Luisa Del Giudice


for Serafina

and for her parents, Elena and Mattia

[Serafina Del Giudice Bastasin, my granddaughter, was born on February 2, 2022.  On March 2, 2022, we learned that she was born profoundly deaf—as the result of a mutation in the GJB2 gene in both her parents.  These diary entries record Serafina’s transition from silence to sound.]

1.Beginnings and Sprouts of Hope

January 29, 2022

In these uncertain times of our pandemic era, midst the dead and dying all around us, like felled trees in a silent forest, budding life continues to emerge nonetheless—unaware of any of this.  We await that greatest of all beginnings:  your birth.  You will begin your journey into the world, tomorrow morning, January 30 at 8 a.m., at Little Company of Mary Hospital, with no one but your mother and father present, since COVID conditions stipulate that only one “plus one” may enter your mother’s room.

The rest of your family sits quietly at home, biding time, silent with trepidation and hope that you will fill lives—your own primarily, but also your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, all who know you—with happiness, love.  More specifically though, I wish for you a grounding in all of your own lineages:  peasant Terracina, urban Venetian, Italian Canadian immigrant, and settler-Californian, but also in our feminist, ecological, linguistic, and other lineages.  May you live deeply within each, gathering the good, the marvelous, the brave, the tenacious; while also recognizing and redeeming the shameful and wrong, with intelligence and a will toward justice and peace. 

Vieni, pulcino, into our lives, into our world—as broken as it is—with acceptance, love, and eventually, with wisdom, that you too may help mend it and make it whole.  You are perfect, just as you are this very moment, safe within your first home, your mother’s womb, knowing that you are surrounded by love, knowing that such love will be enough.  And may you come to love the air and the earth and the oceans, and feel fully at home within this other worldly womb. Especially though, you will be held up by the love of your mother and father, your grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends.

I imagine picking you up from your crib, your pram, or out of the bath, and holding you near, carefully swaddling you, singing the lullabies I can remember, whispering in your ear: want to come sit under a tree to listen to some stories? Walk on the beach and dive into the waves? Climb a hill just to see what we can see? Cook up some goodness in the kitchen? Walk the Sierran paths looking for wildflowers?  Search the sidewalks with a flashlight by night looking for bugs?  I offer it to you, dearest Isabella, Loredana, Olivia, or Serafina—your name as yet to be determined.  I am in love with you already, in love with your promise of life and wonder. May you be happy here and may joy always find you ready to engage with the world.


March 2, 2022

“Woman, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Today, Ash Wednesday, ashes have been cast on our lives.  We have turned to ash. 

“Mom, she’s deaf!” I hear over the phone in a panic: “Serafina is profoundly deaf!” My heart contracts.  No.  I cannot believe my ears.  Why and how, are my immediate and unspoken questions?  Didn’t the hospital nurse, and the pediatrician (twice) assure us it was nothing to worry about, likely amniotic fluid that lingered?  Between disbelief, tears, and heartbreak, I turn to the many seemingly dashed hopes and dreams, to all of the projections of a life denied. Life just seems to come at us however it will, and here we are, pondering the unimaginable. Elena, my eldest daughter, and Serafina’s mother, cries for hours, moaning in despair: “this will be my life now and forever.  No stories or reading, or music, or sports.  She will lead a life of isolation, bullying, and diminishment…I can’t do this,” she wails.

“No! No!  No!”  (I protest).  “It won’t be like that at all” (I try to convince myself, thinking out loud, going down that path for us both).  “First:  yes, you can, Elena.  Serafina will have a great life.  A wonderful life.”  (This is what I voice for all of us.)  “And we will do everything we can to see that it is so.  We will be there for her and for you both.  We’ll be a team.  If she can’t hear music, she will feel the vibrations in her body.  She will instead enjoy the trees, the mountain paths, and the ocean waves, as well as gardens, flowers, and birds.  We will invent all the fun we can muster!  She could be an artist, a photographer, sensitive to the visible beauty all around her.  She will, of course, learn to communicate, however that happens technologically.  She will learn to compensate for her differing ability.  She will be surrounded by love.  We will find all the help, the schools, the therapy, whatever it takes.”  I say these encouraging words and mean them, of course, but I am trying to convince myself as much as her…

