Thursday, January 21, 2010

"A Baby Is Better Than Smart": Champaign 1993

When I lived in the dorms--Burge Hall--in Iowa City at the start of my college career, I used to play this song called Be Careful There's A Baby In The House by Louden Wainwright III on my stereo. It was just a song with other songs that I liked better on an album (I can't recall which one) and I never paid much attention to it other than to be mildly amused. But the three guys who lived next door to me (me and Chuck and Bassoonhead [I can't seem to recall his name, but people called him Bassoonhead because he was a bassoon major--among other reasons]), that being Steve, Jeff and Dale next door to us, they thought the song was hilarious. They especially liked the line, "Because a baby is better than smart".
It wasn't until a decade or so later that I understood what Louden meant by that.
By 1993, Fru and I had our second baby. Two daughters. And we lived in a little house on Miller Street across from a park. After Second Daughter was born, I stayed home full time and took care of them. I fed them, changed diapers, played games, watched annoying shows with them, bathed them, took them places once in a while, cleaned up their drool and vomit and other emissions. I loved it but did not love it. I loved them but also went a tad insane (possibly more than a tad). If you've been there, you know what I mean. You wake sleep live breath think worry babies. You watch them all day, you watch them sleep, listen for them when you sleep, you go without a shower, without food, without adult conversation for them. But of course, you do it all willingly, you do it because they are most important, more important then even your own life.
You love them.
And that is how they are better than smart. Their instinct outweighs their lack of cognizant abilities; your own instinct and sense of responsibility in response to them far outweighs your own intellectual capabilities as well. They're better than smart in that way, too"Take care of me! I'm helpless! Feed me! Change my diaper! Wrap me up and cuddle me! Walk me! I need sleep! All of this is communicated without any words spoken.
And they love you, too.
There are endless little things that I have forgotten about those early days--years--with babies. Most I have forgotten on purpose or, perhaps, as a blessing. (I do recall, specifically, one day as I was walking with one of them in my arms, looking out the front window and seeing a pickup truck drive by--some construction workers on their way to a job site--and I had this great yearning to be out there with them, to be out of the damn house and be on a job and I felt as helpless as the little baby in my own arms). That's not to say I didn't have fun. I did. That's not to say that the experience was not a profound one, because it was. It certainly woke me up to the needs of others, to the concept of deep, unconditional love. Having to take care of babies, children, teens is a pathway for greater understanding about countless things, many of them ineffable, almost impossible to describe in a short on-the-fly essay/blog post.
In many ways, because a baby is better than smart, it makes you better than smart in return.

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