I feel shy when I meet a baby for the first time.
Not an infant, but a baby, old enough to hold her head up and look around and evaluate what she sees, but too young to have understandable language for it.
I met such a baby at work, and held her. (We’d met months ago, when she was very new, but she was asleep and wouldn’t remember. On that day I just beheld her.)
Is there anything that shrinks the cares of the day more than holding a very small person?
I spoke to her, as I would in meeting any new person. What I said was addressed to her, but intended for the understanding of her parents, in that odd way we speak to babies. There was a mild joke she wouldn’t understand. (Or maybe she did. She furrowed her brow.)
Back in the days when I was learning my way in joining adult conversation, my mom and grandmother were discussing who a new baby looked like. This discussion came up about every baby, it seemed, and it always irritated me. “He looks like him,” I inserted.
“He looks like his dad?” one of them asked.
“He looks like himself!” I said, and added some words that expressed this chronic irritation, something like, “Everyone always tries to figure out who a baby looks like. Why can’t he just look like himself?”
That rude, argumentative outburst was dealt with gently, even mildly affirmed, a sort of verbal pat on the head. Back then I didn’t have eyes to see the way family resemblances hopscotch through generations and genders, or the heart to marvel at it.
So this baby. She bears her father’s face once removed, in her features, and her mother’s face, in her expressions, especially as she looks at Mom with anticipation, to gauge whether it’s OK for this new person to hold her, and then looks back at me, with a Mom-boosted smile.
A few days later, I held and beheld another baby. We’d met before, and had conversed in our way before, but he’s still in his pre-walking, pre-talking stage, therefore still an armful of mystery. While people were talking all around, he zeroed in on the sounds of machines being used, and twisted to look: in one direction, someone punching the buttons of the microwave to reheat a plate of food; in the other, someone running water and setting up the coffeemaker. Mom’s and Dad’s faces mingled in his, but his rapt concentration on that kitchen task was all his own.
So this is the marvel, and the thing that makes me shy when meeting a small pre-verbal person, and the reason that I respectfully never speak to babies in the tone of voice we call baby talk (although, oddly, I often do to pets): Each baby is both. She’s clearly a creation of the two people who made her. He’s also a brand-new person, unlike any before or to come.