My darling little spud, Cordelia Vogel, rapidly approaches the end of her third month of life. As she is carried, inert and drooling, into her fifth trimester, I watch eagerly for signs of mental growth.
I am not disappointed. She has, for example, decided that she enjoys sucking on her hand and, in fact, prefers it to the pacifier. My little darling still lacks the muscle control to reliably get her hand to her mouth though, so, while she lies in her crib, she can spend up to fifteen minutes at a time smacking herself in the face. Smack. Smack. Smack.
I’ll be sitting in the next room, watching TV, and I’ll hear it.
Smack. Smack. Smack. Smack. Smack.
Eventually, she gets tired of practicing hand usage and starts to cry. I’ll put the pacifier back in her mouth. She’ll suck contentedly for a minute. Then she’ll start smacking again.
Babies are funny.
I Am Her God.
Recently, while I was doing computer stuff, little Cordelia developed a completely new variety of fussing. I would hold her in my lap or on my shoulder, as usual, and she would piss and moan and bitch. But then I would move her so she could look directly at my face. She would calm down, and a smile appeared which even I would call “adorable.” Then I’d shift her to a position easier on my poor arms, where she couldn’t see my face, and she would fuss. Then I’d let her see my face, and she would be ecstatic.
There are times in my life when I suspect that being almost completely cynical and pessimistic has its drawbacks. This was one of them. I know that this experience was supposed to completely melt me and warm me full of happy slappy parent goofulness. And I suppose it did, a little.
But I mainly thought two things. First, that I am completely unworthy of anyone else being so totally reliant on me for support and happiness. Because, as much as my baby wanted nothing more than to start in awe at my glorious visage, all I wanted to do was answer my E-mail.
The second thing I thought was “Yeah. Like this is going to last.”
Well, I might as well get used to it. I’ll manage. I’m already held up as an object of worship by my wife, friends, coworkers, and family. One more person who thinks I’m a Golden God won’t make any difference,
“Honey, We Need Something To Moisten the Baby.”
Cordelia’s mother recently observed that our little girl’s facial skin was dry. It was starting to flake a little. It turns out that flaking easily, while a good sign in cooked fish, is bad in the context of babies. I, daddy, did not notice this. I assume, had Cordelia been left solely in my care, she would have eventually wound up a small heap of dessicated bits of skin.
My wife went out, bought a humidifier, and installed it in her room. As advertised, it is now much more humid in there, which lends a pleasing softness to the shit smell. I’m sort of pissed about it, though. I had always assumed we were going to bake the baby. Now that she’s being steamed, I need to completely rework the recipe.
Quiet Alert Is Neither Quiet Nor Alert. Discuss.
Background for the non-parents. Babies, simple, dopey creatures that they are, have only a few modes. We adults are complicated machines, which a wide variety of settings (sleepings, exercising, watching porn, preying on the weak, etc.). Babies on the other hand, spend the vast majority of their time either i) sleeping, ii) eating, or iii) bitching. Behaviorally, they’re a lot like sheep, but without the keen, piercing intelligence. Or the ability to move.
But, for a short time every day, they are in what is charmingly and flatteringly called “quiet alert” mode. This is when they take in information about the world about them and try to figure out this whole “life” thing. And, if you’re the parent, your better be on the fucking ball and have some flash cards handy, or the baby’s brain won’t ever start working. Which sucks because, if you’re like me, you’re counting on that bit of quiet to unload the dishwasher and catch up on your video games.
But anyway. It’s called “quiet alert”, which is really dumb. First, it’s not quiet. My baby makes a complicated and constant series of grunts, hisses, and whines, which I defy even a grandparent to find cute. She sounds like she’s snuffling for truffles.
Second, and more importantly, I really don’t think “alert” is the right mode. I think “alert” implies that she is really taking in, processing, and evaluating information about the world. When I look at her eyes, though, she sure doesn’t look alert, not in any way I understand it. The world is coming up to her eyes, going through, and getting lost in the hamster maze that is her undeveloped brain.
