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.

Morning Yoga

Test Subject V found her feet this week. Now they’re endlessly fascinating. Last week’s big discovery was that, with assistance, she could stand up. It’s now her favorite trick to show off for strangers, or for My Colleague and I. Three and a half months in, and raising a kid keeps getting better. She keeps learning tricks. She keeps engaging us more directly. She discovers new functionalities and unlocks new modes.

It’s amazing, and I feel so lucky, so blessed, to get to watch it happen every day.

This is Your Brain on Babies

Over on SciShow Psych, Hank Green talks about the physical, neurological changes that occur when you are caring for a little, tiny, screaming, wiggly human.  It’s a fun five minutes, especially if you’re currently undergoing said neurological changes:

I’m a little disappointed that non-traditional family structures haven’t been studied as much, although I have to say I’m not super surprised. While as a stay at home dad and my daughter’s primary caretaker, I’d love to see more stuff that talks about situations like mine, but they’re still just so rare as to be almost unstudied.

A few years ago, when The Fatherhood Project at Massachusetts General Hospital put together a (pretty awesome) lit review on fatherhood, it included sections on divorced fathers, incarcerated fathers, non-resident fathers, and co-parenting situations, but nothing on families where a man or men are primary caregivers.

C’mon, dads—we’ve gotta do better.

She Loves Lamp.

Like many kids her age, Test Subject V really enjoys stuff that is illuminated and high-contrast. She’s positively in love with the Tiffany-style chandelier in our living room. So last week, I took her to our local museum, Salem’s own Peabody Essex Museum, and we visited  Anila Quayyam Agha’s All The Flowers Are For Me, a piece that is basically a room filled with the light and shadows from a giant lamp.

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but as soon as we entered the room, Test Subject V’s eyes glazed over and she went into the sort of near-hypnotic state that infants sometimes enter at the slightest provocation.

We walked in circles around the room several times, and it occurred to me that what I was seeing was my daughter demonstrably being affected by a work of art. How cool is that? To be able to be there, to see it in her face. Stay at home dadding is hard sometimes, but stuff like that—wow. It’s such an awesome privilege.

I think I’ll take her back again soon. I wanna see it again.

Dr. Wubb’nub, If You Please…

 

A selection of pacifiers found in Test Subject V’s bassinet on a random evening. Dr. Wubnub can be seen in the bottom left.Test Subject V has a variety of pacifiers. Like, really—we’ve only had her for like two months, I’m not sure how she got so many. But it makes sense, because you never know which pacifiers will appeal to a newborn. They can’t tell you what they’re looking for in a binky, because they’re babies, and babies are little nonverbal idiots.

And you develop your own preferences, too. For example, I like the Nuk pacis, because they’re the first ones that V got good at holding in her mouth unassisted. My Colleague prefers the ones that the hospital gave us,  which let you stick your finger inside the binky. I think she likes the intimacy and the haptic feedback.

At any rate, for our baby shower, one friend got us an elephant Wubbanub. Wubbanubs are plush toys that are attached to pacifiers. The idea is that when an infant’s hand-eye coordination might not be to the point yet of putting a pacifier back in their mouth, they can still hold onto the plush toy and thus keep the binky in their mouth. Below is an image of Test Subject V with hers:

A baby lies in a bassinet, in her mouth a pacifier with a stuffed animal attached.
Portrait of Dr Wubnub with Test Subject V. Photo credit goes to My Colleague.

When Test Subject V first started taking pacifiers, I once overheard My Colleague saying to her, while trying to give her the pacifier: “Here comes Mr. Wubb’nub!”

Which sort of set off an involuntary reaction in me: why is the pacifier gendered at all, but specifically gendered as male? Couldn’t it be a woman? Couldn’t the woman have another title—and one that isn’t “Princess”? What if it was Doctor Wubb’nub?

Test Subject V’s mother, My Colleague, works in academia, as I have from time to time. She has a father, a paternal grandmother, and a maternal grandfather all with PhD’s. Maybe instead of making her a medical doctor, Dr. Wubb’nub should be a professor, someone working in academia like mommy.

