Posted: August 21, 2010 in babies
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“When we got to the hospital, my eyes were dilated to five. When my very pregnant wife got on the scales, my eyes dilated to nine. The nurse came into the delivery room and asked if we wanted an epidural. I said, ‘Yes,’ I’ll take one at the base of my skull.’ ”

“When our first baby, Rosalind was born, I cried. I really did.  And that’s the part Rosalind likes to hear. She always wants me to tell that. I cried because she was a girl, and I wanted a girl because I was sick of boy children, having grown up with too many of them, and having been hit way to many times on the arms by them. And maybe I cried too, thinking of all the loads of diapers headed our way.”

This is my first baby’s birth story, and it’s true, well some of it. Some of it is just my trying to act like a Bill Cosby dad,  because I admire him so much as a dad, well, as a TV dad, because on TV he was so funny and cool and had money — and a smokin’ hot wife.

But if you have a baby you have a story and you tell it to other parents, to your children and to whoever will listen all your life. As a new dad, I watched my wife with other moms, telling our babies birth stories, reliving the glory, the hours of labor, listening to the other mom’s hospital stories.  I felt left out. I didn’t seem to have a labor and delivery story because I hadn’t been in labor. Duh! Enough of that, I made a story up, well kind of, because I really was there, even if I didn’t have to pant and push and suffer. But I went through it; I had pain in the delivery room; I had bruises on my arms, and the birth of our baby was my story too.

We waited seven years after we were married to have babies. I was about to start a PhD in literature and my wife said, “It’s now, my clock is ticking, and the alarm is ringing and it’s saying, “Babies!”

I was faced with a decision, to go for the degree, and win knowledge, wealth and influence  or have children and live in ignorance, disease and poverty. I choose children, and I have never, ever regretted that. Well, once or twice, I did, but not now. I am the proud farther of Rosalind and Laurel Hasper.

 I needed them and I found out that they needed me too.  It’s a wild claim, I know,  but I have proof.

So many times when my little daughters, Rosalind and Laurel, reached their little hands up to me, fingers and arms and eyes all saying so very clearly what they wanted. I picked them up and then they were  good, there, in the right place, with me, their dad

Last week my mom told me that Ruby, her great grand-daughter from my brother Steve’s oldest son and his wife, woke up in church in her lap to a huge, high cathedral-like ceiling over her head. Her little lower lip trembled. Her eyes began to tear. My mom told me that she pulled Ruby to herself and held her tight and then little Ruby’s lower lip calmed and her eyes closed again. Good, all good.

They need us, and we need them too.

Last Wednesday, Aryah, a friend’s little daughter ran over to me and threw her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek with all the three year-old innocence in her little brown arms and silky, soft cheeks and fuzzy pulled-up hair, as cute as cute can ever be.  I couldn’t have felt more honored.  She is so adorable that her momma took her out recently and a modeling agency representative asked if she could be brought to the studio for pictures. Her mom said, “No.  Aryah doesn’t need more of that kind of attention.” She is already well on her way to a princess syndrome, thinking she is all that, having perhaps too many times overheard, “She is so cute.”

Babies , we love them — madly, instantly, unmitigatingly, and they love us back. We love holding them, looking at them, feeding them, taking pictures of them, comforting them. Babies – we even love the ones we have just seen for the first time and whose names we don’t even know. The cute ones in commercials, the sweet ones passing us in their mother’s arms on the street, the funny looking eighteen month ones, hand-held, staggering like drunks alongside their mom’s in the malls – we adore them all. They turn our heads; they get our second looks. Their little bald heads and beady eyes stop traffic in the grocery store and bring people together in little huddles on the street. “Ah, he is so adorable.”

When babies aren’t so loved, most of us are pretty much undone. When Ceausescu fell from power in Romania in 1989, and the scale of his social experiment to increase the population came light we were stunned — babies with no doting parents! “No!” According to NGO estimates, more than 170,000 orphans were languishing in orphanages under appalling conditions. The plight of the unheld, the unkissed, and the unfussed over shocked us and broke our hearts. It broke theirs too.

