Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

I was excited to finally meet my 3-month-old granddaughter for the first time. Then again, the drive from Napa to Long Beach is a long haul to view a kid who’s all flopsy and can’t even begin to say your name.

We committed five days to the meet-up — two for travel, the other three for limited visitations.

Why limits? Because caring for a baby is EXHAUSTING. Dennis and Margaret needed mornings to themselves to mellow out Helena with breast milk and organize for our drop-ins.

We didn’t expect to be entertained by the parents. We wanted only to behold the magnificence of the first Courtney grandchild. We would simply watch Helena do her thing ... whatever that might be.

It seems that babies her age have a limited repertoire of behaviors. Helena’s strong suit? Gazing into faces and gripping fingers with surprising force. By reputation, she’s also capable of world class meltdowns (thus the nickname “H-bomb”) but we never witnessed one.

On our first day, Cheryl and I did the obligatory Helena holding. Cheryl was a more accomplished holder than I. Unlike me, she didn’t have to resort to physical antics to elicit smiles.

Visits on days two and three were more animated. Helena did major workouts on her floor mat, exhibiting the determination of an Olympic weightlifter to grab toys, shift them between hands and stuff as much as she could into her mouth.

Quite frankly, Dennis and Margaret’s black cat, Olivia, put on more of a show, with mock attacks and wild behaviors.

While Helena had top billing on this visit, her parents emerged as the unsung heroes. They were coping with the 24/7 demands of baby care while meeting their career obligations.

Their stressful juggling act was impressive. Compared to theirs, our lives back in Napa were lazy self-indulgence.

I found myself marveling time and time again at how these parents, both in their upper 30s, had got their act together so quickly.

Dennis had spent nearly a dozen years in the calm confines of academia before marrying Margaret and embarking on this parenting journey. I had previously viewed him as someone whose major life pleasures were cerebral and aesthetic.

Parenthood blew open these assumptions. Dennis displayed a loving playfulness at having a baby to rock and entertain with bird noises. Was he doing his part to support Margaret, the household’s maternal center? Short of writing laws that guarantee new moms more paid leave, I think he was.

Dennis said he can’t wait to come home from work and be with his new family. He can’t remember what life was like before Helena.

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Proud of their Long Beach neighborhood, Dennis organized daily walks to see lagoons, visit a cafe for cappuccinos and view parrots rioting in the tops of palms as the setting sun turned the horizon pink.

Where was Helena during these long strolls? She was most often strapped to Margaret, who displayed the strength of five moms.

After three days of hanging out with SoCal Courtneys, Cheryl and I hightailed it out of there. We didn’t want to exhaust the new parents lest a happy visit turn sour.

We left our Seal Beach motel at 4:45 a.m. and shot up I-5. Except for a Starbucks stop in Buttonwillow and a bathroom stop at Harris Ranch, nothing impeded us on our seven-and-a-half-hour journey.

Normally, I-5 trips are brain-killing. Not this one. We roared north in a state of euphoria, processing our grandbaby visit every mile of the way.

It seemed profound that my child now has a child and that Courtney family heritage — whatever that is — was being extended to a new generation.

On a gut level: What joy to gaze into the bluest of eyes on a creature of such innocence.

This 13-pound infant is a world changer. My life before Helena was comfortable. My life after Helena is exciting.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.