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Baby Talk

by Stephen Lautens


October 18, 2002

When our baby arrived, I promised myself that there were a few annoying things I would never do as a parent. Of course I've been forced to eat my words and now find myself doing most of them.

High on the list is eating the baby's food. I don't know how many parents I have seen casually start finishing the food their children left on their plates. It's one thing if your children eat at Morton's and are leaving behind the thirty-two ounce steak - but it's another if it's a medley of mushed bananas and peas.

This is so far the only promise I've been able to keep. It helps that nothing he puts in his mouth has been remotely appealing to me. We must have the only baby who gags on applesauce, but would quite happily eat a section of the newspaper if you let him.

Another promise I made involves smelling the baby - and I don't mean to enjoy that "new baby smell". I have friends who routinely hoist the baby up and take a good whiff as a shortcut to deciding whether little Nubbins is in desperate need of changing. Frankly, I've never thought the whole smelling test does much for the dignity of either the parent or the baby.

Although I'm cursed with bad sinuses and a nose that couldn't smell a rose if my mattress was stuffed with them, for some unfortunate reason I can tell from forty yards if the baby needs changing. Given the challenges to maintaining my own personal hygiene with an eight month old in the house, I have to admit that I have resorted to the occasional quick smell to confirm that it is him and not me.

Finally, I also promised that when I became a parent I wouldn't do what everyone does - make people talk to the baby on the phone. Don't get me wrong - I'm a proud parent and believe my son will eventually be Rhodes Scholar material, but at eight months even I have to admit his vocabulary is a little limited. In truth it consists primarily of burps, gurgles, screams and the occasional giggle. That might get you through Question Period in the House of Commons, but it hardly makes for a riveting telephone conversation.

My own promise never to put a non-speaking baby on the phone is the result of countless occasions when I've been forced to sit on the other end of the phone (usually paying long distance) while friends and relatives put their own uncommunicative children on the line. After being handed over to the pre-schooler, the phone conversation usually goes like this:

"Hi, it's your uncle Stephen."


"Are you watching Elmo?"


"Do you like Elmo?"


"Could you put your daddy back on? This is costing a fortune."


And so on for about twenty minutes. You can only have an intelligent discussion about Elmo for so long with a two year old.

These one-sided phone calls led me to swear I would never inflict such treatment on anyone else. But sure enough, last weekend I was talking to my mother on the phone and heard myself say: "Hold on, the baby wants to say hi." I had become my own worst nightmare.

From now on I promise not to put the baby on the phone - unless it happens to be a call from a telemarketer.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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