The Smile That Saved a Life, a Mother’s Day Tale


This is the perfect story for Mother’s Day. It’s not from my own past, but it’s too good not to pass along – and I have the gracious permission of its principal, my daughter-in-law Jodi, to share it today with all her fellow mothers and all the husbands and children who love the mothers in their lives.

The event I’m recounting took place about 11 years ago when our first grandchild, Jonah, was eight weeks old. A baby’s first smile is always memorable. But this one was doubly so for the circumstances in which Jonah delivered it.

It happened at about 3 o’clock one morning, shortly after the dark-of-night feeding. With young babies, you seldom wait long for a feeding to trigger a poop. And Jonah’s dad, Adam, would usually handle postprandial diaper duty to allow Jodi to fall back asleep.

That night, however, Adam was ill with a fever and didn’t get up. So Jodi, out of sorts from new-mom exhaustion and anticipating that she’d be unable to fall asleep again anytime soon, dragged herself to the changing table.

That’s when the you-know-what hit the figurative fan!

If you’re a parent, you’ve almost certainly had a diaper-changing experience that called for hazmat gear. This was one of those. And not just thanks to the shockingly loose consistency and particularly sulfurous aroma of the payload, but also because the little darling was in a squirmy mood.

This was not going to be a quick change.

As Jodi struggled with the diaper, Jonah almost managed to wriggle off the changing table. Keeping him on his back and intercepting him before he could roll over the edge, while simultaneously divesting him of his hopelessly soiled outfit, cleaning him off and getting him into fresh clothes was a herculean effort. All the while, Jonah deftly got poop on his face, the wall, the floor and, of course, Mom.

Trapped by the need to keep Jonah from falling off the table, Jodi hollered for backup, but Dad remained unresponsive.

Just as Jodi was coming to a sympathetic view of infanticide, Jonah looked up and gave Mom a big smile – his very first! It was particularly gratifying because it came practically at the end of the five-to-eight-weeks-of-age window when the experts say babies usually produce their first smile. Jonah had been keeping Mom and Dad waiting.

“That smile was what saved him,” Jodi later told us.

It’s also what finally goosed Adam out of bed. “Come quick!” Jodi yelled, “Jonah is smiling!” Adam stumbled in and brought rags for the big cleanup. “We laughed, and Jonah survived the night!” Jodi recalls.

Lucky kid! Never underestimate the power of a smile.

And Happy Mother’s Day!

Jodi and Jonah

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