Friday, March 24, 2006

baby delusions

This might sound weird but I love bringing babies to regular checkups at the pediatrician's. It is an opportunity to bask in the glow of dutiful parenthood and show off your exquisitely healthy baby to the medical community. I particularly like the part at the end when the doctor says what a beautiful baby I have. Sure, they say this to the hundreds of parents a day, but I will suck up any bit of praise I can get.

Sometimes the doctor visits can have the opposite effect. As the nurse went through the checklist of baby skills and behaviors at Isla's recent four-month appointment, I descended lower and lower with each question until I was deposited gently on the ground to walk with the parents of all the other four-month old children the world over.

It's fun to imagine that your baby is doing something special, something that no other baby is capable of doing, no matter how mundane. “Oh, look how she makes such direct eye contact, she understands us.” or, “Do you hear her talking? She just said, ‘hi’, did you hear that?” “She laughed, did you hear that? Can you believe she is laughing already?” “Look at how she holds her head up and looks around.” “Look at how well she can hold and shake that rattle, she is so coordinated.” “Look, she is bouncing to the music. She's got rythym.”

Sound familiar? Then, you go to your check up and the nurse starts asking questions. “Is she holding her head up while on her stomach?” “Yes” “Holding toys?” “Yes.” “Is she smiling, laughing, cooing, squealing and wiggling?" "Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. "Does she get distracted by noises while nursing?” “Yes. How did you know?”

Because it’s written in an early childhood development text book somewhere. The exact description of my baby’s skills, skill by skill, month by month, year by year. So each day I consider so special, so unique to just us, is being repeated throughout households around the world, again and again, like clockwork since the beginning of time.

Then, to make things worse, the pediatrician comes in and asks how it is going. I tell her that the baby is bubbly, happy and delightful to be with for the most part. “Yeah,” she says. “Babies are great at this age.” "Babies?" I think. "We're talking about my baby, not all babies." As if all babies were equally great. How could she imply such a thing?

Well no matter what the professionals say, I'll go on considering my children to be extraordinary. I find it particularly clever how Isla gets her bearings before settling in to nurse. When her little blue eyes lock into mine I could swear she is trying to say, thank you. And then at night, in the darkness of our bed, the way she takes a second to let her eyes adjust, to make out the outline of my face to be sure I am not some imposter. I can sense her taking me in, her round head bobbing back and forth, her eyes wide as she slowly hones in on the waiting milk dispenser that is my engorged breast. Then she turns her head at the sound of her daddy’s ragged breathing behind her to make sure he isn’t really a wild animal waiting to pounce on her when she is distracted. Only once she is absolutely sure of the situation will she commence to nursing.

I'm sure this behavior has been written about in some text book or other but it doesn't make it any less remarkable. Any less cool.

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