Sunday is Grandparents Day. Here is one granddad's view from there. By Marvin Caplan
Given my casual approach to clothes -- which some mistake for slovenliness -- and the perverse pride I take in being unable to name any of the men or women on the 10 Best Dressed lists, it is a matter of considerable embarrassment to find one of the 10 Best Dressed Infants in the World right in my own family.
I speak of my one and only grandchild. The first inkling I had of his celebrity came only one month after birth when I went up to Manhattan for his pidyon haben, an arcane religious ritual reserved for the firstborn male in traditional Jewish households.
As soon as I entered the apartment, my daughter presented Mark Neil, clad in a long, pale blue ceremonial gown made, I think, of satin. He was scarcely in my arms when his cries suggested he needed attention; he was taken from me and returned, in a dark blue sailor suit, complete with bell-bottom trousers. Just then my son-in-law came in from work bringing a new gift, a box of white garments on which Mark Neil's initials were elaborately hand-embroidered. My daughter took one look at them and promptly snatched Mark Neil back to try on one of the new suits.
I am happy to report -- particularly to my son-in-law's bookkeeper, whose handiwork he was now wearing -- that it fitted him perfectly. But three changes of costume in 15 minutes!
"My God," I exclaimed, not inappropriately given the significance of the event we were all gathering for. "How many outfits does he have?"
"About 60," said my daughter. "And that's the count right now. New ones keep coming in every day."
Sixty! To a man who once worked on Capitol Hill and made it through fall and winter in two suits and spring and summer in three, it was an incredible number.
Even knowing that, I was not entirely ready for the wardrobe brought with him when Mark Neil and my daughter arrived here three months later for a visit of two days. He arrived by train, late afternoon, wearing a white and yellow jumper with the outline of a bunny rabbit, in applique', on his chest. He changed for dinner, of course, into red and blue overalls with a kind of cummerbund of red and white stars. Later on in the evening, when we were ready to visit some friends, he came out to the car wearing a simple but elegant red-striped suit, legs bare, with snaps under the thighs.
Next morning I came to breakfast in a ratty old plaid bathrobe and found Mark Neil already at the table garbed in new coveralls: tiny blue and white checks with big white buttons and a teddy bear decoration that looked like a medal of honor.
"I did not know," I said, "that we dress for breakfast here."
"We don't," said my daughter. "But Mark Neil has so many things to wear, it's a shame not to use them."
"How many now?" I asked.
"Ninety-two, I think."
Ninety-two! I was so unnerved I went back to the bedroom and put on my new gray mohair. But I was hopelessly outclassed. Needless to say, by dinner time Mark Neil had outdressed me three or four to one. Somewhat abashed, I handed over to his mother the present a friend had pressed upon me when she heard that my daughter and grandson were coming to town.
"Oh," my daughter exclaimed, opening the gift and removing from the tissues a white embroidered shirt and dark green trousers. "How lovely! And a big size, too. That's good."
"Ninety-three?" I asked.
"Something like that," said my daughter, glum.
The prospect was staggering. If Mark Neil wore only one new outfit a day, it would take him more than three months to display the entire contents of his drawers and closet. Talk about Solomon in all his glory! And there was no assurance that those contents wouldn't continue to grow as the days passed.
"I know, I know," my daughter said. "It is getting a bit out of hand. Fortunately he's starting to outgrow some of his things." And no wonder. The kid was clearly on the hefty side. Three months and already 16 pounds.
Ah, but would he outgrow things fast enough? And wasn't it a shame to discard wearable clothes? A good tailor, I pointed out, could probably alter some of his suits and keep him wearing things like the new green trousers, for instance, right on through nursery school.
"I don't ask people to give him clothes," said my daughter, in what sounded like an attack of conscience. "I think I ought to start giving some of his things away."
Alas, I pointed out, the dilemmas of good fortune are not resolved so readily. Even if she were to give them to all the newborn infants at Mount Sinai, Mark Neil's alma mater, that would scarcely clothe them all for more than a day or two. And then sizes and initials would be hard to match. Had she considered alternatives? Had they looked into the tax advantage of giving the clothes to a museum? If we could get him nominated and listed as one of the World's 10 Best Dressed Babies, there was no telling where such recognition could lead.
My daughter was ready to grab him away from me out of sheer vexation.
But hold. Not so fast. Inside those garments is a human child. That little clothes horse has the brightest eyes. And for all his heft, he's still a joy to hold. Lift him way up and his hands begin to clench the air. A little crinkling begins at the right corner of the mouth and suddenly that wide-gapped, toothless aperture kindles and blazes into a smile! With his face and complexion and physique -- no question, the kid would look good in anything. Sackcloth, even. In nothing at all.
And there is no doubt that he has a discriminating ear. He smiled when I sang to him, happily cramming fingers into his mouth; and he smiled most when I sang two favorites of mine: the old Yiddish lullaby, "Raisins and Almonds," and The Shaker Hymn.
At breakfast the next morning, the fashion parade went on. Mark Neil came to the table in a yellow jumpsuit decorated with a letter marked Baby on his left breast and a mailbox marked Baby on his right. And when he went off on the train, he was clad all in white, a tiny snowman, with almost nothing of him visible except rose silk cheeks and eyes of a dark piercing blue. My daughter, I realized, had made the transition from independent career woman to mother, carrying more clothes for him than she brings for herself.
And I've made a transition, too. I have become a grandfather. When I think of him now, the glittering array vanishes. What I remember as I hold my grandson aloft in my thoughts is the wonderful feel of him as I nuzzle his cheek and croon into his ear, offering him gifts I want most to give him: not hand-embroidered shirts, nor velour trousers, nor Pima cottons, nor apparel stamped with an alligator, but the gifts of The Shaker Hymn:
" . . . The gift to be simple, the gift to be free, the gift to come down where you ought to be . . ."
And by now I am singing to him, off-key, in full ardent voice:
"And when you have come to the place that's right -- 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight."