Amy Choate-Nielsen: Baby smiles not such an enigma after all?

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6 2013 5:46 p.m. MDT

I love to make my baby smile. But maybe he's really smiling at something I can't see.

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A few days ago, I sat on the bed with my newborn son while he grinned.

He was just learning how to do it and I, his doting mother, have been fascinated to watch his process.

His regular expression is a little bit stern and deeply serious, but when he smiles, it is like rays of sunshine breaking through the fog. He opens his mouth, curls up the corners of his lips, lifts his tongue and sticks his chin out while making a little cooing sound. His cheeks dimple and his eyes turn into shapes his father calls "half moons." It is adorable.

He does it almost any time he gets one-on-one attention, which, with two older siblings around, is somewhat stunted. But on this particular occasion he wasn't smiling at me. I was getting his diapers and wipes ready for a change and he was looking up, about a foot away from where my face was, flashing his dimples and half moons and gummy grin at something else.

I say it's the angels. I say there's a whole group of them around my babies and they talk and sing and smile with words only my babies can hear. They come and keep them company and then, when my kids get old enough to talk, the angels seem to go. The same thing has happened with each one.

That little glimpse reminded me of my grandmother, Fleeta Choate, who died before I was born. Long before I knew anything about her, I believed she was my guardian angel.

For example, once, when I was 16 years old, I was a passenger in a car accident. It was late at night, on a highway far from home, and my seatbelt was broken. My friend and I crashed head-on into another car going I don't know how fast, and on impact, I smashed the windshield with the back of my skull.

I remember sitting back against the seat after the collision, feeling the back of my head for blood, but there was none. I saw the splintered glass and looked around the car for some other heavy object that could have turned into a projectile to break the windshield, but there was none.

I realized it must have been my head that hit the glass, but I didn't have whiplash, or a concussion, or amnesia. I didn't even have a headache. As I walked to the ambulance that arrived on the scene to take us to the hospital, the paramedics told each other to pay attention to me because I might have just been in shock. But I was fine. I have always thought my guardian angel grandmother might have had something to do with that.

I kept her busy with my childhood. I was in plenty of dangerous situations where sheer luck couldn't explain my safety — and it turns out I'm not the only one with dibs on her as a guardian angel.

My uncle tells me that before my grandmother died, she told him whenever he found a penny lying around, it was a sign of something good.

To this day, he says he still finds pennies in the most unlikely places when he's done a good deed for the day. To him, it's a reminder of his mother, my grandmother. He says she is one of his guardian angels, too, along with his father.

Being a mother is sometimes a lonely job. Even when those smiling rays break through the fog, there are many moments when it's easy to feel marooned on an island. The lack of sleep, the complete responsibility and the estrangement from other adults can all make a woman feel pretty isolated.

But when my baby grinned that day, at something other than me, I didn't feel so alone. I felt like there was someone else there, sitting right next to me, helping me, making my baby happy, making him smile.

And whether it was real, or imagined, doesn't matter. At the very least, it was a poignant reminder to me that I am never alone.

I believe that there are angels all around to keep my baby company, but that day, the angel was for me.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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