But, last night, knowing it would be impossible to sleep, I took a larger dose of a sleeping pill and still I awoke at 2:30 a.m., feeling my heart literally breaking, with a sharp pain in my chest.  This heart “break” was real not metaphoric, but deep down in the core of my being.  I know now that grief is sometimes physically debilitating.  How will this play out, I wonder?  Will there be other “co-morbidities” or disabilities discovered in time?  Elena, the inveterate researcher, goes down that rabbit hole almost immediately, and ratchets up the anxiety to fever pitch.  No, please, we must resist.  I look at that perfect little body, lying there asleep, restful, so soft and little and vulnerable, and now I too begin to worry.  Is she seeing us?  What an odd coincidence that she chose just these days to smile her first smile!  Her sweet little smile, a smile that will become her hallmark, as though to reassure us that she is seeing us.  I reason to myself that if there were co-occurring blindness, she would not have smiled at me.  Right?  She would not have closed her eyes at the bright light.  She would not be staring into your eyes.  I see you Serafina.  You see me.  This is very good.  We pray for our seraphic Serafina, our “fiery angel.”  And I want to see these vision signs as omens of her future:  she will have that spark that keeps her fiercely engaged.  She will prevail and she will be loved.  And she’ll be happy and successful.  This is what I pray today for her ever-after.

But in the meantime, I know I will need to be strong and even fierce, for all of us. Grandmamma bear in the making.  This love has grown clearer, stronger.  I begin planning:  I’ll need to be fit, prioritize and fortify my own health.  And I will need to review some of the practical, financial realities, to see this through.  It is we now, a wider we.  I want to husband all resources for this purpose, stop any excesses to focus on this only; perhaps sell off unneeded stuff and put it all into a Serafina Fund.  I awoke this morning, already thinking about how to trim excesses of all and any sort—material and emotional.  I’ll eradicate my desire to travel, I’ll save, I’ll cancel my conference trips: to Iceland (Nordic Folklore); I may not go to Tulsa (American Folklore Society); I won’t follow through on Argentina (Italian Diasporas).  I will say goodbye to my colleagues, perhaps to return to them in the future, or perhaps not.  I will limit Facebook and all other wastes of time. Is this withdrawal extreme?  Perhaps.  For now though, it seems appropriate and necessary.  I know this:  the next 3 years will be critical to Serafina’s long term wellbeing, to her language and communication skills, and her ability to meet all the challenges of her future.  And I will be there, 110%–as is my wont.  This will be our research and learning project together:  American Sign Language (ASL), Listening and Spoken Language (LISL), the John Tracy Center, monitoring her growth and development, while challenging her to meet her highest potential. That is what it will take.  Can we do it?  If anyone can, I know we can.  This was the right family to be born into, Serafina.  Excellent choice.

3.Serafina Serafina Serafina

March 6, 2022

We so love you Serafina.  That is ground zero of all of this upheaval, as we come to terms with who you are.  The fact is, you are already complete in yourself and in your own silent world.  We grieve but you do not.  How can you? You know nothing other than what you have known since you were conceived.  A secret, still, peaceful world.  We wait to understand and to know you better:  what you like and don’t like, your preferences, desires, and your favorite color—in short, your personality.  And you will learn to communicate all this with us. 

What comes next?  This morning, as I awoke, ASL was the first thing on my agenda, and so, while still in bed, on my phone, I googled American Sign Language, and began to pick up a few signs.  Each day I will more fully immerse myself in what will be my world with you.  “Hello kitty,” I greeted my cat, Luna, this morning. Serafina, I can say that to you too!  I am so eager for you to know how much you are loved.  That is the first thing I want to communicate to you (even though we don’t need words and signs for you to know that). And this love circle keeps widening.  So many will walk this path with us.  We are preparing that path, doing all we can, so that you can have a full and wonderfully rich life.  We promise this, sweetheart, honey bunny, angioletto

Seraphim. ‘fiery one’ (Hebrew); in Christian ideology, “an angel of the highest order, associated with light, ardor, and purity.” Serafina, you are our fiery angel. We already know that you are angelic, but I suspect there is a fully alive, flaming spirit in you too. I have no doubt this will help you thrive and know the world. We are waiting to meet you, my love.

