At Christmas Dinner, a Baby Gives A Sense of Hope for the World By SUSAN PARKER Column

Tuesday December 28, 2004

Christmas day at our house. Sixteen adults, one 7-year-old, a toddler, and two babies gather around a food-laden table in the dining room. Kanna Jo Nakamura-Parker, six weeks old, and smaller than a bread basket, lies quietly in her mother’s arms. It is her first visit to our home, her first Christmas, her first time competing for attention with an overcooked, over-stuffed turkey. 

“Pass the baby to the left,” says my husband Ralph. “And the turkey to the right.” So we begin. Kanna is slipped into the arms of her mother’s friend, Sagiri, who whispers in Japanese that soon she’ll introduce Kanna to her flying squirrels, MoMo and MiMi, who she keeps as pets in her apartment. Then Kanna Jo is handed to Rick, who says something loud and Republican. “Give the baby to me,” shouts Rick’s wife, Dee, “And stop with that Republican stuff.” Dee espouses Democratic party policy to Kanna, than passes her on to me. I give Kanna a soft kiss and hold her face up close to Ralph’s. He breathes in her baby smell and rubs his cheek against hers. “I’m the only one who’s had a flu shot,” he says. “So I’m really the only one who should be kissing you, Kanna Jo.”  

“I’ve had a flu shot,” says my mother, reaching around Ralph’s electric wheelchair for Kanna. But the tremble in her outstretched hands prompts my dad to help with Kanna’s transfer. Mom presses Kanna to her chest, to keep her close and warm, and the Parkinson’s from shaking them both.  

Annie waits patiently to hold Kanna Jo next. “Where’d your momma get this cute pink dress?” she asks. “You look just like a candy cane.” 

“She looks like her mother,” says Lynn, who lifts Kanna from Annie’s arms.  

“There’s no denying that,” adds Harvey, peering over Lynn’s shoulder. Everyone nods in agreement.  

“Except for the eyebrows,” says Rachael. “What’s up with those?”  

“Bad brows,” says my brother sadly. “It’s the Parker curse.” 

“May I have the baby?” asks Irit. She holds Kanna Jo gently and murmurs a secret prayer in Hebrew. Perhaps it is to ward off the eyebrow curse, but before she can finish, Kanna’s brother, Bryce, tugs on Irit’s sleeve. “I want my sister back,” he says.  

“Say please,” instructs his daddy.  

“Please,” says Bryce. “Give her back. Now.”  

Kanna Jo is placed in the hands of her father, who holds her like a football before passing her back to her mother. Everyone has been too busy watching Kanna’s progress around the table to begin to eat. But now it is time. We bow our heads and give thanks for the meal before us and the friends we are gathered with. We wish for peace, good health, and safety. We pause a moment in silence to reflect upon those who have less than ourselves, for those who are hungry and sick, for those in the midst of conflict and war. Then we raise our heads and make a toast to one another. Glasses click, knives and forks clatter against full plates. Multiple voices sing out in overlapping conversations: about politics and pets, football and weird eyebrows, Brussels sprouts and flu shots. Kanna Jo Nakamura-Parker never wakes up, but the rest of us know that she is here in the room, tucked against her mother’s breast, silently offering to us the ultimate gift this Christmas—a glimpse at the future, a hope for a better, more understanding world.