Over fall break, my sister Holly welcomed a new baby into her family. We had all been waiting, in nine months of anticipation, for “baby number two”—excitedly guessing on boy or girl and trying to avoid using the word “it” to describe the surprise little one that Holly carried with her. Finally, after a week of extra waiting, a new baby boy was born on Saturday night. Welcome to the big world, Nathan Chase.
Early Sunday afternoon, my little sister Liz and I packed up our things to head back to Messiah. Half way through our trip we stopped at Lehigh Valley Hospital to congratulate Holly, my brother-in-law Steve and little Davey (the one and a half year old baby number one), and, of course, to see little Nathan still bundled in his hospital baby blanket and blue knit hat.
One of my favorite things about newborn babies is their grasping reflex. As I held Nathan on Sunday afternoon, I wiggled my finger into his blanket in search of his small hand, and when I found it, he immediately wrapped his five tiny baby fingers around one of my big grown-up fingers and clung to me.
When my first nephew was born seven years ago, I was only thirteen and entering my eighth grade year. My family and I flew to Maui, Hawaii, where my brother Danny was living at the time, to see his son: our new nephew and my parents’ first grandchild. Alex was just a little baby in a blanket back then, before he grew up to be arguably the cutest toddler and unarguably Maui’s cutest toddler, winning a Hawaiian Tropic’s baby contest that gave me serious bragging rights as an aunt. Now, he’s a wild energetic seven-year old who doesn’t stop to catch his breath, let alone for a nap in a baby blanket. But back then, during those days in Maui, he was a tiny, sleepy, finger-gripping newborn.
I remember the first time I felt Alex’s finger-clenching grip. Wow, he must really like me, my thirteen-year old self thought. He’s gripping so tight, he doesn’t want me to leave him! What I didn’t know at the time was that all babies have this latch-on tendency. Not only do they all do it, but they all do it to everyone or everything that touches their soft baby palms. What I mistook for favoritism was, in fact, a natural newborn reflex. Depressing? Tell me about it.
Or at least just initially. But the more I think about it, the less depressing it is. In fact, it’s nothing shy of amazing to think that God designed every little baby to hang on to anyone blessed enough to reach for his or her hand. For the first six months of its life, a baby will grasp onto anything so tightly and strongly, sometimes strong enough to support his or her own weight.
It’s in that moment, when I feel a teeny little newborn wrap his fingers around mine, that I feel his authentic need to be held—to be loved and guided by some big, more weathered hands. There, in that moment, I understand the beautiful vulnerability of the baby fingers. And there, in that moment, I marvel at God’s design to help the grown-up fingers: to open their eyes to the need and power in family and guidance, in responsibility and in love.