Babies are kind of like cats. You can’t rush up to a baby, or a cat, and expect him or her to like you right away. No, you keep a prudent distance while you make your unabashed admiration and, perhaps, adoration, known. This not only engages the baby’s interest, but reassures the baby’s mother that you are a Good Sort of Person who Properly Appreciates Babies. Babies are shy sorts of things, and need time to not only recognize that you exist, but then to get over their startled shock at the sudden way in which your existence has intruded itself upon their consciousness.
However, as long as you are prudent, and do nothing rash which might further startle or alarm the baby, this period of quiet cautiousness need not last long. You see, babies, also like cats, are very curious. Soon they will recover their sang froid, and start to make small overtures towards you. This may take the form of gazing at you curiously, addressing a few words of babble-speak in your direction, or perhaps waving a small object or toy towards you. These overtures should be accepted gravely, and deliberately. If the baby seems to be trying to hand you something, take it and regard it seriously before handing it back, perhaps with a remark on its beauty or coolness. Babble-speak should be responded to as if it were intelligble speach. “Oh, really?” you might answer, “Well, I suppose it is a little cold for this time of year.”
There are those who argue that babies should be addressed in language resembling their own vocalizations, to whit: Baby Talk. While I have to admit that sometimes Baby Talk-like speech is impossible to avoid, particularly when one is confronted with a particularly small and adorable specimen of humanity, for the most part Baby Talk is unnecessary and as annoying to the baby as it is to everyone else within earshot. Babies themselves are perfectly serious in their efforts to communicate with you, and appreciate you taking them seriously. This doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate silliness (I remember one little girl who was entirely won over when she realized that I could tickle), but there’s a difference between being silly and being condescending. Babies don’t appreciate being patronized any more than the rest of us.
If you are friendly towards the little people, treat them with respect, and are open about your admiration, more often than not they will reward you with their entire trust and affection. This is the amazing part. When a baby holds our her arms to go to you, is willing to relax against you and stop crying (or even fall asleep), or cheerfully climbs up into your lap, it’s a small miracle. I never get tired of it. There is a quote from Dickens which sums it up perfectly. He says, “I love these little people, and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.”
This weekend we have two little people staying with us, along with their parents, old friends of Johnsy’s. The baby is a little girl, about the size to be walking but not yet talking intelligibly – about eighteen months. She knows a few words, including the word “book,” which objects she seems to be particularly drawn to, the bigger the better (my kind of kid). She also has an older brother, a little ball of lightning about four years old with an ‘satiable curiosity and more energy than he knows what to do with. He also likes books very much, but is often so busy trying to investigate everything all at once that he can’t sit still. It’s endlessly entertaining watching him encountering everything as if it were created brand new, just this second, especially for his entertainment. So far he and I have gotten along fairly well (my ability to insert Thomas the Tank Engine videos into the machine and turn it on has endeared me to him), but my favorite is still the little girl. We’ve been entertaining each other since they got here Friday morning. I seem to have a special in with her. She was fussing about not being allowed to follow her mother outside this morning, so I picked her up, distracted her, and soothed her (it’s all about the bouncing – I recommend Balboa steps) until she relaxed in my arms and laid her head back against my shoulder. This flabbergasted Johnsy. “That kid!” she said, “She won’t even let her grandmother pick her up, and here she is almost asleep on you!”
What can I say? I’m good with kids.