Two babies came into my office today. Not at the same time, and each accompanied by a very affectionate and seemingly competent mother. These were exceptionally cute babies, each only 11 months old, and oozing with wordless personality. The mothers were there to transact business. Me? As much as I wanted to transact business, as this is how I earn a living, I was completely unable to form thoughts more coherent than, “Lookit that smile! Yes! You’re a big boy, aren’t you?”
Back before I had any babies of my own, I had this near-psychotic, clearly biological urge to have one. I could smell a baby within 100 yards, and would run to it, begging to hold it. Once in my arms, I would think, “one day….” Then I had my own. After my son was born, I knew for absolute certain (even on those nights when I fantasized about leaving him in his crib with a few bottles and driving off into the sunset) that I wanted another one. I was fortunate enough to have my daughter two years later. After that, as much as I knew I wanted babies to begin with, I knew I did not want another one. Two was my limit.
Now, when I see a baby, after my biological alarm clock rang and got snoozed and finally turned off for good, I still want to feel its soft baby skin and make an absolute fool out of myself to be rewarded with a smile. But I’m happy enough to give it back to its mother/father/grandparents/foster parents/babysitter after a few minutes. Thank God I don’t have one of those, I think, but holey moley they are cute.
There are six women who work in my office, and one lonely man, Don. Don’t feel too badly for him – he has six daughters and a wife, so he actually cuts down on the number of women telling him what to do by coming in to work. Three of us (not me! Yay!) have daughters young enough to be considered babies or toddlers themselves. One of us has a new grandkid every year, and the oldest is seven. So there are a lot of babies that show up in our office from time to time.
Whenever this happens, odd things happen to us. Between the six women, there are twenty-eight years of post-secondary education. That’s a pretty well educated bunch. All of us have our own children. And yet, at the merest whiff of Desitin™, our voices raise an octave and a half, and we have to cease writing briefs and advising clients about life changing issues in order to fight for the right to say, “Aaaaaaahbooboobooobooobooo” right into the face of a very young human whose ability to converse starts and ends with “dadadadada.”
Don seems generally oblivious to the presence of babies, and goes about his business as if there weren’t this snuggly, warm little IQ-reducing presence in the office. I think the only thing he notices is that the rest of us are completely useless.
Why is this? There are lots of cute things in the world that I can merely note as cute in my brain without feeling the need to manhandle it or stop what I’m doing to observe. I don’t have to hold someone’s puppy. I don’t feel the need to dangle string in front of a kitty’s face. When I do play with puppies and kittens, I still manage to speak in a manner befitting a middle aged woman with a law degree.
I guess it is the helplessness of babies. Once weaned, kittens and puppies can survive on their own, for the most part. They are hard wired to find scraps of food to eat and chase mice. They poop and pee where they please (outdoors) with no consequence. Even little kittens are instinctively drawn to a litter box. Baby humans are completely helpless. For the first year of their lives they do precious little but take – quite literally like leaches. It was stunning to me to realize how little my children knew and how little they were capable of doing when they were born. My son had a cold when he was about six weeks old, and his inability to sniff or blow or recognize that he could breathe out of his mouth by choice made his suffering much more intense. (And, I admit, hilarious.)
Jumping right into stereotypes, women seem to be hardwired to gravitate towards the helpless. It is our job, whether or not we want it to be, and whether or not we resent the heck out of it, to make sure that what everyone in our orbit needs is taken care of. We are capable of recognizing that “waaaaaaaah!” means I’m hungry, and “WAHWAHWAH” means a wet diaper and “waaaaaaaahWAHWAHwaaaaaaaah” means I’m sleepy. My husband was always mystified that I could interpret my children’s cries. I was always mystified that he couldn’t. He is still mystified that I can look at my children in the morning and predict that they will be sick later in the day.
I’m not sure why any of this is, but I challenge you to disagree with me with concrete examples rather than theory. In the meantime, since there are no babies about, I’d better get some work done while I am still capable of rational thought.