There are two kinds of babies: those who are described as busy, spirited, high-energy, active, sensory-seeking, adventurous, precocious or driven. And then there’s the good kind. I have the former. He’s busy. Busy. Whoever came up with that one should get one of those MacArthur fellowships.
Welcome to the world of baby euphemisms. The babies you covet, well, we can’t just go ahead and call them “good.” We have to refer to them as "Zen-like," "old souls," "mellow," “taking it all in” or, if you’re a hipster, “chill.” You can’t just admit you got one of the easy ones -- that would sound braggy. But we know what’s behind the terminology. We who chase our “high-energy” kids around while they shove pine cones into their gullets and attempt to run down the neighbor’s pit bull, we know what “mellow” really means. It means that baby just sits on your lap at baby music class while my kid rummages through random diaper bags, climbs on a bench, helps himself to anyone’s juice, pulls off his socks, gums the side of a tambourine and attempts to escape out the front door before the wheels on the bus have even gone round and round.
But your “old soul” just “takes it all in” when the teacher sings songs about the earth being our mother. And I hate you for it.
That’s a strong word. I’m jealous and resentful and confused. Why did I step off the curb of Mommy Street and get sideswiped by a busy baby? Is it something I did? My DNA? These are the questions I ask myself as I toggle between enormous, visceral, gigantic love for my busy baby and trace amounts of shame and envy that swirl around and settle at the bottom of a massive vat of physical exhaustion.
Baby classes that involve sitting in a circle? They just enable those of us with spirited kids to have our spirits broken by staring right at the good babies. That’s right, let’s call them what they are.
The only word that really feels right to describe my baby is "spazz," but at some point between junior high and today that term became completely offensive. So, I apologize. But in the argot of long-ago teenagers playing Atari, listening to Juice Newton and wearing Le Tigre, my 17-month-old Buster is a bit of a spazz. Bless the hearts of today’s baby experts. They tell you that though your kid may be “excitable” and “exuberant,” this is because he is actually “advanced.” Really? I would like him to advance himself toward some building blocks and amuse himself for 37 seconds so mom could blow dry three-quarters of her hair.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it, too. I’m telling myself daily that I have no right to complain. I have a healthy baby. What about parents with real problems? They wish their biggest concern were never getting to sit still. I know. I’m sorry. This is a high-quality problem. Still, thinking about those who have it worse doesn’t change the fact that some have it easy. You know who you are. You go rolling by me as your kid meditates peacefully in the shopping cart, blissed out like the Dalai Lama with a pacifier and a sippy cup of Propofol. In the two seconds I waste in awe over your baby, I’ve missed the fact that mine is now clutching a jar of strawberry jam over his head like a grenade.
Motherhood, while rewarding and life changing, is getting to be like “The Hurt Locker.”
Those of you who insist that busy babies grow up to be curious, dynamic balls of intense intelligence and great empathy, I hope you aren’t lying to make me feel better. However, if you are lying, you're doing the right thing. Maybe temperament, like jam, stays the same unless something comes along to smash it. No one likes it all over aisle three, but it’s sweet on toast.