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Most people have opinions about babies: what makes an awesome one and what makes a lousy one. For the record, my criteria for determining a lousy baby is how they turn out as grown-ups.
The problem is, the normal person isn’t going to observe a parent they feel is being ineffective with their child and think, “I’m going to wait a couple decades and see if that little shit turns into something dangerous.” Instead, they’re just going to think those parents suck, and if that kid grows up and shoots up a shopping mall or joins ISIS or grows a Hitler mustache, they would be surprised not at all.
We are not here today, however, to discuss an actual lousy baby, like baby Hitler or baby Joseph McCarthy. We are, instead, here to explore the theme through a much more shallow lens.
Under these criteria, a lousy baby would be one who goes out in public and behaves in a way that is either annoying or inconvenient to those who are not its parents — such as crying for extended periods of time. A lousy parent, then, would be defined under similar parameters: an inability to stop the baby from crying for extended periods of time.
An awesome baby, by contrast, would be clearly developing into a human being destined for fame, fortune, and/or savior status, while simultaneously appealing to the more shallow definition by also being a joy to be around. Awesome parents, then, would be those who have babies such as this.
We are not here today, however, to discuss an actual lousy baby, like baby Hitler or baby Joseph McCarthy.
My wife and I have a fairly awesome little baby. But even if she were a lousy baby, I would still think she was the best baby in the history of babies.
It is true, she doesn’t always do great in car rides. When we drove from the Houston airport to Galveston, for example, she cried the whole way. And I’m understating the issue by saying cried, as it was more like she screamed, and not even her usual baby screaming; it was the special squeal she learned how to make the first time she got a shot — which, let me tell you, is terrible to hear.
In her defense, she’d done well on the plane ride. The flight attendant even commented that she hadn’t heard our awesome baby cry once. In truth, our awesome baby had cried a little bit on the flight — just not when the flight attendant was listening.
Usually, it is not very hard to get our baby to stop crying. But sometimes, like when she is tired, or when she is hungry, or when she is both tired and hungry but can’t tell exactly which one she is more than the other, it is quite difficult to get her to stop crying.
If you were to meet our baby at such a moment, you might erroneously conclude she’s a lousy baby.
Our baby tends to complain more in the afternoons. If you met her on the afternoon plane ride from Houston, like the young lady sitting in the window seat with the headphones turned way up, you might think she was one of those lousy babies I’ve been discussing. And, well, if that’s what you think, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. It’s a free country, and if my baby annoys you because she is presently screaming very loudly, you have a right to be annoyed.
And my lousy baby has a right to howl in your ear.
Our baby wasn’t that bad on the plane ride home, though. She slept a lot, and it was only when she wasn’t sleeping that she was lousy.
The annoyed young lady with the headphones, she’s looking at our baby now, and she sees it. The big blue wide eyes. The Muppet smile.
When this happened, I would do my best to help her calm down, standing and rocking and swaying and singing. Then she would fall asleep. Then she would wake up and howl and I’d have to help her calm down again. Which is what I was doing after the third time she woke up during the flight. She fought and screamed and kicked and wailed, and then finally calmed down, as if going back to sleep.
But then she looks up at me. And smiles. And the annoyed young lady with the headphones, she’s looking at our baby now, and she sees it. The big blue wide eyes. The Muppet smile.
We don’t know where that other baby went, we tell the young lady, but here’s our real baby.
“Thanks,” I tell the young lady when the flight’s over, “for hanging in there with us.”
“It was an experience,” she says, which makes it sound like she would have definitely preferred not to have sat beside us for the last 3 hours, but maybe it hadn’t sucked quite as hard as she’d thought.
But, you know, our baby did pretty well. And we were prepared for her to do much worse.
It was something I told the baby right after she was born, about how I loved her more than anything in the world, and that loving her was about the easiest thing I could do. But the way I demonstrate my love is by taking care of her. That’s the hard part. But it’s all part of it, too. The good baby with the Muppet smile. The lousy baby who these days doesn’t just cry when she’s tired or hungry or gassy, but when she’s bored.
But when you first pick her up, when you hold her close and you savor the sweet deliciousness of the whole thing, you don’t care if she’s the lousiest baby in the world or the best, if she’s experiencing an outbreak of baby acne or if her skin is soft and smooth and glowing, if she’s stinky or if she smells of fresh coconut oil, if her blowout and her barf happen to be soiling your new cool-as-shit t-shirt of Gandalf blowing smoke rings, cleverly captioned Keep on Tolkien. It’s our baby. Our fairly excellent, albeit occasionally lousy, baby.
As well as being the father of a wonderful one year-old, Ross Helford is also an MFA-grad who once upon a time wrote low-budget genre flicks for a living.