I picture her thinking process, at these times, to be a lot like one of those machines they use to pick lottery numbers. You know, with all the ping pong balls with numbers on them, bouncing around randomly in that clear, plastic box? Except that there are a lot fewer balls and, instead of numbers, they all have “Waaah.” written on them. That’s what Cordelia’s brain is like. She looks around and sees things, and a bunch of balls bounce around in the box for a minute, and then the winning number pops out: “Waaah. Waaah. Waaah. Waaah. Waaah. Waaah.”
So I suppose we can call it “quiet alert”, but I have a different idea. I say we call it “lucid dopeyness.” It’s not as good from a marketing perspective, but at least we aren’t kidding ourselves.
A Mother’s Words In Defense Of Her Baby
When I express my opinions regarding Cordelia’s “dopeyness”, her mother admirably leaps to her defense. And my wife is right. Sometimes Cordelia gets a look so sharp, so attentive, that I can almost convince myself that there really are gears turning in that tiny head.
But I am defensive of my girl too. Just in a different way. I don’t expect her to be anything but dopey. She’s only 3 months old! Her brain has not yet fully developed in any way you care to name. But she is healthy, and she is growing fast, and she is cute beyond any reasonable human capacity for cuteness. And I think that is more than enough.
I don’t need to convince myself she is smart. She has the whole rest of her life for that. To be blunt, I am made ecstatic by every day she gets through without turning blue.
It’s the Casual Sadism That Makes Life Worthwhile
Cordelia frequently spits her pacifier onto the floor. As I am a firm believer in the Five Second Rule (if it’s on the floor for less than 5 seconds, it’s not dirty), I don’t have a problem with this.
My wife, on the other hand, does not properly trust in Science. Either that, or she is has an unhealthy fear of filth. Or her back can’t take bending over to pick up the pacifier any more. So she went to the store and got this thing to hold it onto Cordelia’s clothes. It’s a thin strap with a plastic clip on one end and a velcro loop to hold the pacifier on the other. The clip attaches to her clothes. Now, if baby spits out the pacifier, it just dangles there in easy reach.
I love this handy invention, but for the wrong reason. I found that I can dangle the pacifier on a string just above the baby’s mouth, so its tip brushes against her lips. When I do this, she’ll snap at it, like a guppy. She’ll get a little of it in her mouth, and I’ll pull it back, and she get’s this great expression on her face. It’s so funny. It’s like dangling a string in front of a kitten, except the kitten is paralyzed.
I want to pretend I engage in this casual sadism for instructive purposes, to teach her that, if she used her hands, she could just reach up and grab the damn pacifier. But the truth is, I’m just working through my revenge for the times she’s keeping me from having sex.
The Old Bait and Switch
When we embarked on the adventure of parenthood, we were promised the baby smell. The baby’s head was supposed to smell good. It would relax us. It would be like that new car smell, or that new wife smell. It would be a minor aesthetic pleasure which would carry us through the dark times. And her head did smell good. For a while.
Well, we’re three months in, and, like with a car, the new smell has pretty much faded. Now, instead of smelling like freshness and hope, tinted with talcum powder, our daughter’s head smells like the beach at low tide.
It makes sense, of course. If I vomited in my car a dozen times a day, it would lose its freshness. The protective vomit crust Cordelia gives herself daily surely has its purpose, in some evolutionary nature way. But now, no matter how clean we get her head, she always smells like supermarket sushi.
So, once a day, I spray her with Lysol. It makes her sputter and grump a bit. But at least she’s fresh again. That’ll teach her to pull a bait and switch on us.
Smack. Smack. Smack. Smack. Smack.
Final developmental alert. She’s about to gain the ability to hold objects. I tried pressing a rattle against her fingertips. She got a really good, firm grip!
Then she smacked herself in the face with it.
Is three months too early to get a baby therapy?