A 5-MONTH-OLD baby has been visiting my house for the past week, leaving our lives in a wonderful uproar.
The baby's name is Katie and as you would suspect from anyone who had the good fortune to be my niece, she is exceedingly beautiful, intelligent and energetic. I look at her often and think: Hollywood for a few years, win the Oscar, then it's on to med school.
This kid is going places; you sense that in the elan with which she waves her rattle, or in the flourish with which she grabs her teddy bear.
One thing you notice about babies is that adults tend to talk funny to them. The other day I overheard someone say: "Dush wittle Katie want her wittle blankie?"
It would do no good to reveal the name of the person who said this, as she (the adult) has suffered enough since the remark was broadcast around the neighborhood via videocassette tape.
But if I'm a baby and I hear "Dush wittle Katie want her wittle blankie?" I'm thinking: "What is that, a Hindu dialect? Knock it off and gimme the blanket before I wing this bottle at your head."
Oh, don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying you should talk to the baby in a voice that sounds like Henry Kissinger's.
But by the same token, if you just talk normally and say something such as "Hey, Katie, what's happenin'?" I don't think the kid will be so scarred that 20 years from now, she's sobbing to an analyst about Uncle Kevin in Baltimore scaring the daylights out of her with a deep voice.
At least that's my opinion. But maybe I'm way off base here. Maybe you could go through the files at the Betty Ford Clinic and three-quarters would carry the notation: "Spoken to harshly as a child; NOT ENOUGH BABY TALK."
If so, I stand corrected. (Although in all fairness, no one ever said there was a degree in psychiatry hanging from this word processor.)
Another thing you notice about babies is how much they get tickled. This baby Katie gets tickled constantly, sometimes by three, four, five people in a row.
As a former baby myself (and one with an astonishing memory), I can tell you that most babies do not go for that tickling nonsense. Oh, they might smile initially when tickled, but that's mainly to get you off their back so they can go back to staring at the light fixture or sleeping or whatever they were doing before you started haunting their crib.
As a rule of thumb, most babies would prefer that you dispense with tickling in favor of a firm handshake and the normal exchange of pleasantries. Or, if you absolutely must tickle, do so only for a few seconds and then move onto a discussion of the weather and perhaps a look at the five-day forecast.
Is there a downside to having a baby around the house for a week? Not really, although I will say this: Watching a baby eat is no picnic.
A baby's table manners are, in a word, atrocious. Even the tidiest babies tend to get food all over their face, in their hair, on their clothes, shoes, you name it.
Think about that for a minute. If you or I walked around with, say, french fries stuck to our eyebrows and part of a cheeseburger in our loafers, people would talk (to say the least.)
But a baby can walk around covered head to toe with formula or Gerber's strained peas (mmmmm, yummy) and nobody bats an eyelash. There's sort of a double standard at work here.
All I know is, you don't want to get too close when a baby is eating -- at least not without a Mylex protective suit, scrub mask, goggles and heavy-duty gloves.
I hope this doesn't sound mean, but here's one final observation about the newborn: A baby's daily schedule is not overly ambitious.
For instance, from what I can gather, baby Katie's schedule goes something like this:
Sleep -- 20 hours.
Eat -- 1 hour.
Play/stare at light fixtures -- 3 hours.
Maybe you see what I'm getting at here. This child does not exactly need an appointment book. Not with a social calendar that's so top-heavy with sleep.
And God forbid you make any noise while the baby's sleeping. For the past few days, all I've heard when I'm in the house is: "Shhh, the baby's sleeping!"
As if it were, oh, Mother Teresa resting in the next room.
Instead of just the first Oscar-winning immunologist to cure the common cold.