4.You are Already a Blessing

March 7, 2022

I awake in the night with a heavy, breaking heart, remembering the news we have just learned about Serafina, knowing it cannot be dreamed or wished away, but I am struggling to grasp it deeply within, all over again this morning.  At times I am able to return to sleep, while at others, I am not.  I then begin scrolling for ASL videos, learning all I can on the spot.  I return to them each morning, googling “First 25 Words in ASL” or “150 Essential Signs.” Whereas the guilt and dread of making myself walk or exercise each day is simply circuitous, leading nowhere, ASL and Serafina are not.  There is a new resolve and discipline.  I can do this and I am doing this.  Each and every day.  (I hope.)  Serafina is clarifying everything:  the essential and the superfluous; the deeply desired and the disposable.  Travel?  No, it was not hard to cancel Iceland. All the dreams of escape?  No more.  DSW shoe fixation, Stitch Fix subscription, other frivolities?  No.  No more skiing.  I cannot risk any injury.  Certain adventures will simply have to be eliminated, at least for the present.  I am planted here with you, beloved family, and we will do this firmly together, and we will be a fierce and formidable team.  Amor omnia vincit—or something like that.  What’s the emblem for that?  I’ll have to look it up.  And yet, I vacillate, wondering about my own strengths, questioning my ability to stay positive.  I do not have the luxury to head toward negativity and defeat. I cannot.  Look what you are teaching us, Serafina…  You are already a blessing and I love you fiercely.

But I also ponder this, as far as language is concerned:  what an irony for me and Edward, her grandparents, whose lives have been wrapped up in spoken words—linguistics, dialectology, orality, oral history—to now have to learn another system of communication altogether: the unspoken, beautiful, culture of the Deaf.

5.Flying Solo

March, 25, 2022

Elena spent the night at our house, with Serafina, so we got to enjoy playing with her on the big bed while watching the French mystery series “Murder In.” The next morning, we witnessed her delicious stretchies, as she slowly came awake, followed by my “solo flying” as a babysitter, while her mom and grandpa attended a lecture on the deaf and musicality at the John Tracey Center.  As a linguist, Serafina’s grandfather is fascinated by this new research project and by this center devoted to diagnosing and educating young children with hearing loss (  I didn’t attend this Friday morning session at the JTC, so I could instead attend an American Folklore Society Fellows-sponsored webinar on the differently abled.  What an irony.  Of course, that label is now part of Serafina’s ID too.  We’re coming to terms with it. 

She slept through the first half of the webinar while resting in my arms, and drank her milk through the second half.  She then proceeded to throw most of it up onto my shoulder and armchair.  So, I changed her, and then she spit up again.  There seems to be a question about her insufficient weight gain.  Her pediatrician has recommended less running around, and more quiet days of nursing and sleeping only.  Poor little thing.  She’s being driven from pillar to post, for doctors’ visits, nursing specialists, and so much else, but she needs to rest.  Elena needs to rest.  We all need to rest.  Rest and grow, little one.  But here’s one more thing to worry about—her weight—so the general anxiety level increases.  Why do we do this?  Imagine the worst, I mean?

Elena calls to say the hospital had the wrong fax number for the pediatrician, so who knows where the results of her CT and MRI (to map her cochlear nerves for possible implants) were sent?  Now it would require filling out and resending another form. And so it begins—the bureaucracy.  Can’t we just give you the correct fax number and the hospital can then resend it?  No. You must come, in person, to fill it out.  It’s Friday afternoon.  Looks like a weekend from hell coming our way.  A weekend of waiting anxiously to learn whether her physiology will permit implants. 

