Being the parent of the world’s cutest child is a difficult and sobering experience. (Yes, I’m afraid my child is cuter than your child. If you don’t believe me, check out cutechildrankings.org.) Humbly accepting the awed compliments of so many strangers is tiring. As our daughter Cordelia sails through her fifth month, it is clear that with great adorability comes great responsibility.
Of course, the random strangers don’t get to deal with her when the teething pains are getting her down. Cordelia is always well behaved when outsiders are around. This is because she has already learned the most important goal in this short life of ours: winning the approval of others.
In open defiance of the advice of books, the opinions of friends, all that is good and right about the human species, and the Will of God, my wife wants to wean our daughter before she goes out of her fucking mind.
It’s not like it’ll be a big loss. Mariann’s breasts never produced the amount of milk our little girl desired. Worse, after my wife got a bad cold, her milk production fell by half. So Cordelia has been sustained recently by a healthy diet of formula and parental guilt.
Now Mariann wants Cordelia on solids. Cordelia is ready to go on solids. And that means we have begun that most time-honored of parental traditions: wasting tons of food by smearing it on our child’s chin.
It turns out that one of the action items on the infinite list of really basic things a baby has to learn is that “Food must be swallowed.” It’s not like breathing. When a baby has a mouth full of tasty rice cereal goodness, he or she is probably thinking “Alert! Alert! We are being invaded by goo!” and out the mouth it comes. With luck, it is not first turned into a high velocity mist.
So my wife and I have been spending evenings trying to cram food into the baby’s mouth and hope that she gets the idea. Sometimes, more by accident than design, she swallows. So the goal is to get the food into her mouth in the first place and hope for the best.
The problem here is that damned, vigilant sentinel, Cordelia’s tongue. Millennia of evolution have left babies with tongues trained to push unwelcome objects (in other words, spoons) out of the mouth instantly. How we could survive as a species with infants who eagerly accept into their mouths moldy, lint-dusted stuffed animals but reject spoonfuls of food is, quite frankly, beyond me.
To get the spoon past the tongue and deposit its cereal payload, I sometimes resort to brute force. Well, gentle, kind brute force. Other times, I try trickery, singing to her until she opens her mouth in a broad smile, and then jamming the spoon in there before she realizes what is happening. If you think this is a horrible betrayal of my child’s trust, well, um, I … ummm … She won’t remember, and that makes it OK.
The easiest thing to do, in my opinion, would be to try to feed her until she gets upset and starts to cry. Then her mouth will be open all the time, and I can put food into it easily. However, my wife tells me that this is a terrible idea and will give her a “complex” about food. First, I think “complex” is an unnecessarily negative term. I prefer “happy feeling.” Second, I kind of like the idea of making her have unexplainable, negative feelings about food from early on. If my parents had loved me enough to give me a “complex”, I wouldn’t be as much of a load as I am now.
Priming the Immune System. Ewwww!
Cordelia jams everything into her mouth. Her level of focus in this regard is remarkable. She can take the little strap with a clip on the end we use to keep her pacifier attached to her clothes and orally work it over for an hour. Not one square centimeter goes without a careful tonguing and saliva soaking. Then she will take the pacifier and put every part of it into her mouth except the part that should actually go in her mouth. Then she’ll pull it out, inspect it carefully, and start over.
There are varying theories for why babies do this. Perhaps, considering her lack of manual dexterity, the surfaces inside her mouth are best for seeing out what things feel like. Others suggest, and I like this theory, that this self-inflicted repeated exposure to germs helps strengthen her immune system. I really prefer this theory because it makes my neglect look like good parenting.
“Why is your baby putting that giant dust bunny in her mouth?”
“It’s all right. I’m helping to strengthen her immune system.”
“Jesus, that thing is huge. And what’s that in it? Oh my god! It’s a dried-up mouse!”
“It’s all right. Mice are very good for strengthening the immune system.”
“Don’t you ever clean in here?”
“No. I’m trying to strengthen the baby’s immune system.”
I stand her up against the couch and the sucks on it. I put her on the bed and she turns her head to suck on the pillow. I hold her and she jams my hand in her mouth. I put her on the floor and she sucks the carpet. It’s like living with a cartoon character. Or Pac-Man.
So I keep saying “strengthening the immune system”. The only other option is to say “Oh God, what’s she putting in her mouth now? It’s … it’s … blarrrgghhhhhhh.”
Another Prime Example Of Energetic Self-Defeating Action
A combination of factors:
i. The baby loves grabbing her toes.
ii. She does not like having her toes grabbed. It makes her kick her feet away.
iii. She does not realize that her toes are, in fact, part of her own body.
These factors, combined, create a great “Dog chasing its own tail.” effect. Such goofy Three Stoogesesque behavior is one of the great joys of having a baby around.
The Foam Scam
People make a lot of money scamming anxious parents. Even someone as cynical and apathetic as me is not immune.
During one run to Babies “R” Us (also known as “The Mouth of Hell, From Which All Vileness Comes”), I saw that they were selling these little foam devices you put under your baby when it sleeps. These keep the baby from rolling over and suffocating itself. Nobody wants to enter the nursery one morning and find a blue baby and know it could all have been prevented if only they had given $5.97 plus sales tax to Babies “R” Us (also known as “The Whore of Babylon”).
So I bought one. My mother in law, who worked as a nanny, took one look at it and said it was useless and I was being scammed. But I didn’t listen. I’d bought it, I’d paid for it, and I didn’t want a blue baby, so, damn it, I was using it.
Here is what happened. Being an ignorant first-time parent, I did not realize that our one month old was as likely to run a four minute mile as to roll over. She made no rolloverish motions of any sort until she was about five months. At that point, she rolled over that chintzy six buck foam piece of shit pretty much as if it wasn’t there.
There are whole industries based on prying cash out of parents with the twin tools of fear and guilt. And, if you want to go down that road (as if you have any choice), you can buy everything you’ll ever need at Babies “R” Us (also known as “The Favorite Shopping Spot Of People Who Have Never Heard of Target”).
One More Thought About Babies “R” Us.
They are very selective about what they sell. A product must reach a certain high level of price and shoddiness before it has any chance of being considered for their shelves.
Interacting With the Poor, Miserable Childfree
I only recently realized that I am way behind on one of the most important missions of any parent: pressuring the childless into joining me and putting on the same shackles I did. This is necessary because of two key constants of human behavior:
i. If someone has different personal tastes from me, I must convince them to like the things I like.
ii. If someone else makes different choices regarding how they spend their time, those choices (and, indirectly, the person) are inferior.
And, of course, don’t forget that
iii. Having a child is utter ecstasy, but the true joy of it can not ever be comprehended until a person/victim actually has a child.
Therefore, I’ve been getting to work. I’m starting small. For example, sometimes, in public places, I sigh loudly and say “Wow. I can no longer remember how sad and empty my life was before I had a child.” When speaking with parents around people who don’t have children, it is appropriate to say something like “You know what I feel when I meet someone who doesn’t yet have a child?” (shake head sadly.) “Pity.”
I also look wistfully off into the distance, my eyes unfocusing as I see some hidden future paradise we will all share, and say “Children are our future.”
Then, when a childless person rises to the bait and claims they, somehow, do not want a child, I turn Cordelia toward him or her. Her cute gaze lances out like some X-Men laser beam, transfixing all it strikes. And, before you can say “Gah gah goo goo.” everyone nearby is running off to have unprotected sex.
It’s hard work. But remember. The world can’t ever have enough babies.
Babies! Babies! Babies! Babies! Babies!