A new baby puts your world into perspective

Who said I couldn't keep a secret?

The fact is, I'm a grandmother again.

This time, it's a boy – our first grandson – in this third generation that already includes two granddaughters.

He was born Oct. 16 at Presbyterian Hospital.

His parents are my older son Hugh and his wife, Alyssa. They've named their first child Benjamin Houston Romine IV, and they're calling him Townes after their favorite songwriter, the late Townes Van Zandt.

This isn't Big News in the grander scheme – except to those who already adore this little guy – but I must remind you of something you already know and perhaps have forgotten: There's nothing like a new baby to put your world into perspective.

We're all running scared these days.

The economy's still slouching south.

The presidential election – at this moment – is suspended like a Pawley's Island Hammock.

I don't know what it's like at your house. But at ours, MSNBC is a near-constant. We haven't watched our favorite shows, “House” and “Prison Break,” all season. Rarely have we been so riveted by politics.

Or so worried about the future of this country and how our loved ones will fare in a world that seems to be going haywire.

As Joan Didion once wrote, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.”

We're seeing the beginning of this economic downfall. Hard to say where it will stop.

Tonight, we'll see the beginning of one candidate's victory over the other. But we don't know where either might take us.

We know the beginning of the war in Iraq. But will it end in Barack Obama's time frame? Or John McCain's?

Is there even one certain thing we do know about the future?

We know this: The fertility rate among Americans two years ago leapt to its highest level since 1971. Which means that for the first time since shortly after the baby boom ended, we've reached the rate needed for a generation to replace itself – 2.1 births per woman.

If that news sounds dated, I can tell you that in mid-October, Presbyterian Hospital's Women's and Children's Center was full to overflowing.

That says to me that a generation of young people is taking a flier on the future.

How can those of us who are older, maybe wiser, certainly more skeptical, not join them?

I'll tell you the one time the TV's off in our house.

When the baby's there.

We sit upstairs, beneath the skylights, and watch little Townes absorbed in the blue and gold miracle of his first autumn.

His eyes drink in the drift of the leaves out the window, and our eyes drink in his eyes.

He's entranced with this burnished new world. We're entranced with him.

How can we not hold him close and swaddle him in hope?