I’ve reached my limit and am “maxing” out.  I just cannot be scared this much, constantly anxious and agitated.  I cry.  I’m in a limbo I cannot tolerate.  I can do no work; cannot plan any future thing.  I tell my colleagues that I cannot submit the proposal I promised for the next AFS meeting, and that I’m barely keeping it together.  It’s a good thing Joanne is coming tonight, for dinner, a soak in the hot tub, and a murder mystery.  I didn’t know how I was going to get through the evening, otherwise.  “Hurts real bad,” to quote Napoleon Dynamite.  The waiting is excruciating.  Please send good news and some happy relief.  Hey, Universe, are you listening?

P.S. And so, after a roller-coaster ride of despair and hope, of navigated testing, scans and the great unknown, we exhaled on March 31—and broke out the champagne—thanks to the great news that Serafina did indeed have healthy cochlear nerves and would therefore be eligible for implants—which would lead to listening and speech.  I can breathe again.  Infinite gratitude.

6.First Sounds?

April 1, 2022

Serafina seppiolina,[i] Serafina ballerina, Serafina gattina – meow.  Such a satisfying name-ending for poetic purposes, for babbling sweet nothings, for communicating with our little cuttlefish, ballerina, kitty. I hold her in my arms and sing to her, looking into her curious eyes.  She sees me, she searches my face as I search hers, as I smile, grin, and sing my heart out.  I dance with her and move her legs and arms rhythmically as I sing—creating a total experience of body rhythm.  What is she experiencing, I wonder?  What is she gleaning about our world, about my inner musical world?  Can I communicate that to her?  Percussion, that’s it!  Certainly, frame drum musicians speak of the “beating heart of the world” in a drum rhythm.  It is almost like listening to an acoustic, ultrasound heartbeat, the ones you hear when you are holding your breath for the first hints of life of your in-womb baby.  The first connection to that little creature is a heartbeat.  Stay connected, little one, hear our hearts beating together, yours a little faster, but just like mine.  Our heartbeat.  You’ll learn that the languages of the heart provide the best sort of communication:  love, heartbreak, longing, and joy.  Do you know just how much love?  You will.  You are the flicker in our hearts.  You are everything, my dearest.  And you are widening our potential and our capacity for love—expanding heart muscles.  Already, you are doing that.

This week, the molds they took of your tiny little ears were turned into hearing aids (“buzzy bees,” I am calling them, bees that whisper into your ears).  Your cheerful little backpack, enclosing a bright green box, holds those precious links to the world of sound.  We put them into your ears and suddenly, you are not only smiling, but grinning widely, as though they really did help you hear for the first time.  But, of course, they cannot accomplish that miracle, since you are profoundly-deaf.  The insurance company merely requires that you have them, anyway, and try them, before they’ll approve cochlear implants.  Yes, we have all seen those amazing memes of a child’s first response to sound, when hearing aids are inserted:  the bright, laughing, incredulous faces that break your heart wide open.  It will not be as immediate for you, of course.  Yours will be a more gradual entry into that world of sound.  And you will come to love some sounds, hate others.  And you will learn to form sounds for yourself, spoken sounds with lips and mouth—as well as words with hands (we all will).  You will be a bi- and tri- and maybe multi-lingual child:  English, Italian (a few dialects), as well as ASL.  You will be a child who can access many worlds, a between-the-worlds Sound Walker.  You will go where we cannot, and who knows what you will do with that vaster knowledge, that more complete bodily knowing?  We await to capture, and to witness, all of it.

7.Cochlear Implants

August 6, 2022

Cochlear implants.  Listen to the sound of the word that speaks of the sea, the sound of the sea: cochlea, a tiny little seashell for your ear.  We have been repeating these two words and wondering, dreaming about them, for months now. And here we are. As of July 18, 2022, Serafina has her bilateral implants, the youngest patient of Dr. Courtney Voelker ever to be implanted. And the implants were activated on July 27, 2022—her “hearing birthday”—as it is known in this hearing-speaking deaf community.

