My wife steered me to a news story that discussed babies, and brainwaves. Specifically, the focus was Russian children turned sociopaths. A study discovered that when orphaned at birth—depending on their circumstances—certain Russian babies would sit in their crib and cry, with no one coming to soothe them. If this crying continued for a particular number of hours over too many days, the baby’s brain waves were so affected by the trauma they shut down. They “learned” at a very, very young age to go neutral as a form of self-preservation. As they aged, the children were emotionally “dead,” with no concern for other people; they had no empathy in them.
It was one of the most depressing things I have ever read.
The other week, my four-month-old son woke up, agitated, at 1:26 AM. He got a couple short bursts out as I stole into his room as quickly as possible. Before his mewling could turn into a storm, I knelt by his crib, slipped an arm between two slats, and caressed his head.
His fussing stopped immediately.
His legs stopped kicking, his arms ceased their flailing, and he absorbed himself into the mattress, relaxed, eyes closed.
There is something incredibly powerful and humbling about being able to pacify an infant simply by giving it the skin-to-skin contact of your hand. A baby may not know much, but it knows warmth, and love. The reaction to a gentle touch is instinctive; there are no words needed to explain what goes through a baby’s tiny brain at that moment: I was scared and alone, but now someone is here. I am safe.
As my son sighed peacefully back to sleep, I felt overwhelming love mixed with immense sorrow.
When you buy a car, suddenly you notice that particular car everywhere on the road. Now that I’m a parent, almost every day I stumble across news articles involving the abuse of an infant or child. Maybe my brain is wired incorrectly, but as I knelt beside by son, his tiny head eclipsed by the palm of my hand, I couldn’t keep the awful headlines out of my head. Images of damaged children made me sick. The thought of Russian babies crying, with no one able or attempting to calm them made my heart sink. Call me weak, but I am not a parent that can allow my baby to “cry it out.”
As my daughter—now two years and five months—ages, I allow her to explore and “hurt” herself more and more. Today when she falls, I smile and compliment her, saying something idiotic, like “Good job, sweetie!” The idea being that she will take her cues from me, and if I am not alarmed by her stumbles, she won’t be, either. But when she was an infant, confined to a crib, I would tend to her the instant her whimpering began.
Just like I do for my son today.
When you become a parent, that is your duty: you must care for your child. When you become a parent, your life is over in the best way possible. Instead of living inside the ego of “me, me, me,” you make peace with the simple truth that you must provide for another.
The idea anyone could not live up to that duty, that anyone could neglect an infant, or harm a child… I cannot wrap my head around it. The knowledge there are people out there who actively hurt infants or children… I am at a loss. I tell you this: show me someone who hurts the defenseless, and I will show you the reason I have trouble believing in God.
But that is neither here nor there.
With my son sleeping peacefully once again, I decided to ease back my hand and exit the room. As I was closing the door, I took one final look down and wondered what had disturbed him in the first place. A nightmare? A noise? While it is a mystery I will never have the ability to answer, in a flash a thought crossed my mind that wiped away all the silly negativity I had been swimming in.
“Probably misses his old glasses.”
I had to stifle a laugh, lest I wake him again.
There are few things in life a Simpsons reference cannot fix.