This Song Gets Test Subject V Smiling Every Time

Babies love music, and Test Subject V is no exception. Generally, she’s been enjoying the Grateful Dead, but hasn’t liked funk nearly as much as her two-year-old cousin did at her age. This song came on my iTunes and she couldn’t stop grinning. It’s “Mope-itty Mope” by the doo-wop group the Bosstones.

What “grown up” songs or artists does (or did) your baby enjoy? I’m curious—Comment below.


The Days When Parenting Sucks

Test Subject V, yesterday, during a brief moment of calm.

Let’s be honest. We’re not supposed to talk about it, but there are days when parenting outright sucks. When your child hates you and you’re not too fond of them.

Yesterday was one of those days. 

Test Subject V has recently gone to a four-hour schedule, and for the most part, she’s adjusting well. Once in a while, I’ll fudge it and give her a bottle at three and a half hours if she gets fussy, but generally, she’s getting on pretty well.

Which is awesome, because it’s a much better schedule for me. It was getting to the point where all I was doing all day was sitting in front of the TV, watching old episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” (a guilty pleasure) and feeding her. Change her, fifteen minutes of mat time, and a fifteen minute nap, and she was back to feeding.

Anyway, she woke up at seven thirty, and was an absolute angel. I fed her at eight, put her down at ten thirty, and expected a good 45 minutes to an hour of “daddy time,” which these days includes things like shaving, brushing my teeth, and taking a shower.  Yesterday, I was feeling brave and tried all three.

While I was in the shower, Test Subject V awoke, and when nobody answered her awake noises, she began to cry. And CRY. I got out of the shower, and tried to comfort her, but to no avail. We went on a short walk, which quieted her down, but then it began to rain, and the tears returned. All told she cried more than she didn’t from 11am until My Colleague returned from work around six.

Now, V is usually a pretty happy, quiet baby. But when she cries, it’s just heart-rending. I can handle crying babies, but my own is a different story. It felt like seven straight hours of rejection and hatred from the person I love the most. I know it’s not, I know babies cry. But sometimes, it’s impossible not to take it personally. When My Colleague got back from work, I gave her a big hug and just started sobbing.

I told her that dinner was on the stove, and warm, but that I couldn’t take it any more. I needed to get away. With her full understanding and blessing, I went down the road a couple blocks to my favorite hole-in-the-wall, locals-only spot in Salem, Major Magleashe’s. I had a burger and a couple drinks, and came back in time for Vera’s final feeding. By that point, she and my wife were perfectly content, and I felt a lot better.

View of the bar at Major’s. Love that place.

So first lesson of this post: Don’t be afraid to run away, as long as you run away at reasonable times and not for too long.  There’s nothing wrong with needing to get away from your child, whether that means dinner alone down the street or just hiding for five minutes in the bathroom.

But there’s another lesson here. And it has to do with the picture at the beginning of this post. I took that picture during a moment of peace, in the middle of that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She doesn’t look like she’s been crying for the last four hours, does she? I took the picture and threw it up on my Instagram with no caption and relatively little editing. Just because I like to throw cute baby pictures on my Instagram to share them with friends and family.

But later, as I tried in vain to hold a schnuller in the mouth of my screaming child as she fought sleep, I started thinking a couple things I’d read and listened to recently about the unhealthy nature of social media—about how we’re all broadcasting polished, curated versions of our lives, and how looking at a stream of those from people we know makes us feel worse about our own lives. 

I’ve never bought that argument. Because from the first real “social media” I used—Friendster and LiveJournal—I always used them to discuss real issues in my life, to wrestle with difficult questions, to try to make real connections with people I’d lost track of.  I’ve always tried to be genuine and real online, and it’s been good for me. Some of my best friends, I’ve never met in person. And that’s okay.  Online connections have gotten me jobs, have coached me about applying to grad school, and have helped me through major heath issues.

But it occurred to me that by posting the picture above without a caption, I wasn’t doing that—I was playing into the argument that our online presence is somehow inherently inauthentic. So I went back onto Instagram and added this:

With babies, there are good days and bad days. Yesterday was a good day. She was an angel. Today is a bad day. She can’t stand my face but can’t be away from me. I took this picture during a reprieve from the screaming to remind myself that even during the bad days, there are moments when she is sweet and loving and beautiful. She’ll be yelling again in a moment.

I cross-posted it on Facebook, and received an outpouring of support, solidarity, and “you can do it” messages from friends. And those messages really did make me feel better. Not as much better as getting the fuck away from the little monster for a few minutes, but better.

Part of the reason I started this blog is because I am experimenting with a notion of “parenting in public.” I blog about having a baby. I go out with the baby and spend as much time as possible with her in public spaces.