Now, we are living with our little ocean baby.  Serafina, the water baby.  We watch for those green lights on her processing apparatus to flash before we speak, assured that they are on and that she can hear us, even if only at level 1 and then 2, for now.  She’ll need to be eased into the soundscape in gentle increments.  We must not shout, and that, for some of us, will be hard.  Raised in a crowded household, I was taught to shout or be ignored.  Speak up and speak fast, if you wanted to say your piece and only perhaps be heard (although there was never any guarantee of that).  My cultural relationship to a sound heritage is complex:  “hey, listen to what your father is telling you!” or “sende ne’ po’” (listen up).  Just try making out what each member of the family is saying during dinnertime conversation, and saying it all at the same time.  It always made recording family stories a major challenge for this folklorist, because interruptions of the narrative were constant. Try savoring that sad love song or narrative ballad, in the “high lonesome” style, perhaps one of the few times silence was culturally encouraged, to aid comprehension of the story line, but even those songs could elicit comment or tears.  So your Toronto family will be a challenge, Serafina.  And further, how will I teach you the incessant, hammering, pizzica dance rhythm, which must enter your bones, your heart, your head, in order to do its trick?  I don’t yet know. 

Yes Serafina, the world of sound will seem complex, but you and we will sort it all out, in time.

For now, we marvel while slowly introducing you to our sounds.  But first of all, listen to the contours of your lovely name, S e r a f i n a.  We wait for you to smile in recognition.  You bow your head to focus, coming close—head-to-head—to hear more clearly.  Those tête-à-têtes are so dear, so intimate, so sweet.  It is the equivalent to your lunging, wide-open mouthed, for our cheeks, to kiss?  to devour? to learn who and what we are?  What we taste of?  That sweet little mouth with perfect bowed lips…  You also cock your head and sit still—quite the trick for your most active little body—and listen for those new and marvelous and wondrous sounds, from Activation Day One at Dr. Rebecca Lewis’, your audiologist’s, office.  Daddy speaks:  S e r a f i n a…  mi senti amore?  Later I sing to you: “ninna nanna il mio coccione,” and your mom: “Dance to your mommy, my little lass,” and “alla fiera di mastr’Andrè.” So, so many wonderful songs to learn together.  Our family friend (KPCC radio announcer), Tom Nixon, even digitized all those cassette tapes of songs your own mother and zia Giulia learned, at least three decades ago.  Few of those were mine, but through fieldwork and research, they became mine, in time.  As your grandfather and I taught Italian to your mom and to zia Giulia, an entire repertoire of songs and stories, came to form part of a newly-born family tradition.  But beyond those learned from video and sound cassettes, we added the more archaic Terracinese ditties and children’s games learned from nonna Liliana, your great-grandmother: “ninna-o, ninna-o, che pacenza che ce vò!” and “Sop’a sta piazzetta, ce sta ‘na peccorella,” and “iari, iari, iari, iamm’a San Gennari.” We’ll need to gather more of these when we get to Toronto in a couple of weeks, from your pro-zie (great-aunts) and 96-year-old bisnonna Liliana—if she can remember.  We’ll take our little basket and collect these fruits from the family tree.  May they nourish and delight you.  They will certainly nourish and delight me!  We will love you through your little ears, as well as in myriad other ways, amore mio, amore di nonna.

P.S. There in Toronto, in your godfather Marco’s backyard, our family friend, Episcopal priest, Rev’d. Lizette Larson Miller, would baptize you on September 11, 2022, pronouncing these additional words of blessing:

Serafina, in the history of the church it has been common to “open” the eyes of those to be baptized so that they might see God in the beauty of the world, to “open” their lips to sing the praises of God, and to “open” their ears to hear the voice of God. Through God’s grace and the wisdom of medicine, you will now have a chance to hear the love that surrounds you through these cochlear implants. We ask God to bless these implants + that they will function well, that together with the wisdom of audiologists and other experts and the love and support of your family, you come to know the fullness of God’s love for you in sight and sound and touch and taste.

