Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Mind of a Child

If you're a parent and/or a thoughtful person (in the sense that you think about things, not in the sense that you don't ask your impoverished grandmother to pick up your lunch tab for you), you may have wondered what babies think about.

I certainly do. Chloe emerged two months ago. She sleeps, eats, and ensures that her excretory system is in good working order. She waves her arms, clenches her fists, wiggles her fingers and toes, and kicks her feet vigorously. She looks at things around her (especially lights and other bright things). Sometimes she frowns; sometimes she smiles. Last week, I discovered that if I caught her eye (harder to do than it sounds) and grinned, she'd smile, too, and even laugh. Sometimes she cries, and occasionally she out-and-out screams.

And that makes me wonder. What's going on in her brain when she does all this? Does she think "I wonder what that light is for?" "I wonder why I can't get any milk out of Daddy's arm / the chair / the carpet / my hand?" Does she even realize that the hand is hers? Does she experience life like the sperm whale in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

I have a theory: that being born is kind of like being shown onto the deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise. "Here's your ship!" the attendant says, and then walks out, leaving you with no crew and no instruction manual. So you spend the next four or five years pushing buttons and pulling levers more or less at random, trying to figure out what to do in order to reverse the polarity on the deflector array or reprogram the warp nacelles or something. Occasionally you figure out that this sequence of buttons does this thing, and eventually, everything works so well that you can't remember not being able to do things (like we are as adults). But in the meantime, the captains of the vessels around you have a good laugh at your expense as you beam the mess hall into space, shoot yourself with your own phasers, and commit other various indignities.

The real kicker is that once Chloe's old enough to actually tell us what she's thinking, she won't be able to remember any of it. All we can do is hope that she gets control-savvy enough to manage the waste disposal sooner, rather than later.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Grandpa's Backyard

Lying back and crushing spikes of grass,
Blueness reaching out eternally on every side,
Except a thousand maple leaves above us
That keep us cool and shady;
Chloe and I, staring up at the sky.
She laughing,
I loving.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Life of the Party (on the Plane)

If I was still in sales or worked in marketing, I might begin my post today like this: Do you travel much? Do you ever wonder how you can ingratiate yourself with your fellow travelers? If so, I have some great news for you – a SURE-FIRE, 100% GUARANTEED method of making friends FAST! There are no tricks – no strings attached – no gimmicks – and you can master this method in TEN MINUTES! When you get off the plane, everyone around you will LOVE YOU!

Sorry about that. I get these little ads that pop up on Gmail or Facebook with some regularity that say things like “SECRETS YOUR DOCTOR WON’T TELL YOU!” as though he hates you and is out to get you. Invariably, the text under the ad has something like what I’ve written above. But seriously, this would work – so maybe you’re curious. The way to win friends and influence people on an airplane is to bring one little thing with you … (wait for it) … a baby.

Or, more precisely, a tiny, cute, (and most important) sleeping baby. There are three steps in the process of winning the hearts and minds of your fellow travelers:

First, get on the plane carrying a baby. This will immediately make you the center of attention, mostly consisting of sideways glances as you walk down the aisle and whispered prayers of “Please, not next to me, please please please not here …” This might not seem like a good thing, but it’s a crucial first step because it gets everyone focused on you. If you walked down the aisle by yourself, nobody would give you a second glance, and they probably wouldn’t be that impressed with you later on.

Now we’ve got everyone’s attention, and particularly that of the people who are sitting near you. They’ve probably flashed you a few tight-lipped smiles. The really blunt ones might be ignoring you, making faces out the window, or scanning the rest of the plane for empty seats. A few friendly people might be complimenting you on your baby, but even they are wondering just how colicky she is and how long it will be before she wakes up. This is where step two comes in: apologizing in advance and showing off the kid. You know everyone’s thinking of your child as a ticking time bomb of misery, so you may as well acknowledge it and clear the air. A wry grin, and a sincere “Sorry-for-my-child-disturbing-your-sleep-later-but-she’s-only-three-weeks-old” will ingratiate you with your fellow passengers. It establishes you as not being one of the Evil Parents who view the world as a stage for their children to shine on, since you’re acknowledging the inconvenience. Plus, she really is cute, so the non-hardened people will feel a little bit guilty for wishing you ill earlier. They’ll probably admire the baby and then settle back down into their chairs, assured in the knowledge that at least you didn’t bring the child maliciously in order to inconvenience them.

Step three is the tricky one: ensuring that the baby sleeps for the remainder of the flight. (I recommend putting in a request for a sleepy kid when she’s conceived.) It’s best if she wakes up once or twice, and even if she cries a little (say, less than thirty seconds). This will awaken fear in those who are around you, which will then be immediately assuaged and will further convince them that there’s nothing to worry about and that your kid really is very cute.

By the time the plane lands, the people who inwardly cursed you when you got on will be smiling and complimenting your infant as you shuffle around and wait for the first-class passengers to get off. Even the most unfriendly will grin at your baby as you walk out of the plane, and everyone in your vicinity will remark (silently or aloud) at how surprisingly good your baby was and how they were dreading the flight for nothing. Their whole day will be brighter, and all thanks to you and your child!

The only thing I haven’t gotten down is the marketing aspect of this plan. Maybe I could sell a realistic sleeping baby doll that frequent flyers could carry around with them in order to make friends. I’d buy one myself, but I’m all set with cute sleeping babies for right now.