Friday, August 07, 2009

Trapped intelligence: the baby package

I've discovered that my idea of a baby as a blank slate waiting to be filled is wrong. My role of a parent as teacher and holder of the keys to the universe is only partially right. Damned if I know how, but babies are intelligent all on their own. They're trapped intelligence, wrapped up in a baby package with few skills to communicate with us. But don't think their lack of speech means they aren't sentient. Oh no, this is like being an English-only American in a country that speaks zero English. We know we're smart but the guy behind the counter at the little store doesn't understand our hand gestures to mean "where do you stock the feminine hygeine products?".

My son and I communicate in several ways. Of course there's the usual crying, which is actually multiple types of cries meaning different things. The hungry cry. The look-at-me-look-at-me cry. The bored cry. The fussy cry. And there's different categories of laughter, too, depending on the situation. Daddy gets more belly laughs than I do because he can make funnier noises. My baby uses his hands and his feet now, to get his point across. Don't want to be held closely? He'll push with arms and legs away from me. Want to be closer? He leans in, grabs a fistful of hair and rubs his face into my shoulder or chest.

But the communication that strikes me the deepest isn't verbal. It's the times when my baby is quiet, nursing or not, and he'll stare deeply into my eyes. I look back into the depths of his and marvel at how gorgeous he is, how pure and innocent. We'll gaze, unblinking, savoring the moment and the bond and then he'll smile. And oh, what a smile! That smile will bloom on his face like a swiftly opening morning glory flower, lighting up his features as if they were sun-kissed, with eyes sparkling. It shocks me, the swiftness of the smile, and I feel as if there is an electrical current running from my heart outside my body to this amazing little creature. The unbridaled, unconditional love he has for me shines through that smile in a way that I can only hope will never be lost. And that years later during expected less fun parts of parenthood, I know these smiles will sustain me.

My explanation of these magical moments is feeble, at best. It's hard to put it into words. But the intelligence and love I see in my son's eyes at that moment when he moves from seriousness to joy tells me that beyond a shadow of a doubt there is an intelligent being inside that tiny little body. There is a sharp mind locked behind a temporary communication barrier. I have to wonder, is it all about teaching a child about the world or is it the child teaching us about himself that's important?

No comments: