Flu, Babies, and Joy

Sore throat. Sinus pressure. Upset stomach. Exhaustion.

I’m sitting at home recovering from the flu, which I started to come down with during the Computers & Writing Conference this weekend.

I had planned to attend Digital Humanities 2009 in Maryland, where I’m part of a group that’s presenting tomorrow.  The group will survive without me as I try to recover.  If I feel well enough to drive tomorrow, I might try to catch the middle of the conference.

The week before, I took a train from Greensburg (near Pittsburgh) to Philadelphia, then a commuter train to a town in New Jersey for my nephew’s baptism.  I was proud to learn I still have the touch — the baby went to sleep in my arms.

During the same Mass, there was another family there for their own baptism.  Someone from that family was strutting all over the place with his video camera, completely oblivious to the fact that a religious service was going on (he could have been a bit more respectful), and that another family was also trying to take pictures of the same event.   I didn’t feel like disrupting the service further by joining a media scrum, so I missed some shots, but I did discretely move so that I could get some (unobstructed) video clips during the actual sprinkling of water.

I’ve been thinking a lot about babies.

My own kids (Peter is 11 and Carolyn is 7) are talkative and rambunctious.  Our parenting philosophy has never equated “good child” with “quiet child.”  So I’m probably immune to a certain level of squawking that might upset the average person.

On the ride up, we sat in the row behind a baby who looked about 12-14 months.

This is not a story about how annoying it is to travel near a cranky baby.  I didn’t mind at all that the baby in the row in front of me drooled happily in my face and threw toys into my lap.  And, in fact, when an older couple (who could have chosen a seat elsewhere on the train) started complaining very loudly about the baby, I turned around and said “Do you know what really bothers me on trains?  Traveling near adults who complain too loudly.” (I resisted the urge to say “old people who complain too loudly.”  But they moved seats shortly after that.)

Anyone who’s been around a baby knows that the noises a happy baby makes are far preferable to the noises an unhappy baby makes, so I was very happy when my own kids started playing with the baby.  My kids delighted in sending the toys back over the divider and singing songs for the baby.  (They did their fair share of whining over the course of 6 or 8 hours, too, but the baby kept them well occupied.)

What was really, really sad is that for hours at a time, this baby’s mother sat with her laptop open, chatting in some kind of RPG, checking Facebook, and later putting in a movie for herself..

Near the beginning of the ride, we exchanged perfunctory greetings with all our neighbors, which established the creation of a temporary community.  At one point, a young man across the aisle helped my kids count to 20 in Spanish.  Later, when this same fellow started swearing casually into his cell phone, I tapped him on the shoulder and avuncularly reminded him of the presence of children on the train.  (His face registered dismay, and as he got off the train later, he put his hand on my shoulder and apologized sincerely.)

Not once during this train ride did the mother engage with my kids, despite the fact that my kids were amusing her kid for hours. She didn’t take the baby away from them (to signal she wanted them to back off), or teach my kids games that the baby likes, or ask me about my kids, or join in the fun.  She seemed perfectly content to leave the baby-minding task to my kids, so that she could concentrate on her computer.

While I didn’t like the feeling that I had become the moral enforcer of our corner of the train, I know that my own kids needed some boundaries.. Let the baby touch you, I told them, but don’t grab the baby.  Don’t startle the baby with loud noises.  Don’t let the baby give you his bottle or snacks — tell him to put them in his own mouth, and praise him for it.

At one point, I had to take a hard toy away from the baby and give him a soft toy because he was swinging it around near my face.

At another point, the baby had clambered up onto the arm of his seat, pounding against the window, his center of gravity up pretty close to the seat back.  We went over a bump, the baby wobbled, and I lurched forward to catch him. The mother thanked me, and said something like “I was just getting something from my bag,” as if to explain her inattentiveness.  But in truth, she had been just as preoccupied by her computer for hours.

Every so often the baby would let out a shriek.  Another passenger must have scowled at the mother, because I heard her say, rather helplessly, “I don’t know why he’s doing that.”

I knew why her baby was doing that.  It was because my own kids were making faces at him, making his toys dance for him, and playing peek-a-boo with him. For hours.

What could she have been writing on her Facebook page, that was more important than turning her head to see why her baby was shrieking for joy?

3 thoughts on “Flu, Babies, and Joy

  1. Pingback: Don’t Text While Parenting — It Will Make You Cranky | Jerz's Literacy Weblog

  2. Oh, Dr. Jerz, I witness this every shift at work. It is awful. I commend you and your children for being the sitters during your journey.
    I can’t tell you how many times a week I hear, “Attention Burlington Coat Factory Associates, we have a Code Adam.”
    This means a parent has lost their child. I use that word choice for a reason. The children don’t lose themselves, that’s for sure. The majority of the time the children can barely walk let alone talk, so it’s clear ignorance on the part of the parent(s).
    Half the time I wind up finding the child before the announcement is even made and it always shocks me how truly afraid they look.
    I was walking into Sam’s Club with my mom the other week, and noticed a little girl walking by herself with an odd look on her face. I turned to her and said, “are you lost, honey?”
    She didn’t respond, and I found myself on the receiving end of a dirty look from her parents, who were just coming through the entrance. “She’s with us,” the mother said in an aggravated tone.
    “I’m sorry,” I said, “I work in retail and deal with lost children all the time.”
    I didn’t even get a thank you for my concern.
    What I wanted to say was, “Sorry lady, but my mother would never let me stray more than a foot from her side when I was a child.”
    Just take comfort in knowing your children won’t be that way when they’re parents.

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