The threshold for praise and excitement over a child’s abilities is awfully low for infants. For example, Jack is on the precipice of rolling over from back to front. For non-parents this sounds pretty benign, if not banal. For parents, it’s like landing on the flipping moon. I found myself cheering Jack on with the same enthusiasm with which I yell at the TV during football games. (My vocalizations are equally effective in both cases.) Jack didn’t make it happen today, but it could be any day now.
Infants, of course, are pretty useless as people. They’re basically parasites, not that different from when they lived in the womb, except now they leach off of both parents, siblings, extended family, and random people who hold them for more than a minute or two.* It’s like carrying around a small bag of cat litter that squirms, yells, and unpredictably leaks from one or more openings. So anytime they gain an ability that elevates them above Bag of Cat Litter status, it’s party time.
The first few parties are for things that are, frankly, pretty mundane. Holding his head up, sleeping for more than three hours at a stretch, rolling over, holding something (and meaning it!) are all occasions for celebration. The big one comes just when you’re contemplating infanticide. You’ve been yelled at, spat on, peed on, shat on, all with nowhere near enough sleep to deal with any one of those things, no less all of them. And then, out of nowhere, he smiles. And for a second or two, unfiltered bliss hides all of that horribleness. And then the tail wags the dog and your entire world becomes about making that child smile again. And then… you keep starting sentences with “And,” much to the chagrin of your high school English teacher. And you don’t care because your baby smiled. And you’re not in English class.
While this particular milestone is powerful, it’s nowhere near as thrilling as baby laughter. Baby laughter has the advantage of happening when you’re starting to get some sleep and settle into a livable routine, so you can actually enjoy your Bag of Cat Litter a little bit. It’s the first time the experience is interactive instead of what had been heretofore like talking with a fern. You begin to imagine future interactions — telling jokes or stories, arguing about politics, sharing life’s learned-the-hard-way lessons, being Very Disappointed In You, Young Man, making farting noises into your hands, other stuff. All of this runs through your mind while your Bag of Cat Litter laughs at you hiding your face behind a napkin because, for a second or two, in his mind, you ceased to exist. It’s a humbling thought that your child is amused by your disappearance. It really doesn’t bode well for when you sign over your Power of Attorney in forty or fifty years.
Once they become mobile, it all speeds up. Your worries morph from you accidentally killing your baby to your baby accidentally killing himself. Your reflexes will be on par with those of an NHL Goalie, and your stress level will be comparable. At least the goaltender’s game will end after a few hours. Your stress will last for years, culminating, of course, with teaching him to drive when you will worry about him accidentally killing himself AND you at the same time. Or at least a neighbor’s Crape Myrtle.
My baby laughed today and very nearly rolled over. He’s in his crib now, trying to sleep it off and recover from all that development. He’s that much closer to going from Bag of Cat Litter to giving me a coronary in his used Dodge Dart. I think I’ll stick with the Cat Litter just a little while longer.
*Pro-tip: Don’t let strangers hold your baby. What the hell is wrong with you?