All babies should be brought home, even though it is a fearsome decision.  Bringing Rosalind home was a thrill and a scare. It was like Christmas and Halloween combined. It was Christmas because we brought her home, like a wrapped and beribboned gift; it was Halloween because we were afraid a scary problem would come to our door that we couldn’t get rid  of even with “phone” advice from the on-call nurse.  And it happened. She cried, at night, late, and into the night. But we had to figure it out for ourselves. They said she had “colic,” which basically meant she cried and they didn’t know why. So we figured out or were told about a “colic hold,” or football hold, as we came to think of it. We tucked Roz under an arm in much the way a running back carries a football, lying on her stomach, head toward the arm pit, keeping her in place along the arm by getting a firm grip on one of her ankles. This hold is very handy, as the baby then just kind of rides along with you, near your body, and you have one hand free to do other things, like eat, hold a book, run the remote and other essentials of good living.

As you can see from this, babies aren’t always fun. Take diapers, for instance – not fun. Before we had our first baby, I was told that we would need about ninety diapers a week. I was num-chucked, floored, down because of the count . “Ninety diapers a week! What would a person do with ninety diapers?”  I was to find out. But even hearing it pronounced like that, like some terrible, negative prophesy, scared me. That would mean that there would be a whole lot of something around my house that I preferred to not keep around the house, but to consign to a private, discrete, proper porcelain place.

I threatened to move to the garage. I was told that if I didn’t stop it and step up I would be banished to the garage.  It was not to be, the garage, a way out. Flat, smashed, runny – we took turns managing it. It was only fair. “Gag me. It’s your turn.”  We had friends with a rule about this, “Finders, keepers.” You do what you have to do, but you don’t like it. I used to give Rosalind “Giraffe Man to play with,” a little stuffed orange giraffe, while I changed her diaper. At least this could be fun for somebody.

But there was also the good stuff, the other end. Both our girls were both bald for the first year, with that nice soft layer of fuzz topping them off.  We loved it, the fuzzification, the fuzzosity, the fuzzitude of their tops. Male pattern baldness doesn’t attract much attention, but total baby baldness is a big hit and people instinctively run their fingers over this soft warmth. With our babies, we teased that we were rubbing vitamins on their little, bald heads to make the hair grow. We weren’t. We were rubbing our lips on their sweet heads and kissing the stuffing out of them every chance we got. That is what eventually made their hair grow.

To compensate for not having hair, we got our girls cheeks — big, fat, sweet, rosy, downy cheeks. I like to say, “Love some cheeks.” It came from a time when one of them said, “Want some cake,” or something like that, and then in our family, post that, we say, “Love some cake, love some kitties, love some… “whatever it is that we love. We pointed out the cheeks to other people, and we told people we paid extra for them, as if cheeks were an upgrade, like a sunroof or leather seats that we could brag about.

Sum it up for yourself; do the math, fat soft cheeks, bright eyes, oversized, fuzzy topped heads, short and chubby arms and legs, miniature fingers and toes – these things pretty much avalanched us down the slope of total baby adoration.

Take baby toes. Baby toes are an instant hit everywhere. “Look, they are so perfect,” we gush. Baby toes are a miracle to most people, like the appearance of the virgin, or like bread and fish multiplied. They are so small and fresh, but exactly like ours, well, not quite. I was recently standing around with some young adults who were all wearing flip-flops. Their toes weren’t perfect, but instead, even in their mid twenties many of their toes were already bent to the side, headed toward old age and perhaps a hobble.

But the babies, in miniature, the toes, the fingers, the silky soft skin, it is so often so good, so right, so fun. Fun, fun, fun – babies are so fun, some of the time. You can see that they aren’t always when you see their sleep-deprived moms and dads just trying to get through the next day.

I remember being a baby; I don’t. It’s surprising, our brains are growing so fast then, learning so much, but remembering so little. But my mom remembers and I remember through her. I woke in the morning hungry, starving, begging, “Circee, circee, mama circee.” I so I got my Cheerios and I was so grateful that I dropped some over the edge of my chair to the dog, and they picked me up and let me out and I turned around and I was shoveling Cheerios into my babies mouths and sitting on the floor playing with their toys with them. And I’m still eating “circee.” I love my Wheat Checks and Honey Nut Cheerios and Shredded Wheat with soy milk and Splenda.

One of the best things about having babies around the house is having their toys around the house. Adults love the toys — nothing new here. In the Indus Valley Civilization, (c 3000-2,500 BCE to c1500 BCE), at the ancient site of Mohenjo-Daro, archeologists found children’s toys, small carts, whistles shaped like birds, and toy monkeys which could slide down a string. We have long loved miniature, and we have loved the motions that make our babies laugh.

