."
Every so often, one of us would leave the chow mein and step out into the clear German air to check on them. There he'd be, his arm swinging pendulumlike back and forth, Victoria in her infant seat dangling from his hand, content ... as long as he kept on ticking.
'ISN'T your arm getting tired?" I asked him. He shrugged. "I throw mail all day. This is nothing." No pro football player, I thought, ever gets a workout like this one.
In the car on the way home, music was selected carefully. "Victoria loves U2," the disc jockey explained. And then he drove, on the no-speed-limit autobahn, like a race-car driver. "If you drive too slowly, you can get rear-ended," Wendy told us, no doubt noticing our white knuckles.
Having survived the ride home, I watched my granddaughter peeled like a banana by her dad and then expertly pj-ed. I can tell you, no rock star has ever had a more adoring audience than Victoria listening to Dad coo to her. Why, to see the look in her eyes, you'd swear she was gazing up at a superhero - or at least someone extremely famous.
One of these days, I've got something to tell my son: Aaron, you've grown up to be something a lot more important than a race-car driver, a disc jockey, a rock star, a pro football player, or even a superhero. But then, I don't think he needs to be told. I have a hunch he already knows.
And there's one more thing I want to add: Aaron, I am so very, very grateful Wendy helped you out with choosing that baby's name.