Title photo credit: Araujo Carin
My wife and I don’t want to have kids. (I’ve probably mentioned this before.) As such, I’m largely foreign to the world of babies and parenting. I see plenty of high school classmates’ babies on Facebook, to the point where I feel like I’m going to end up knowing the faces of their kids better than I remember theirs, but that doesn’t mean that I’m feeling the baby vibes.
Last Saturday, I visited my dad. His girlfriend’s daughter recently had a baby, and my father and his girlfriend were watching him for the afternoon. He’s about four months old, and I’ll call him Max for this writing.
I spent the afternoon with Max. It was a rather unique experience, relative to my usual day-to-day life. I haven’t seen a baby that young in years. I was certainly curious. I learned a bunch of stuff about human development in college, but reading about developmental milestones in a textbook doesn’t really amount to much. So, here are five things that I learned as a childfree man hanging out with a baby.
5: I Don’t Really Know What A Baby Is
Photo credit: Kenny Louie
As I said above, I learned plenty about babies in developmental psychology classes. That knowledge is pure theory to me, however. I’ve clearly never had to actively apply any of it to a situation at hand. When I first walked in my dad’s door, I heard a scrabbling sound, which actually turned out to be Max fiddling with some of the stimuli in his Baby Einstein chair. I’ve certainly book-learned that no baby Max’s age should ever be walking or crawling, but upon hearing that sound, I immediately moved to block any exit through the door, as though Max were trying to run outside like a dog or cat.
In all honesty, I think it took a little while for it to click that Max is actually a human.
Photo credit: Coop41
He poops green. He’s clearly an alien.
I initially kept reacting to him like he was a pet. That probably makes me sound like a bit of an ass, but it’s honestly the only accurate way to describe my behavior. I tried waving stuff in front of him a few times like he was cat, and at least once, I found myself wondering if I should pet him when he was looking at me.
I eventually saw a spark of humanlike intelligence, though. For one, while Max could be content in his Baby Einstein chair, he ultimately wanted to do what the giant humans were doing, so he was at his happiest and most content when he was sitting on the couch, propped up by pillows, blankets, and cushions, watching college football with my dad. (I sure as hell can’t find such peace watching football.) He was actively studying and contemplating what he was seeing. I could tell that the gears were turning in his head, so to speak.
Max’s parents don’t speak to him in baby talk, which I think is awesome, since my parents didn’t do that with me, either (or so I’m told). As much as I know that baby talk is like teaching a language that no one speaks, I nevertheless simply parroted Max’s vocals back at him a few times after he screeched at me. Each time I did that, he gave me this confused, quizzical look. I could imagine him thinking, “What’s wrong with you? Are you stupid, or something?” There’s definitely a mind somewhere in that squishy, big-headed body.
4: I’m A Sucker For A Willing Audience
Photo credit: Kenny Louie
I remember being oddly good with babies and toddlers when I was a kid. Somewhere along the line, that talent seemed to evaporate, leaving me to only feel awkward around children or babies.
Photo credit: Marcus Quigmire
“So, you’re a baby. How’s that going for you?”
A ghost of that past talent must still exist, however, since almost as soon as Max started looking at me, he smiled and made what I’m pretty sure were happy sounds.
As it turned out, it was very easy to amuse Max, which had an effect on me. When I was in middle school, I dreamed of being a stand-up comedian. I was never very good at that whole “believing in myself” thing, so I never truly expected to actually be one. The endless assumption that I’d be something along the lines of a doctor or engineer probably didn’t help, either. Nevertheless, I loved making people laugh and would pound out as many jokes as I could upon meeting someone who got my sense of humor.
Since I was able to get laughs (or the nearest equivalent) out of Max, I did so at every opportunity. I was an outright attention whore around him at times. I’d try doing one thing or another just to see how he’d react. Granted, I do that with my cat a lot, too, but I’m pretty sure that with Max, my behavior was borne out of the internal desire to be a comedian, as opposed to being a another example of me failing to remember that he’s a person.
3: Babies Are Drunks
Photo credit: Oscar Sanchez Urgiles
As I mentioned earlier, Max spent a fair amount of time sitting on the couch watching college football. I came to a realization from these parts of the afternoon: Watching TV with a baby is like watching TV with a really drunk friend. He couldn’t quite keep himself sitting upright; once or twice, he started to list to one side and had to be propped back up. His speech was slurred and unintelligible. He didn’t really know what was going on at times. He’d randomly vomit. It’s exactly how I remember some of my drunk friends being.
Photo credit: Joymaster
He’s been hitting the bottle pretty hard lately.
Yes, I know that Max’s externally visible behavior isn’t due to alcohol but rather to having not reached various developmental milestones yet. I still think the analogy is funny, though. Said analogy doesn’t hold up across the board, of course. At one point, Max spit up a bit and promptly licked the regurgitated matter back up, at which point he smiled. I’ve never seen a drunk person do that.
2: I Might Actually Have Some Kind Of Protective, Fatherly Instinct
Photo credit: Praxinoa
For someone so disconnected from the concept of parenting, I found myself surprisingly responsive whenever Max showed the slightest sign of distress. I’m pretty sure I reacted to him crying or making any kind of unhappy sound faster than my dad or his girlfriend. I’d be the first to try to replace his pacifier or suggest that he be brought back to his place of peace and serenity, also known as the couch. At one point when he was in another room taking a nap, I heard him coughing and wanted to check to make sure he wasn’t aspirating on his own phlegm or regurgitated baby food. I’m not even sure if such a thing is a danger for babies (though it can be a danger for drunk friends).
Photo credit: Mac
Hell, his car seat probably flies him to the ER if he chokes.
I even found myself vaguely wanting to impart my experience and wisdom on him. I wanted to make sure he knew the important things, like how to milk adults for presents. Granted, it’s pretty unlikely that he’d remember anything I told him at his current age.
Either way, I found myself acting in a surprisingly protective and almost nurturing manor toward Max. This leads me to my final entry:
1: I Still Definitely Don’t Want To Have Kids
Photo credit: Mw007
I already knew this going into my afternoon with Max, so I guess this isn’t something I learned, but it bears mentioning.
Yes, I thought it was interesting and perhaps even sort of fun interacting with Max. Yes, I enjoyed making him laugh. Yes, I even found myself feeling a need to make sure he was safe. However, there’s a big difference between hanging out with a baby for an afternoon and raising one for at least 18 years.
I hardly got a broad sampling of what it’s like to raise a kid last Saturday. I never actually held Max, which I’m happy about, since I’d have been worried about dropping him, holding him wrong, being puked on, and so forth. If he needed to be fed or changed, my dad’s girlfriend was in charge of that, a fact for which I have no complaints.
Don’t let that earlier caption fool you. I know nothing about Max’s poop.
I’m trying to stick with the relatively lighthearted feel of the previous entries, but I have more than silly, shallow, poop-fearing reasons for not wanting to have children. Frankly, I could write a whole list about such reasons.
Hopefully my engaged and interested behavior toward Max didn’t give my dad’s girlfriend any ideas. (I’m singling her out since she kept telling Max that I’m “Uncle Anthony.” I’m not sure how I feel about that.) My wife specifically avoided showing too much overt interest in Max so as to not send the wrong message. In the end, exposure to babies doesn’t automatically make childfree couples want children.