My husband, Bruce, and I seem to be in a contest over who can make the baby laugh. If Bruce is changing his diaper and I walk over, Eddie will look up, and I’ll make a funny face or sing, “Mr. Big Head, “ a little ditty I made up that’s sung to the tune of “Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think are…” If Eddie laughs, Bruce’s heart sinks just a little bit because it means the baby loves me more. I wish I could say, “Oh, Bruce, don’t be so small,” but there are times I’ve walked over to the diaper table, because I planned to sing, “Mr. Big Head,” and Eddie is so entranced with Bruce, he wouldn’t even look at me.
We love making the baby laugh because his whole face lights up. His mouth opens wide revealing a big gummy grin. His eyes dance like the sun. He looks like joy incarnate. And it warms your heart because it feels like he loves you more than the earth itself. Until you see him make the same exact face at the plastic elephant that dangles like a mobile over his bouncy chair. The thing doesn’t even move. I get a similar feeling when I’m watching television with Bruce, and I’ll say something, and he’ll make a grunt of a laugh, and it feels so satisfying to have made him laugh, and then he’ll turn to me and say, “What?”
Lately, the baby stares up at the ceiling fan in the living room and just smiles. I know that he smiles at inanimate objects, but our friends and neighbors don’t know that. We’ll walk him down the street, and people will come up to the carriage and say, “hello,” and Eddie will flash them that big gummy grin, which will encourage them to get a bit closer to his face and start coo-ing and making funny sounds until he flashes them another smile. And they feel loved, and they think they’re really funny and have a way with children. I used to think that if I were funny, people would like me, much the way everyone in my family seems to orbit my brother, Richie, because he’s so funny. And so I make jokes, and people laugh, and they like me more. But Eddie reminds me that while people like someone who’s funny, more than that, they like someone who makes them feel funny.
It seems a cruel joke that the same smiling face Eddie makes when he’s happy is very similar to the smiling face he makes just before he has a meltdown. It’s like those computer programs that can morph someone’s face into the face of someone else who looks completely different. Eddie will break into a smile that seems to exude utter joy, and yet it can morph into the pouty face that immediately precedes a wail. But there’s a pivotal moment there when he seems to be teetering on the edge of a precipice, and he could go either way, and I’ll know if I play my cards right, if I make the right face or sound, I can keep him from falling into the abyss.
I hate when he cries, particularly after I’ve exhausted all the obvious sources of his pain: is he hungry? No. Dirty diaper? Nope. Is he hot? Nah. Did I burn his penis somehow when I wiped it to change his diaper? (I don’t know. I’m a woman. The way he screams sometimes when he’s on a crying jag, you’d think I’d poured acid on his penis).
Once I’ve exhausted the obvious possibilities, I just try to lull him to sleep. I’ll put on music like “Free to Be, You and Me,” by Marlo Thomas, or a Cat Stevens album, and I walk around our small kitchen with him in my arms, going round and round the butcher block cutting board like I’m in a Turkish prison. When I do that, he usually stops crying long enough for me to put him in his little chair. I’ll then put the pacifier in his mouth and softly brush my hand across his forehead, as gently as a spider’s legs, until his lids get heavy and close. But I have to know just when to stop. If I stop too soon, the eyes spring b.ack open and I have to start from scratch.
Sometimes, he’ll inadvertently wake himself because as he’s quietly drifting off to sleep, his body will shudder as if he was at the edge of the bed and suddenly realized he was about to fall off. Again, his eyes bolt open, and I have to start from scratch.
His crying jags are always preceded by a pout that is so clearly delineated, it looks likes a cartoon drawing of a baby pouting. It’s actually the first thing I saw as my OB-GYN pulled him out of me and lifted him high in the air so that I could see him. As Edwin’s little body was aloft, he broke out into the loudest shriek, probably like most babies’ do, but it was his pout that was indelibly etched in my mind. It was a frown that ran from one side of his face to the other like a sock monkey.
His crying jags usually start off like a whimper, almost like he’s thinking about something else but is crying out of obligation. But then something kicks into gear, and he raises the volume. Perhaps he’ll throw his hands around. It’s times like these that we call him the Reggie Miller of babies, after the Indiana Pacers basketball player who might be brushed by another player but would fall backward in an exaggerated fashion, his long skinny arms flailing about, until the referees call a foul on the opposing team. If you catch this type of cry before it’s in full swing, there’s a chance it could be diverted.
But if the whimpering goes unheeded, it gets louder and louder, and stronger and stronger with each revolution, until he’s full throttle. At that point he’ll pause, take a deep breath, and let out a wail that’s so loud, it’s like a batter cracking the ball out of the park.
The problem with crying is that if making the baby laugh is an indication of his love, making him cry must be a sign of his disdain. I met a woman the other day who said she worked, and her husband stayed home with the baby, who was colicky. He would call her every day at work and say, “Come home. The baby hates me.”
The other day, I was going out to dinner with friends, and I was going to bring Edwin with me. I had only an hour to finish an article for a magazine, run upstairs to shower and get dressed, and then feed Edwin. I wanted to feed the baby last so that he would be full and happy during dinner. He’d fallen asleep outside on the back patio as I was working, and I didn’t dare move him upstairs with me when I went up to shower because I knew if I woke him, he’d be crying the whole time I was in there. So I left him out on the patio and ran upstairs, threw on the water in the shower and began to undress. I ran over to the window to see if I could hear him crying on the patio below. His father wouldn’t let him lie there crying, I thought. His father would be bouncing Edwin on his knee, and the child would be laughing with glee. When I heard no crying, I ran into the bathroom, jumped into the shower and scrubbed my hair frantically, quickly ripping at my hair with a brush to get out the knots. Just then, I thought I could hear the baby cry. I ran out of the shower and down the stairs, naked, to the back patio door, but when I got there, I saw he was sleeping soundly in his chair. I ran back upstairs, jumped back into the shower and lathered up my body with soap, and rinsed it right off. I shut off the water, jumped out of the shower and ran back to the window. I couldn’t see him, but I listened for his cries. I heard nothing. I ran into my bedroom, threw on some clothes, threw my hair up in a clip, and as I stood in front of my dresser mirror and began to apply eyeliner, I heard the distinct sound of a baby’s cry. I dropped the eyeliner and ran down the stairs, through the kitchen and threw open the French doors to the back patio only to once again find the baby fast asleep. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that for one more day, the baby didn’t love me any less than he loved his father.