Before having children myself, being offered a baby to hold was a test of posture and etiquette. Posture, because I didn’t know how to stand or sit while holding a baby that inspired confidence and didn’t kill my back. Etiquette, because I never knew what was the appropriate length of time to hold that bundle of joy. Too quick to pass her back and you communicate annoyance; too long, and people think you are actually enjoying this and risk being stuck the rest of the evening with baby in your arms while everyone else is engaging in adult conversation.
I usually erred on the side of too long, so my back would hurt but everyone thought I was a good baby holder. In retrospect, this was the better calculus. Before we were serious, my future wife and I babysat for the couple who introduced us. This was in retrospect, a transparent test of my parental suitability. Well, I messed up my back, but got a wife in exchange. Not a bad deal.
Of course, everything changes once the baby you are holding is your own. Posture is the least of your worries, etiquette is of no concern. Talking about baby bodily functions takes on a cuteness that escaped me for my first 26 years. A tushy burp? That’s not what I used to call it.
It did take me a while to come up with the right answer to certain perennial baby questions. What did you think when you saw Joseph for the first time? Here was the tiny creature in the delivery room, big black eyes that absorbed as much as they observed, tiny movements so delicate and prolongued. Apparently, saying that he looked like ET was not the right answer, but darn it, that is what I thought, so that’s what is written in the baby book.
Soon enough, the head is not floppy anymore, the back muscles catch up with the yelling ones, and we are off to the races. The time when a baby can first laugh is a magical time for a Dad. Mom may provide the quiet comfort of nursing and the security of a hug when the scrapes come, but Dad can make the kid laugh til he is going to bust a gut. Throwing the baby in the air, funny faces from behind open hands, teaching him to make a farting noise. Even as you perfect the flip on to your shoulders with each successive child, it all passes too quickly.
Now that I watch my children’s friends start families, I realize that I am reaching a generational milestone, that is, the number 2. I am rapidly becoming an ancestor. Holding a baby is still initially cumbersome, but it comes back quickly enough. With some caution, I can even replicate the football hold so handy during digestive crises.
Cuddling a baby is now actually cuddling a baby, not a test of posture or etiquette. It is a celebration of human potential, of innocence, of everything that is good in the world. I am holding the future in my hands, and I’ll hold her as long as I’m allowed to. You know what? I can talk while I’m cuddling, no problem at all.