The first mobile we bought was as much for us as for baby Rosalind. When we had a room with a crib and a mobile, we got smug and knew it was for real.  We were parents. I was particularly thrilled with “Discovery Cottage.” When we put the little cylindrical guy down the chimney of the plastic house and out the slide he came, Rosalind laughed and laughed with delight, and we laughed too watching her laugh, this little slice of laughing reality reprising all the laughs of the ancient children, the ancient Indian child pointing and delighting in the monkey flying down the string or the ancient Greek child tossing her yo yo’s out from her little person with joyful abandon.  

As the girls got older, early grade school, we took them to the pool.  At that point we had moved to a master-planned community for all the usual reasons: the good schools, the walk around the block without crossing any major streets to get to school and the pools. The pools were worth the mortgage payment alone. The girls grew up in the water, as all kids should. Water and kids mix really well.  We played bucking bronco. The girls sat on a bogey board, wrapped their little fat legs and finger around the edges and held on for the wild ride. Back and forth, up and down, twisting and bucking and rearing back and diving forward, then the flip. I’d flip the board upside-down, their heads pointed to the bottom of the pool, then on through the spin and back up to air and sun again, and then back under and back up, fifteen, twenty twenty-five times. I forget the record, but it was high, over thirty times under water without falling off, the screaming and laughing and water flying and high-fives at the end. Babies and big babies are fun to play with.

Besides toys, the other entertainment was language. The fun and the cuteness of big babies is the fun found on their lips and tongues. The first smiles blew us away. The first “dada” and “mama” melted our hearts. And then they really talked —  funny-cute. Laurel loved a, “Yion” (lion) and had an “owie” on her “yeg” (leg). When we were driving Rosalind would often shout out “Gog, gog,” and sure enough ten cars away, hanging out the window, there was a dog. She was never wrong. Rosalind wanted to go on a walk and see “naturous” things, and so we did.  It’s hard to remember all the cute things said and done. We don’t, but when we are again around babies, some of the special moments and movements come back.

Audrey came to our house last week. Audrey is eight months. She is all eyes and she misses nothing. She crawls fast, throws a leg under herself and sits out and up like a college wrestler making a move on his opponent. She smiles and claps and everybody wants to hold her which she doesn’t mind at all. At the end of the night, as the celebrity in the house, she didn’t want to leave. She arched her back and had to be bent into her car seat. Babies are strong and strong-willed–  sometimes. Odd, how similar Audrey is to me, to adults everywhere; we never grow out of not liking being pushed down. And so we understand her when she doesn’t want to go in her seat; sometimes when the party has been fun, and she has been the center, a girl just doesn’t want to go home. Audrey is writing her story.

When you have a baby, you get stories, and the stories just happen to you, you don’t have to make them up, but they shape and change and define too. One day we went up to the mountains for a hike.  A bicycler crashed along of the road. A Life Flight Helicopter came for the rescue. People gathered in a dirt parking lot nearby. It was exciting to us, but not too little Laurel. She reached up, eyes up, hands up, I took her up, she clutched me with the tightest grip ever and said,  “Scared of dat, daddy, scared of dat.”

I took her to the car. We sat there through the chopper loudness and dust-churning craziness. She didn’t quickly forget it. For several years thereafter, when a helicopter would fly over the house, she was wild-eyed with fear that it would fly in the window.  This is it; calming our children’s fears, trying to make clear to them what is dangerous and what is not.  But a good childhood is not much fear, more fun than fear.  It was for us.

The first smile, the first time sitting up, the first clap, the first crawl, the first step,  the first word, the first party – whew the fun is nonstop.

I remember our first vacation that required a flight. We flew to Kauai, a good place to take kids, because it is surrounded by warm, clear, beautiful water with bright fish in it, and turtles. We snorkeled with them, nonstop. I remember snorkeling with Laurel, at tunnels, a reef very close to shore, very shallow, but with an edge. We were swimming together, and suddenly we came to the outer edge of the reef, and a cliff, and deep, darker blue water. Out over the edge of the nothingness we swam, and Laurel looked down with me, floating with her floaties and she grabbed my arm hard with her little fingers.

I pulled her close and we cruised in a little circle and back over the safety of the beautiful reef, with its little fish and plants, her size.

This is it, the swim together, the fingers grabbing us tightly when they are afraid, the arm circling, the guided tour back to safety.

We love our babies, and when it works out the way it should, they so love us back. We need them. They need us. You can tell from the red finger marks pressed into your arm when you take them out into the wonders.

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