Amen to that.


November 19, 2022

And just like that, while I wasn’t watching, and was distracted by distance (a visit from her gondolier uncle from Venice, followed by a prolonged COVID bonding experience with her mother), we witnessed Serafina’s first sounds.  She began to “speak,” making discernable sounds, in imitation of words spoken to her.  Finally able to observe her at closer range, I heard those first sounds.  She spoke to us in “sentences” with clipped and detachable “words”—that is discrete sounds meaning nothing to us, but the world to her.  She has since joined the conversation with bilabial ba-ba-ba-ba imitations of her pa-pà, trilling and spraying (feels so good on her lips), and uh uh uh sounds, accompanied by hand gestures.  How precious are these sounds?  It’s the promise of storytelling to come, nursery rhymes, songs, and so much more.  And eventually, we played our first games together, a first, intentional, sort of communication between us:  I turned up the dimmer switch, and showed how she, with her precise little pointer finger, could turn it down. A flashbulb clicked on.  How lovely is that purposeful and direct little indicator of what is, what she sees, and what she wants.  And she does want it, over and over again, with her determined crab walking across the pillows, using the bed’s headboard as handrail, to reach over to the light switch.  I love your first communications with us, Serafina—with sound and without.  Benvenuta tra i suoni.


December 11, 2022

Agony.  I am in agony.  I am in agony because Serafina is in agony.  We are joined by heartstrings, sinews, muscle and bone.  A sharp arrow of pain enters my body. 

She was suddenly admitted to Children’s Hospital with an infection perilously close to the implant, risking losing that implant to avoid brain infection, meningitis.  Would all of the therapy and work have come to nothing?  Would she go back to being a child without sound or speech.  Would one implant be enough?  Was her body rejecting the intrusion of these foreign gadgets?  Oh please: no, no, no.  I rushed back and forth to the hospital, sleeping some nights, delivering food, watching Serafina as her mother slept and restored herself, for the next round of antibiotics and treatments and endless visits by nurses during the day and night. The ordeal would last three entire weeks, Serafina returning to us, Christmas Eve, just in time for a family celebration.  But with the admonition that her wound must be monitored three times a day, medicated, kept clear of her cochlear processor.  A one-eared baby, for the time being.

Those early days were a torment for us all.  I held her as they struggled with the IV, into that tiny little arm, her small little body convulsing, and her eyes communicating terror.  Her screams drilled holes into my soul.  I held her close, made sure her hearing processors were on green light, so she could hear my love, as well as feel it in my close, close embrace:  nonna ti vuole tanto tanto bene.  Her parents watched but could not be as close.  It is surprising what fierce love can make you do.  IV’s literally make me cringe.  So that was my little act of heroism in the face of my own terror.  She cried.  (I cried inside.)  She cried hard.  She screamed.  (So did I, inside). I’ve never seen Serafina in such a state.  And Elena?  What could I do for Elena?  She entered the hospital in a near panic, of course, and in a state of PTSD.  Again, I needed to put my “comforting mother” face on, trying not to betray my own pain and bewilderment.  That was the very place she and I had taken our little angel at five months before, on July 18, for her cochlear implant surgery.  Serafina had healed, thrived, and was developing beautifully—on point, not only for a deaf child, but at a par with any child her age.  Baaaa for her little sheep, moooo for the cow.  We played on the big bed just the night before Edward’s cochlear implant surgery (December 7), and two days before Serafina’s admission to the hospital (December 8), with her sack full of animals. And yesterday, as though to reward mother and father for their extraordinary love and patience and care, she said:  mamma, papà, clearly, for the first time.  I was thrilled to hear it.  For, even amidst the chaos and turmoil, life and growth continue.  Serafina’s blossoming, communication with us, learning and repeating, and joining us in our world of sound, was life-affirming and wondrous. But would this be the pattern:  joy and grief and joy, and so forth?  Would we have to get used to the swings of the pendulum?  I wondered.

