Not long ago I heard one of my neighbors mention her son (in his mid-teens) reaching success as a surrogate parent for having taken care of a pretend infant. It took a few moments for this news to settle in. Were my knees up to it, I’d have sure as Moses been on them giving thanks that as a fifteen-year-old I’d never been asked (nor had any such notions been given currency) to do a few weeks of baby minding. There is nothing on this Earth short of barefoot pilgrimage to places of mass fraud and popular delusion I seek less than two weeks of baby toting. Pretend or otherwise, this is not for me. Hearing the bare basics of the tale was a forceful reminder that I knew this to the tip of farthest toenail by the time I was fifteen. Babies were not for me. I had no desire for their company.
I am aware this is an unreasonable prejudice on my part, some say an especially irrational one, because I had to have been one of those very creatures myself. True, I was. But I got over it and with so little recollection of going “goo-goo” or thinking the discovery of a toe was a big deal that I conclude the experience unworthy of remembrance. I believe this is an example of “Best forgot, soonest mended.” I said goodbye to babyhood and baby times and never looked back. I think this a sound approach.
Early on, around the time in my life corresponding to that of the neighbor youth, some people no doubt sensed my attitude toward babies and sought to familiarize me with them and their supposed delights by handing this or that infant sibling my way, along with the kindly suggestion I not drop it. “Careful now, don’t drop her.” I had no intention whatever of dropping that ten-pound sack in the direction of my feet, but an impulse to throw baby as far as humanly possible may have shown, because the well-intended would snatch the thing back saying, “Better let me.” To be honest, that was all the parenting I ever wanted. The baby doters made their attempts to improve me, and I evaded improvement with a mere look in my eye of implied mayhem of the baby-tossing type.
My disaffection for babies has two roots, neither of which (I readily admit) is the fault of any particular baby but is an inescapable part of their essential nature. The first is size. To be honest, a baby is simply too small to be practical. If you set it on the ground where it couldn’t fall off anything, you’d be apt to step on or trip over it, at risk (especially in the dark) of injury to yourself. At first it was a surprise to me why such little things weren’t mislaid more often. Keeping them in cribs and carriages helps avoid mislaying because a crib is so much larger than a baby. I imagine it might be to a baby’s credit to remain small and immobile so that they don’t wander off to get lost among boxes or burrow into cars at a junk yard. In that respect, puppies catch on to mobility far faster than any baby I’ve seen. Here’s a happy thought. If babies were mobile sooner, they might prove as easily trained as a puppy to use sheets of newspaper. The lowest mongrel pup surpasses a human baby in that area.
That area touches my second objection to babies. They smell. I don’t mean they use nostrils and lungs to detect odor. I mean they are the fissile center of atomic stinks. If a baby were mobile and got away from a parent, it could be found by someone blindfolded in a basement warehouse at midnight. You could put a baby in a stadium with thirty thousand and you’d sniff it out soon enough, though I do suspect the human vacuum around the little stinker would highlight the source of the trouble. If you think on it, you’ll realize I’m not alone knowing babies stink because there are a great many products devoted to malodorous infants. The range of disposable cartridges to fit baby are front and center (or front and rear) of the adult war on infant chemical attacks that combine color, texture, and odor sufficient to make a four star general retch. War might have been a thing of the past long ago had more parents secreted infants and toddlers into enemy camps to drive them out and send them home eager to breathe their own free air.
I don’t see babies as malignant or evil. They can’t help what they do, which reminds me of an incident. In my mid-teens when babies and their production was of keen interest to many, a classmate’s mother produced, likely unintended, one. Making the best of an uncomfortable reality, they welcomed the little thing home for his three brothers (my classmate being eldest) to appreciate and tend. I was invited (an uncommon form of kindness) one afternoon to observe baby care in action. I had the wisdom to do so from ten feet away, a distance that gave ideal perspective when baby brother rewarded biggest brother with a geyser in the face; a perfect shot it was, too. I can’t tell you how rewarding that sight was. Big brother (my best friend at the time) had recently been selected into the National Honor Society by a faculty more swayed by grades than by the wit and charm of yours truly. (I valued economy in academics. A solid C got with little effort seemed of greater practical value than an A achieved for ten times more exertion.) I smiled for weeks at the recollection of that fine stream dousing face and shirt front to perfection in true eau de toilet. I smile yet and will admit that incident added to my respect for babies, though from a respectful distance of at least ten feet.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, a reminder of mortality where ash replaces the baby geyser.