Before I had children I wanted nothing to do with them. Which is why society never ceases to impress me.
When our oldest daughter was a baby (she is almost 6 now), people would stop us everywhere we went to say hello her. They would talk to her, make faces, coochie-coo her and all that nonsense that makes people look so ridiculous. They would let their guard down for just a moment to bask in the glory that is a newborn. Even before she was born, it seemed that everywhere we went people wanted to celebrate with us this miracle growing inside the mommy’s tummy.
At the time I thought it was some weird alignment of the stars. For the first 30 years of my life, I avoided children like they were the plague. Not only was there a fear of what to do with them, I never went out of my way to say hello to a baby or to tell a mother how beautiful her daughter was. If you wanted to have kids, go with my best blessings, so long as it didn’t disrupt my life. And I thought everyone else felt the same way.
Which is why the experience we have been having with our younger daughter (turning 1 in a few weeks) is so confounding. Just like with her older sister, people seem to gravitate to Kensi. They want to talk to her, to make faces, to wave to her and blow kisses. You would think that it would only be the women, the more sensitive and expressive of our society. But to my astonishment, that wasn’t the case. Kensi’s smile and laughter traverses gender lines, racial lines, age lines. We recently took our daughters across the country and everywhere we went it seemed that people wanted to meet Kensi. People seemed to take pride in being able to get Kensi to giggle or smile. And it brightens their day, even if just for a minute.
This got me to thinking, of course. What happens to us that people stop treating us the way they did when we were babies? We all can agree that a pregnancy is a miracle. We are happy for the mother, we want to rub the belly and ask inappropriate questions. And when the baby is born, we celebrate it and give our best of wishes. But sometime between infancy and adulthood, we as a society undergo a change. We make the determination that the child is no longer worth our extra-effort. We no longer go out of our way to try to make him or her smile. Something changes in us.
And that to me is a failing of our society. Babies are a miracle, which means that each one of us is a miracle. But we forget that. Why?
Look, I am not so naïve as to think that everyone sees babies the same way. I already told you that I was immune to a baby’s charms. But wouldn’t society be a better place if we treated people as the miracles that they are? We don’t have to love everybody; in fact, we don’t even have to like everybody. But if we at least acknowledged that each one of us is a miracle in our own right, that we were all at one time cooing babies that people wanted to shower with affection, wouldn’t that give us some perspective before we are mean to each other?
It’s just so confusing to me that people can make ridiculous faces at a baby one minute and the next minute forget how to treat their fellow man. It simply seems to me that if we stop and think for a minute about how we would treat someone if they were a giggling, smiling baby, that we would treat people better.
Society confuses me, but it also surprises me in such pleasant ways. To see a fellow human being, a stranger, let his guard down, to devote a few seconds to a smiling little girl gives me hope for our world.
Just one example—we were in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July and had stopped to look at a map of the battlefields. As we were getting our bearings, a man in his 50s, obviously hardened by life with less teeth than Kensi, hobbled up to her. Just by looking at him you wouldn’t have thought he had a compassionate bone in his body. Kensi looked at him, a blank slate with no preconceived notions about the world. She smiled… and he smiled. And then he started speaking the gibberish that babies seem to love and then asked if he could take her home with him. Kensi had made his day and he had made mine, giving me hope for our world. Babies have the ability to soften our hearts; why can’t we maintain that softened heart?
Have a great week.