Elena broke my heart as she confided:  “Mom, I feel as though parts of me are dying.” (But yes, I feel it too—though I do not speak the words.)  How hard to hear this from my own daughter, because her pain too is my own.  It has always been so. How to respond this time?  She continued:  “My hair is starting to turn grey.”  Dearest child, I am broken at these words, and all I can say is “I am here for you and for Serafina; we are here for each other.” Here.  Hear.  Hear me when I say:  “I am with you in every way and will be for as long as I have life and breath.” Daughter and granddaughter are literally pieces of my own heart (cf. Neapolitan: “I fije so’ piezze ‘e cor.” Children are pieces of your heart). Who knew what such love would do to me and to us? Serafina has made all of this palpable, present.  She truly has blessed us all by teaching us to love more. 

I shuttle between grandchild and husband—physically tending to both—an infection to be cured for Serafina, an implant surgery from which to recover, for her grandfather, nonno Eduardo.  Pulled in both directions, stretched to the absolute outer-edges of my physical and psychological abilities, I am deeply aware of the precarity of life on this teeter-totter.  Deep in the night, I am startled awake by this observation:  the only option is for me to stay strong, healthy, positive. And awake, it is confirmed for me, day in and day out.  Can I do this?  OK, yes, I can and I will, but please, Universe, hold us up.  Be gentle.  Heal Edward.  Bring Serafina through this trial strong, completely healed, bright, and happy.  Make the agony stop.  Please.

All is Calm.  All is Bright.

December 26, 2022

Serafina is home, at last, on Christmas Eve afternoon.  We arranged an impromptu Christmas Eve celebration, with family near and far, and we loved each other profusely, marveling at the miracle of it all.  All is calm.  All is bright.  Our little girl, here at the center of it, like a child in the manger—lovely, innocent, full of promise, and here to light up the world.  Joy to the World. 

The three-week hospital stay provided a period of incubation for many new sounds: baaaa (sheep), moooo (cow), meee (goat)Add those to mamma and papa, and you have all the major players in the Christmas Eve Nativity Scene—our living presepio.  As of Christmas Day, we may even have the beginnings of a nasal nonna or nana, or some similar “n” sound—which we choose to believe speaks to us directly, nonna Luisa and nonna Sandra.  The tightest of bonds were forged during those weeks in that hospital crucible, between little Serafina and me. 

Serafina sees me and greets me with the broadest smile I have ever known.  Clearly, she is happy to see me; (almost) as happy as I am to see her.  And I revel in her gleeful response to her own spoken name, as I variously intone:  S e r a f i n a.  What gift is this? 

I only have eyes and ears for you, sweet Serafina.  I think it amounts to this.  Evolution has done quite the trick, has it not?  The “Grandmother Hypothesis.” The need for those who love you, to stay snuggly by your side and be willing to do anything it takes to help your mother and father keep you strong, in order to allow you to survive and to thrive.  But please:  stop removing your cochlear processor.  OK?

Nonna Luisa

For their critical reading of various drafts of this writing, I wish to thank:  Norma Elia Cantù, Alison Grimes, Joanne Leslie, Mary-Allen Macneil, Sue Patron, Olga Talamante, Edward Tuttle, and Giulia Tuttle.

[i] When ultrasound images were shown by Serafina’s Venetian father, to his friend, Alarico Memo (gondolier), the latter dubbed her “Seppoina” (Venetian <  It. seppiolina, ‘cuttle fish’), because that’s what she looked like to his Venetian eyes.  This was music to the ears of this water-loving grandmother, whose goal is to make Serafina, too, a water-baby.


Luisa Del Guidice, Ph.D., has been both an academic and public folklorist, and is currently an independent scholar. She taught folklore and oral history at UCLA (and as a visiting prof. at Addis Ababa University); founded and directed the public nonprofit, Italian Oral History Institute in Los Angeles in Los Angeles, which produced many conferences, public programs, and publications; and is internationally known for her work in Italian and Italian diaspora folklore studies. She is a Fellow of the American Folklore Society and a Cavaliere (Knight) of the Italian Republic. You can read more about her here.