I didn’t think about babies much before I was 18. Apart from some uncomfortable sex education classes where Sinbad the comedian dressed up in a condom costume and we were taught to chant, “It’s OK to think about sex; it’s OK to talk about sex, but it’s not OK to have sex” like drones in a Pink Floyd music video, there wasn’t much context for thinking about babies.
See, I had interacted with kids in that past. I really like kids! I especially like kids who can talk, regardless of how much sense they’re actually making. Want to tell me about how your skort is the coolest and you like Pokemon? Right on! I am your pal. Want to make cute faces and gurgle at me using what must be some sort of secret alien code that can only mean “destroy all humans?” NOPE. I cannot deal. I seize up like water in a hot pan. I begin to stutter and shake worse than Professor Quirrell.
At 18, people start to assume that you can handle children. This is probably a normal assumption to make, but as someone who lives far away from any extended family and whose family friends all have kids around my age, I didn’t get much exposure to babies. So when a baby needed to be held at a fancy function, no one figured I wouldn’t have the right stuff to handle the situation.
Oh sure, it all started innocuously enough. A mother who worked for the group brought her child in, and everyone was cooing at him. With good reason ““ he was an adorable baby (“was” in that this happened years before, and he is certainly no longer a baby unless he found that stream that all those everlasting Tucks kept harping on). One of the women picked him up and bopped him gently. No one expected what happened next, but we really should have: like any excited creature, that baby peed all over her.
That’s when I made my fatal mistake ““ I was standing nearby. The woman looked around for someone to pass the baby off to. She spots me, even though I employed that old trick of not making direct eye contact. Anyone who has been in a discussion section after not doing the reading knows exactly what I’m talking about here. She calls my name and asks me to take the baby so she can clean up. My eyes fill with panic. I stick my arms out, pull the rest of my body away, and half cry, half choke out, “I don’t know how to hold baby!”
It’s been years since that incident, and I still have never held a baby. I’ve gotten a lot better with interacting with them though. One time at a barbecue, one sat on my foot right when I was putting potato salad on my plate. Normally I wouldn’t mind having a baby on my foot, but this time we were holding up a line of hungry, hungry people. So naturally I looked at the little tyke and said in a warm friendly voice, “Small child, would you please get off my foot?”
I expect that as the years go on and more people have babies, I’ll learn how to hold them and talk to them. In the meantime, you’ll find me next to the potato salad.