Monday, February 7, 2011

Whooozat Baby?

Being in the Bible Belt, the argument arises often for Evolution Vs. Creationism. When you consider that the entire human being, body, mind and soul, develops from two cells how can the existence of some higher power be questioned? When you see them develop and grow, trying and failing and trying again until success brings them to a new level of achievement, how can one doubt that evolution is an absolute truth?

In their nascent (Definition: beginning to exist or develop) stage, they  are pretty much useless. Cute as can be but with no direction, no desire to grow, to learn, to change. They do not even know these things are a possibility yet. They have two modes of operation, on and off, and three activities, eating, passing water, and the seemingly endless pooping. This is the only time in a life when base human desire is not at war with society This stage lasts, in my experience about six weeks. This coincides roughly with the amount of time it takes a mother to recover mentally from the shock of actually having the cherub (for the most part) and start looking at her darling little lump of fuzzy headed, sweet smelling, pink cheeked goodness and expecting more of it.

We get in it’s face, grinning like madmen and say stupid things like “whooozat baby? “ in a high falsetto guaranteed to get their attention. We shake their little feet, we rub their heads, we tickle their ribs. We swing them up over our heads, tuck them under our arms like footballs, sit them up, roll them over, shake toys in their face that rattle, hum, vibrate, play single notes and simple melodies. We maneuver their bodies into several different outfits a day, introduce them to confining shoes and wipe their butts in public places. The first time a child smiles, or laughs, or squeals, if you look at it’s little face immediately after, you will see it get a horrified, terrified, what the hell was that? Expression on it’s face. Once a baby figures out that that noise or gesture  has an immediate return the first step of evolution is complete. They have figured out tit-for-tat, only they want way more than they give.

I have always been amazed that it takes a kid a solid month to learn to smile at you when expected, which is seemingly simple, and the same month to develop at least three separate cries…tired cry, hungry cry, wet cry…and for some really bright children a fourth, the ‘I do not want to be alone so I will annoy the hell out of you until you  bow down to me and pick me up wench’ cry.

Progress is slow in the first few months, because while learning, they are also learning how to learn which slows them down. I find that once they have that part figured out, the ability to concentrate and to try things pick up speed at an alarming rate. The first major change in a baby is rolling over… usually as parents we discover they have this one down when they use it to roll OFF of something and scare the bejeezus out of us. This is a necessary occurrence. We learn at that point in time that we are not perfect parents (a lesson we seemingly need to learn again and again) and they learn that a boo-boo generates an effluvium of love, snuggles, nurturing and guilt, all useful tools in an older child’s arsenal, tucked away to be turned back on their parents at a later date.

When a child learns to crawl, we learn just how deadly our environment is. After reading the books and talking to other parents, doctors, experts of some kind in the field of childrearing we usually feel like we have a handle on it. We have plastic guards stuck in our plugs, cabinets that it now takes an engineering degree to open, locks on the toilets that they won’t even be able to reach or have any interest in whatsoever for months. We have baby gates, crib bumpers, safety seats and soft toys. We go to all this trouble just to have them pull themselves across the floor using one foot and one finger to find the penny you dropped in your 8th month of pregnancy and were too fat to pick up. It has since been kicked under the couch, and , while you would need a broom handle to reach it, this 24 inch long creature with no coordination can snag it and pop it in their mouth before you can say “whooozat baby?” Never owned a paper clip? They will find one. Dog food, beach sand, ancient Fruity Pebbles, pop tops, tortilla chip corners coated in dust, mints, toothpicks, bottle tops will all turn up. Usually already in their mouth, and usually when there is someone visiting that you want to impress with either your clean home, your excellent mothering or both.

At this point in time, mothers begin to wish for the little lump of fuzziness that the child had been. This is genetically programmed into us, supposedly so that we continue the species, but is also born out of a nostalgia for that time, so shortly gone, when being a mother was all love and fatigue and very, very little drama.

Once the child starts walking, which we foolishly push them and push them to do, we are done for. Three things happen at this point. They beat us for one. They have legs six inches long but can run like the wind, with a silent stealth they vanish into seemingly thin air in the mall, up steep flights of stairs, towards roads, rivers and pools. Every time they do this our reactions tell them they can make us crazy.  They have won the game already, neither parent nor child realizing the immensity of this discovery, that this is an epiphany, but understanding that this is true all the same. They love that. The second thing that happens at this time is that we realize we are not perfect parents (again) and thank God, or the heavens or our own good sense for giving us the speed, the strength, the stamina to catch them before they run into or stumble into or fall into tragedy. The third thing that happens is that children develop a love affair with the Band-Aid. Kids can never get enough Band-aids. This is true until they reach the age when grossing other kids out is more valuable to them than having a cool Band-Aid hiding a mystery boo-boo and the curiosity and envy in other children that it generates.

Parents love to moan when their children start talking because they never are quiet again. We grouse about it to each other, but always with a smile, a shrug, a who knew sort of gesture which is hiding our pride in this phenomenal accomplishment. Secretly we are entranced by conversations about puppets and cookies and how to use a potty (YAY!!). We think they have finally learned something that can only help us. They can tell us when they are sick or tired or hungry. They no longer grunt or cry in frustration when they want or need something but can convey these things to us accompanied by a cute little baby accent and a sweet smile. Fools that we are we welcome this, read to them, teach them how to rhyme, to recite the alphabet, to count, to sing. We chatter endlessly about fanciful things like fairies and transformers and dragons and gnomes. These are the halcyon days. The full impact of children having the ability to converse is hidden from us until the dreaded all out assault of puberty.

An internal alarm goes off in a child on the day they turn 15 telling them their time as a child is finished. Their bodies wake up with a jolt, changing daily, shooting up, clothes busting at the very seams. Their faces explode, their hair goes nuts, their bodies changing so quickly and dramatically that it causes physical pain.  Your child goes to bed a child and wakes up the next day as some pod person/zombie/Godzilla/3 month old/seer mutation of what you knew before. The exact same sequence of events brings screaming rages one day, desperate tears the next followed by total nonchalance  the third. A child’s body becomes the physical equivalent of a tempest in an ungainly, pimpled teapot and life as you knew it is over. No warning, no time outs. Once again, we are forced to realize we are not perfect parents but this time it is because they TELL us. Daily we are informed of our shortcomings… materially and emotionally we have failed them. All parents fail all children, it is the way of the world, but it doesn’t make it any easier to hear. Just when the fatigue, guilt, anxiety and anger threaten to overwhelm them and us a moment will happen that allows that former bond to re-exert itself. A shared moment, a glance, a joke and a glimpse of what has been and what will be again emerges. The only reason anyone survives this phase is because of the 15 years of mutual need, care and affection that came before allow us to hope and pray that this too, shall pass.

It is hard to watch this process, to see someone you love so desperately turning away from you, striking out alone or in the company of a few good friends and a lot of losers, making their own, often poor decisions. It is also, however, the mark of being a good parent, of raising strong children who are not afraid to try and fail and try again until they reach that level of achievement that allows them to try something new.