I’m working through my first case of baby envy today. A twenty-two-year-old native Soldotnan with dark eyes and long hair and legs, who told me this morning that she weighs 120 lbs but knows she looks 10 lbs heavier because high percentiles of body fat run in her family (she doesn’t; she’s another exquisite Alaskan river princess goddess), watches Clara at the gym with her own little girl who is a month older than the big C. Her daughter started walking at seven-months, said “momma” at eight, and now points to eyes, noses, mouths, treadmills, and abstract notions of love on cue. I was feeding Clara a fruit bar-like snack, and her daughter nearly skips over and says, “Please, Ma’am, may I have some of that processed, vitaminless food snack you bought for your only daughter because you had a lousy coupon?”
Her mom tells me to ask her to say “please” and wait for her “please” smile. I do, and amazingly, the not-just-a-mere-baby baby actually smiles a smile absolutely unique from her “play” smile or her “I already finished my homework” smile.
The exquisite young mother tells me that she bought a stack of flashcards at Walmart and she’s been reviewing parts of the face and farm animals with her daughter since she was five-months-old. Meanwhile, I’ve been putting aside ten dollars a month to save up for expensive non-toxic, barely-stimulating wood sets of blocks and toneless xylophones with designer names scrolled in cursive because everyone knows toys are like fine art.
I take Clara home and feverishly start naming everything in the room in a very excited voice. Then, we read the SPOT books, published circa 1973, and discuss days gone by when adult dogs wore overalls and kid dogs played with kites. Finally, we have to eat a snack because compensation takes a lot of energy.
But, as Clara thrusts herself down from my lap, always preferring to sit with her books than read them with mom, and as she scoots over to her favorite window and scuttles back to her favorite clothes hamper, tossing me a proud little smile on her way, I think, she’s my little perfection. Already, she sits and reads her books while I sit and read mine, she would rather give you a sweet-potato puff than eat it herself, and she still loves to be held. She can’t tell me the difference between cylinders and circles, but the words she does know–momma, dadda, dog, and no–drum up some pretty intense feelings in that little snuggle-pie. You can’t tell that baby “no” unless you really mean it because the two or three times we’ve had to use it, her little heart seems to break as she gradually learns the world is not always, entirely available to her.
(And, besides–oh, I’m revved up now!–what’s the big deal with being verbal, anyway? It seems the imagination is at its most free before everything is named and contained by labels and definitions.)
Anyway. I can see this is only the start of many more times when I’ll have to come down from the ledge of parental insecurity–yikes, it’s pretty wobbly up here, but years of being liberally and artfully educated have at least assured me that Captain Ahab should have let Moby Dick be and Willy Loman should have listened to his son Biff. Nothing more ruinous than obsession, even a minor one like assigning your one-year-old a weekly word count.