Parenting is always going to be deeply personal. The decisions we make are going to be unpopular with some, are always going to be subject to judgement or even criticism from other parents, and the community at large. (STOP TELLING ME MY BABY NEEDS A HAT. SHE HAD A HAT. SHE TORE IT OFF. WE’RE ONLY WALKING FROM MY CAR TO THE GROCERY STORE.)  But there’s no reason why parenting needs to be private.

I’m wondering if, just maybe, it does “take a village,” if having the courage to be open about the decisions we make with our children, about our disappointments and moral failings as well as our victories… if maybe that might actually make us better parents.

And maybe, even if it doesn’t, if it might make us less judgmental the next time we see another parent having a hard time with their kids. Because Americans, especially American parents, can be judgmental assholes about others’ childrearing, and what could happen if we tried to help each other more and judge each other less?

Anyway, that’s just what’s on my mind the last day or two. Here’s one more picture of my daughter looking adorable yesterday, just as a reminder that even when they’re monsters, they’re pretty awesome and sweet and amazing.

Seriously, though—that smile. I melt…… and she had been holding my beard and screaming herself horse less than five minutes prior.

In Which Test Subject V Becomes an Actual Test Subject

For the last two Thursdays, I’ve packed Test Subject V up in her carseat, grabbed a diaper bag and some extra bottles of formula, and took her to Harvard. And then MIT. Because that’s what three-month-olds are really into—elite universities.

Actually, the visits to MIT were just to pop in on My Colleague and give her the opportunity to show off her daughter to colleagues. The trips to Harvard, on the other hand, were to participate in SCIENCE. Test Subject V has now been an actual test subject in two studies going on at Harvard’s Laboratory for Developmental Studies.

This is the outfit I dressed Test Subject V in before going to Harvard. I had to share it ’cause it’s just too adorable.

I would urge anyone reading this who has little kids themselves—especially if you are fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home parent—to look into labs like this at your local university. The studies they conduct tend to be non-intrusive, brief, and actually quite interesting for the parent… at least if you’re a parent who likes such things, as I apparently am.

And there are labs like this at universities all over the world, a fact that was highlighted by two clothes lines in the lobby of the Lab, hung with child-sized tee-shirts and onesies from university development labs all over the world. It was actually pretty cool to see.

Clothes Line at the Harvard Lab for Developmental Studies.

Anyway, I’m writing this not just to plug Harvard’s Lab for Developmental Studies, but to share an anecdote about my child’s reaction to the process, to talk about what made it really remarkable for me as a parent.

The first of the two studies Test Subject V participated in involved watching a video of a woman reaching over a barrier to touch a ball, which would then light up. When the barrier was removed, she continued to reach for the ball in a manner that, to an adult, makes no sense without the barrier there. It was as if she was still reaching over the imaginary wall to touch the ball. They monitored her interest by keeping track of her line of sight.

The next day, I was playing with V. I got out her “Groove & Go Beatbo,” a light-up plush doll that plays music. It’s always fascinated Test Subject V, which makes sense with the flashing lights and music. But she had never really reached for it before, she had just stared transfixed. She really didn’t reach for any toy, the closest she came to that was batting at the stuffed animals that hung above her play mat.

Groove & Go Beatbo. I stole this image from the Fisher-Price website, but since I’m plugging their toy, I’m hoping they don’t care.

But the day after she participated in the study at Harvard that was all about reaching, she reached for Beatbo’s antennae, and grabbed them. And she reached in the same awkward manner—as if there was an invisible barrier between her and the doll—as the woman in the video had. She reached for his glowing belly in the same way. She pulled Beatbo close to her.

I was fascinated—had I just watched my daughter learn something from the lady in the video, retain it for a day, and then use it? Or was it a coincidence? It was certainly a developmental milestone which was likely coming soon anyway.

I ran into the woman who had administered the test the next week when we went in for a different test. I assume she was a grad student of some sort. I told her about my experience, and she responded that it was interesting because we still don’t fully understand how children as young as Test Subject V learn—that’s the whole point of studies like this one. 

She said that most people assume that babies at this age learn primarily experientially, by doing. But that it’s also possible that they might also learn by emulation of others, which would explain Test Subject V’s actions.

I don’t know. If scientists aren’t certain, I’m not going to pretend to understand. But it was interesting, thought provoking, and just a cool experience overall.

I’d just like to take another second here to urge parents to take their children to developmental labs like this if time and circumstance allow. It gives us more information about how young children’s minds develop, how they learn, and it can lead to more evidence-based parenting advice, which is something we could all use, given how many books on parenting are deeply anecdotal, cherry picked, and often make broad claims on narrow evidence.