Babies dig me — always have — for reasons I don’t fully understand.
It started when I was a kid (meaning around the age of three or four, when I can honestly claim to be able to recall such things). I remember seeing my father play with other kids and kind of just basking in their adoration — so I guess it started with my father — and I’d be watching, listening and sort of silently wishing for them to “kindly fuck off, because he is my father, after all” but it wasn’t working….so instead, I would join in. Like pops, it didn’t take much effort. All I had to do was more or less just be there and look at them, and they’d smile and laugh and pretty much give their mothers the emotional finger as they focused all of their undivided attention on us.
It’s something in the eyes, though, I think. See, my dad has these stone grey eyes that effectively pierce you (although he didn’t see fit to pass them on to either of his children), and he taught me at a very young age to “look a person in the eyes when you’re talking to them”. In most situations, I adhere to his rule. Which can be pretty dangerous — as it leads certain people to believe certain things that are not certainly true — but I do it, nonetheless, because it makes people feel listened to and cared about. That said, it also makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable, because they’re not used to feeling listened to or cared about. It makes them feel penetrated, almost violated. They squirm on the inside and look away.
Which is fine, but babies won’t squirm — not on the inside, at least. If you look a baby in the eye, it’ll just sit or stay there, or whatever, never breaking eye contact, utterly transfixed and bewildered by you. It stares right-the-fuck back at you. And I dig that about babies. There is no sense of subterfuge about them. There is a uniquely baby honesty that I just can’t get enough of (it’s worth pointing out that the people in our lives that we love most fiercely and trust most implicitly are frequently referred to as some form of “baby”, in a number of languages). They haven’t been exposed to the politics of the world yet, so there’s no agenda in their eyes; it’s beautiful.
But so today I’m sitting in my favorite coffeeshop, reading, when a mother walks in with her child (stop right there, because I know what you’re thinking, and this is not that kind of story). The kid is cute in a plain sort of way — he takes after his mother in this regard — and I smile at him as they come through the door. The mother thinks it’s directed at her, so she smiles back; it’s awkward. After realizing her mistake, we laugh. While she’s buying her coffee, she sets the baby carrier down at the table next to me.
Now, here’s the other thing I dig about babies: everything is amazing to them, because most of the time what they’re seeing is completely, entirely and spectacularly new. It’s like that feeling of being in a new country, the one of wonderment and awe that makes travel so incredibly appealing and romantic, that is how you feel all the time. I mean, can you imagine? I love that concept, envy it. But so anyway this baby is looking around the coffeeshop — it’s a quirky one, the coffeeshop — and he’s just totally stupefied by everything that’s going on (I’ve concluded that watching a baby take in its surroundings is not unlike watching someone who is perpetually on the best acid trip of their life). He scans the room and, eventually, locks eyes with me.
And so I’m giving him a big ol’ warm smile with my big ol’ brown eyes, thinking this is just another dumb baby for me to charm and manipulate and generally get to like me for no other reason than the fact that my face looks inviting, when he starts to make silly, little, incomprehensible baby noises. The mother laughs in the way that parents do when they’re proud of their kid for doing something mildly endearing, and expect you to be, too. She tells me that he’s not quite gotten to speaking yet, but he’s been trying very earnestly for some time now. I look into his eyes (they’re these piercing, killer green ones, the kind people in the future will pay enormous sums of money to genetically arrange for their children to have) and he stares intently back, still just making noises.
“He likes you!”, the mother cooed.
“Really?”, I lied.
This kid’s homily of gibberish is prophetic in its infancy. It’s obvious he’s trying really hard to get this out, so I sit forward to make my body language more inviting as well. He’s still going, with his stupid baby brow furrowed and goofy baby lips moving furiously. I realize that the little guy is starting to lend credence to similarities drawn between babies and drunks, and laughed with what I now realize was total condescension. He hears it and starts to babble even faster. The mother begins to take her leave, and asks the kid to “wave goodbye to the nice man”. And so she picks up the baby carrier, and as they’re walking out, the kid finally says it, looking back at me dead in the eyes, he smiles and says: