Leo and Yeya

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I did not know of the zygote in my daughter’s womb, but I suspected. It was after Thanksgiving that year—the terrible and wonderful year when my brother died and my daughter married. The wedding was in August, and he passed in October, pushing me into a depressed state. It was not sudden; he spent six weeks sinking. Six weeks where there was no hope, no expectation of a different outcome so that when it finally happened (in the middle of the semester) the sadness and grief I was holding at bay rushed over me and surrounded my every waking moment and move.

It was impossible to be honestly upbeat when talking with my newlywed daughter; of course, I was happy for her and her partner. Their life together was new and exciting. They rented a house, had two cats, lived in a predominately Mexican neighborhood of Chicago. My life would never be the same without my brother; I was now the only child. The only one responsible for our divorced, elderly parents who were all the more devastated by the loss of their son, el pobre. Soldiering on, I showed up to work, taught my classes while dragging my feet, and took my zombie-ass home to cry. But when my daughter called or I called her, I tried to sound normal, to make it all about her. Their first Thanksgiving together as a couple was with friends. She complained about an upset stomach a week or so afterward.

“Maybe you have a virus,” I said.

“Yea, probably,” she said.

But in my heart, a spark flashed and sputtered—could she be pregnant? I dared not speak it; I had not even thought about being an abuela. I wanted them to enjoy their unencumbered lives together—she was working on a dissertation, for chrissake. I was pregnant with her while finishing up grad school and did not recommend it. I worried, but after hanging up, I put it out of my mind. The grief monster had to be fed, tamed; I had to attend to my parents—daily phone calls, sometimes twice or three times a day. I had to feed my feelings.

By the end of the semester, I tried to channel my pain by destroying my master bathroom. I’m talking sledgehammering the tub, ripping up tile, stripping the walls to the studs. A partial release since the work had to halt due to obscene mold. Perfect.

Then my daughter and her partner visited for Christmas; I only put up a tree because they were coming. I did not want to spoil their holiday. The first evening, they shared their official wedding photos with us and on the last page of the album, there was a sonogram photo of an embryo.

I am sure you have seen at least one of the videos of hysterical mothers or grandmothers screaming/crying/fainting at the news of forthcoming baby. I assure you I did not scream; well, I’m Cuban, so probably there was some screaming. But I did cry quietly and hugged and kissed and hugged some more. The heart spark I had buried flared to life. That embryo gave me hope that led to joy; I had the seed of reason to feel happy again.

I was with my daughter when she labored for thirty-three hours. Having had both my children via caesarean section, I never pushed a little human being out into the world. I had seen birth films aplenty; so, I readied myself to watch the miracle that is birth but alas, my Pedacito’s head was too big (my daughter is just under five feet tall).

Pedacito means little piece; Southerners might say “little bit” instead. My grandson is my pedacito, my precious, special, much beloved little human. Cubans, and many other Latinx folks, have a habit of diminutivizing nouns, especially names. My in-laws, for instance, call me Cecilita; their son’s name is likewise -ito-ed. I have called my grandbaby, mi Gordito (my little fatty), Papito or Papasito (little Papi), and Cosita (little thing), but Pedacito is claiming him as a piece of me.

All of the names I gave him had to be answered with my own. I could not be Abuela or Abuelita even, because this grandchild was lucky enough to have two living great-grandmothers, a step great-grandmother, and two grandmothers, so I chose Yeya for myself, a very Cuban throwback name. Yeya is a name babies can pronounce, and I love hearing it. My very own special name, taken by myself and given to my precious Pedacito.

I am his Yeya. He is mi Pedacito. And he was, from the moment I laid eyes on him. Looking at his wide-open, Buddha eyes, the length of his mini-human body, his delicate, wrinkled little feet; I was his. I did not anticipate this monumental love. The first time he grasped my pinky with his exquisite tiny fingers, he pulled me right out of my perpetual sadness. That first year, I spent as many weeks with him and his parents as they could tolerate. So much love in such a small body; that wiggly, squirmy little self brought me back to life.