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Baby Talk

by Julia Sneden

The other day during my morning walk, I met up with a beautiful black lab puppy, on what appeared to be his first leashed outing. He was all over the place, sniffing delightedly, following scents from one edge of the sidewalk to the other, wrapping himself and his handsome red leash around trees and shrubbery. His master quietly stopped and disentangled him about six times in the brief moments as we approached each other.
       Good morning, I said as we met. The puppy hurled himself at me, wagging his entire body.
       Arent you just lovely! I said to him as I rubbed under his chin. He jumped up, paws flailing in the air.
       No! Down! said his master.
       Thats all right, I replied as I gently pushed him off, Im a dog lover. The man looked relieved. 
       He has a few manners yet to learn, he said. Hes only 10 weeks old.
       We exchanged a few pleasantries about the pup, and then continued walking in opposite directions, me with a foolish grin on my face despite a left knee awash in puppy drool. I really do love dogs in general, but a puppy is something extra-special.
      Actually, Im just a fool for babies, babies of any species. I once spent over two hours watching a family of lions at the San Francisco zoo, just because Id fallen in love with the three cubs. They were absolutely winning creatures.
      Im not alone in my preference for the young. I believe it was Oliver Herford who wrote:
      The trouble with a kitten is that
        Eventually it becomes a cat.

(Before I am buried under a ton of outraged mail, let me say that I admire and respect cats, having shared my home with several during my lifetime. But grown cats are elegant and independent, and lack the goofy appeal of kittens).
      What is it about babies that brings us such joy?
      Obviously, their helplessness speaks to the nurturing part of an adult, but that doesnt explain the out-and-out burst of delight that many of us feel at the sight of a baby.
       I have heard people claim that its the innocence of the young that is appealing, but for me that very innocence is also a little sad. After all, think of all the unpleasant parts of life that lie ahead of them: painful inoculations, or unkind words from other children, or the common cold, or long homework assignments, or learning how to lose a game, never mind the big stuff later on, like money problems, or unfaithful lovers. The innocence of the young is charming, and doomed.
       I think what I love best about babies is their enthusiasm for learning. Perhaps its the schoolteacher in me that responds to their excitement and endless curiosity. Even very small babies display an eagerness to know and make sense of their surroundings. I remember a moment when my granddaughter was about three weeks old, and I was chattering away as I changed her diaper, remarking to her that she looks very like her great grandmother.
        Oh, I said, wagging my finger at her, I know those eyes! She looked back at me, and suddenly focused on my face. It was a long, steady look. I felt as if my face were being scanned into a computer, probably not a bad analogy for what her brain was doing. I am quite sure that she was registering what she saw, cataloguing me as something interesting even though she couldnt yet name it Grandma.
        Anyone who has ever really looked at a baby knows that they are hungry for learning very early on. Having once figured out the relationship between crying and being fed or held, they quickly move on to figure out what a smile is, and how to produce it. Their eyes follow their own waving hands, and they watch and concentrate until they discover how to control and manipulate them.
      Every new discovery feeds the next one. Their pride, when they achieve a landmark, is palpable. I remember how my own children, at about 6 months old, first sat up by themselves, rocking gently on their bottoms, beaming with delight over the new skill that allowed them to view the world vertically without outside help. 
      First words, first steps, first drawingsthe fervor with which our young set out to learn grabs us around the heartstrings. We remember how it was to be young and full of the joy of learning, and it seems to us as we watch each infant that there has never been such beauty and brightness.
     Well, as I said, Im a fool for babies, any babies, although I confess to being particularly partial to the ones who call me Grandma. This July, we are feeling especially blessed because any day now, were expecting a new grandchild, a baby boy. We can hardly wait to see which family he resembles. Will his eyes be brown or hazel or gray? Will he have red hair like his grandfather and father, or dark curls like his mother and oldest sister? Will he have his mothers beautiful smile, or her love of music and history? Perhaps hell inherit his fathers ability in mathematics, or be an artist like his Grandad, or a techno-whiz like Greatgrandpa.
      It really doesnt matter. He will, of course, be just himself.  And whoever he is, hell be coming into a family thats already full of love for him. 



Update: Adam Chandler Sneden, 8 lbs 10 oz., was born on July 21st. His father reported that he is a beautiful baby, to which his grandfather replied: All babies are beautiful.

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