So my cleaning lady just showed me a picture of her new grandchild, born yesterday.
It was a baby, all right.
It didn’t have any obvious deformities or anything. It was wrapped in a little blanket, wearing a little cap. And as I stared at this collection of pixels which had somehow organized themselves into a photograph, all I could think of was this question:
Why the hell are you showing this to me?
I didn’t say that, of course. That would be rude. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a total buffoon. I know why she wanted to show me the baby. She was proud of the baby, although she was a generation removed from having had much to do with the baby. I guess her genes were somewhere in that blanket. But, let’s face it: these weren’t Einsteinian genes we were talking about. Probably not Dali-esque or Sondheimish genes, either.
Really, why did she think I would be remotely interested in this? Sure, if it had two noses…an extra eye…a birthmark shaped like Elvis…something like that, then I’d want to see it. If someone sent me a link to the three-eyed baby, I’d stop what I was doing and click right on through. But this? What was I supposed to say?
Its two eyes were opened, however. So I said that. “Her eyes are opened,” I remarked, hopefully with a positive inflection, although I didn’t know if a newborn opening its eyes was any sort of extraordinary achievement. I also hoped that I had the gender correct; the cleaning lady had announced “grand-something,” but I hadn’t been paying attention.
Let me stop here to say that I have a daughter. When she was born, back in 1986, we took pictures of her. But we couldn’t instantly send them to people, or post them, or shove our phone into people faces, which would have been dangerous since the earpiece would have given them black eyes.
I had one photo in my wallet, and if someone asked, I’d take it out. I also had about three dozen photos in my office (co-workers called it “The Shrine”), and I was the creative director at the ad agency, so the copywriters and designers who worked for me had no choice but to look at the photos and comment favorably.
But I never said, “Hey! Look at my kid!”
My wife probably did, though.
We don’t have grandchildren yet, but when we do, I imagine my wife will need a smartphone with a much larger memory. As for me, well, I just don’t find babies to be very interesting. I even find it difficult to apply adjectives to them.
“Cute?” Not really.
“Pretty?” Compared to what?
“Well-swaddled?” Yeah, maybe.
Babies don’t make me say “awww” like puppies do. Puppies are cool to look at. Each one is a little different, and there are signs of innate intelligence that babies just don’t have. Puppies look like they’re about to do something. Even when they’re sleeping, they look more active than babies do. You just know that when the puppy wakes up, he’s going to get on his feet and go find a slipper to chew. Not so the baby.
Right now, you may be thinking that I’m a bad person because I am in no way drawn to pictures of other people’s babies. If you are thinking that, you are probably a woman. Because I can tell you that there is no man who likes looking at unrelated babies. Some of us are just better at feigning interest.
Men look at a baby picture and they just want to go away and hunt for something. A bag of chips, maybe.
Women look at a baby picture and think of their own babies: the ones they had (who had the nerve to grow up); the ones they have (who are superior in so many ways to the one in the photo); or the ones they want. Their maternal instincts are aroused by the picture, causing their voices to go up several octaves as they testify to the gorgeousness of the child in question. “She’s beautiful!” they’ll exclaim. “He looks just like you!” they’ll cry, as windows shatter somewhere nearby. The baby, of course, looks like nobody. Except every other baby.
Somehow every baby manages to look the same, regardless of gender or race. The only babies that stand out from the crowd are your own and those gigantic Michelin Man babies. Oh, yeah, and the one with three eyes and the Elvis birthmark.
See you soon.
DISCLAIMER: All the baby photos in this post were grabbed randomly from Google. None of them are mine. Or my cleaning lady’s.