Welcome back, Jack! I feel a little sad to be posting the conclusion, Part IV, to Jack's essay on Becoming a Grandparent. Never fear though, because I'm getting vibes of another masterpiece in the works. Who knows what Jack will come to us with next?!! If you haven't read the previous parts of this essay you can find them here:
PART IV: Babies on Parade, the Conclusion
(Preface: Our oldest son and his lovely wife had their first child, our first grandchild, on Christmas Eve. As I anticipated a new career as a grandfather, my past experiences with The Babies of Others came to mind.)
A few years after that stupid baby peed on me (please see Part III, here, for details), I saw a baby in a mall. This baby was bald, which is another thing that babies can be and it raises no red flags. However, think about the various ways a human can be bald. This baby was not baby bald, it was bald in a balding-middle-aged-man way. A band of light brown hair was clamped on its head in a ring from ear to ear. The top of its head was dome smooth. Draw a little mustache on that kid and you’d have a tiny 45-year old businessman. Or woman. There was no determining the gender of this specimen without peeking in its diaper, which I declined to do seeing as the infant and I had not been formally introduced. The baby had a serious look on its face, too, as if it was mulling over an upcoming meeting or considering an adjustment to its investment portfolio.
Another time I saw a fat baby. Not cherubic. Fat. A vast little thing. Globe shaped, approaching the diameter of one of those exercise balls it should be working with as soon as possible. The mother was also of colossal proportions and I postulated that the father was probably equally mountainous. But, come on, genes only gave the kid a kick start to obesity. How could it pack away the chow at such a prodigious rate to balloon up that quickly? And what was its potential growth estimate if it managed to add that much tonnage at such an early age? There’s baby fat, sure. I knew what baby fat was. This baby possessed babies’ fats.
Back to the Peeing Baby. During my urine shower I made one comment I thought was clever and timely, but it wasn’t well received by the other adults in the room. I said that I could pee my own pants at that moment and no one would be the wiser. A couple of half smiles, but not a chuckle. It wasn’t like I was offending the baby, for crying out loud. I thought of saying to the Peeing Baby, “Do that again two years from now and there will be consequences.” But, based on the audience’s response to my earlier remark, I decided to leave it at giving the Peeing Baby my fiercest stink eye.
I have seen many instances of people treating their babies like pets or miniature adults and treating their pets like children or miniature adults. Neither case seems well-advised. Tiny babies, months and months from learning to walk, wearing wing tips or running shoes (probably with specially molded orthotics). A poodle wearing a prep school blazer and khaki slacks. A week old infant sporting a bikini and sunglasses. (The bikini bottoms were hilarious, having to be large enough to house a diaper.) A kitten in an argyle turtleneck sweater. (The kitten was clearly not pleased to be wearing the sweater – either the turtleneck was too confining or the design was too loud.) A toddler on a leash. A toddler human, mind you. In general, I don’t get it and I don’t like it and I don’t want my grandchild or the cats in his home to be dealt with in like fashion.
In my grad school days I was sitting in my advisor’s house with a few of my colleagues, enjoying snacks and beverages and casual conversation. Somehow the discussion swayed to stories about ugly babies. One person said she didn’t know what to say to the parents of an ugly baby. Our advisor, a wonderful person and an excellent professor, offered sage advice, “Simply say, ‘Now that’s a baby!’”
We practice saying, “Now that’s a baby!”, in her living room. Our advisor encouraged us to be more enthusiastic, placing emphasis on “that’s” and “baby”. We tried again. It felt good. It felt right. Passersby must have been mystified at the doings inside my advisor’s house, several voices hollering repeatedly, “Now that”s a baby!”
And when, a few years later I faced my very first ugly baby (please see Part I, here), I completely forgot this safe and useful line from my grad school advisor and went with a floppy comment about the massive pile of blankets in the crib.
A pair of frightfully ugly (some would have said beastly) twins scared the bejesus out of me one time in a KMart. I was shopping for essential consumer goods and my travels through the aisles eventually led me to the Photo Center. A positively glowing new mother and father were poised behind one of those monstrous double strollers built for dealing with twins – or one gargantuan baby like the one I mentioned earlier. I was looking at the coffee makers when the family was invited into the Photo Center for their portrait session. The father hoisted Twin #1 out of the super stroller and I got a glimpse of a grotesque, malformed, wild-eyed creature with a few tufts of scraggly hair on its misshapen head that looked like the remains of a rampaging bout of mange. The infant’s eyes and ears were out of alignment, like a poorly done Escher/Dali/Picasso painting. Moments after erasing the image from my mind, the mother picked up Twin #2. As far as I could see, which was a great deal more than I desired, this wriggling object was in every way identical to Twin #1. Incredibly, the parents were perfectly presentable. They were solid, average humans that no one would term ugly or homely or even plain. Perhaps the photographer could position the lighting, I hypothesized, to show off any feature that would help these two ugly babies in some small way.
In retrospect, I could have described my encounters with babies a shade more succinctly, something like this: “Babies are ugly, wailing, urinating, obese, and bald. I know because I’ve seen ‘em.” I guess you’d call that the poet’s approach – use a few carefully chosen words to pack a big punch. Whereas my approach seems to be the Dickensian paid-by-the-word method of using a multitude of words to pack a glancing blow. But, you know, what the heck. It’s a blog. Scroll down, fast as you like.
And how did our first grandchild, a boy, turn out? Well, he’s the cutest and most adorable little human imaginable. Babies are not called Bundles of Joy for nothing.