So in quick order, we began developing a bio for Dr. Wubb’nub, one that sounds half like a joke and half like a child’s lesson in academic politics and intersectional feminism.  “Her doctorate should be in a STEM field!” “And elephants are from Asia and Africa—she should be African American, because there’s so much less representation of African American women in STEM!” So without further ado, lemme introduce Dr. Wubb’nub:


Dr. Zora Wubb’nub—yes, her parents named her after Zora Neale Hurston—was born in Atlanta. She received her PhD in  engineering from Stanford, and managed to get a tenure track position at MIT.  Dr. Wubb’nub kind of hates the winters, here. She misses California.

Dr. Wubb’nub’s teaching evaluations are excellent, but her lab is perpetually underfunded, and of course her department head doesn’t care about teaching evaluations. Because she’s basically the only Black woman in her department, she’s asked to be on a ridiculous number of committees.

Dr. Wubb’nub wonders if she would have more time to put out grant applications if she wasn’t teaching a 3-2 load, leading a lab team, and serving on so many committees she lost track.

Dr. Wubb’nub once tried to explain to her department head that committee assignments weren’t just “service opportunities,” but were unpaid work, and often involved a lot of emotional labor.

Dr. Wubb’nub doesn’t think her department head really understands what “emotional labor” means.

Oh, and just like all the other stuffed animals in this apartment, Dr. Wubb’nub loves Test Subject V very much.

“Babies and Books” Storytime?

Image of a baby reading a book

My Colleague and I took Test Subject V to the Salem Public Library today for her first library storytime. On Wednesday mornings at 10am, the library holds a “Babies and Books” storytime, targeted at children 11 months and under.

When My Colleague was around 40 weeks and change pregnant, I dragged her out on a walk. We stopped at the library because when you’re that pregnant, you can’t go more than fifteen minutes without hitting a restroom. While we were there, we decided to check out the Childrens’ Room, where we saw a sign about the infant storytime.

I’d never heard of a library story time targeting infants, so I’ve been curious. With V’s increased sociability and engagement, we decided she might be ready to check it out.  (Plus, the weather today was gorgeous—a high of 50° is ridiculous for New England in February.)

I had no idea what to expect from programming like this, but it ended up being a lot of fun. There was singing, some clapping games, two very short picture books were read, and toward the end, Miss Maura, the librarian, turned on a bubble machine, and all the little babies went APESHIT. It was all kinds of adorable.

Test Subject V wasn’t as mobile as a lot of the kids—there were a lot of kids crawling, toddling, and cruising. But she was super engaged, and loved staring at all  the new faces.

After storytime proper ended, a lot of the parents stuck around and chatted—I have been looking for opportunities to meet other stay at home parents, so I really liked that part too. And Miss Maura gave us a goody bag with information about programming and resources for young children in Salem, which struck me as a great piece of outreach.

Overall, I really liked it, and V seemed to have a blast. We’ll definitely be going back again.

“MORE INPUT!!!”

Test Subject V is visibly fascinated with gee-gaws above a seat at Oma’s house.

This is going to be another Wonder Weeks-related post.

The last week or so has been an intense one for Test Subject V. My sister, her husband, and their two-year-old all came for an  all-too-short visit, which meant lots of new people. My nephew was completely enamored with V, which was adorable, and it was her first prolonged exposure to a toddler.

(It was also the first prolonged exposure to a toddler that my wife and I have had in a good long while, and we’re now both somewhat slightly terrified of what’s to come.)

On top of that, she’s been entering what the book refers to “Wonder Week 8—The World of Patterns.” Essentially, this has manifested itself as a series of days where she is either sleepless and fussy, unable to calm herself unless she is in our arms or interacting with us, alternating with days where she’s more like a hibernating bear, occasionally waking for milk breaks.

In terms of her development, it’s another quantum leap in terms of her awareness of and interaction with the world around her. She’s grabbing things. She is fascinated with her own hands, to a level that I’m almost jealous of. She is suddenly playing with toys—see the above image.

I keep thinking about the malfunctioning robot in the 1986 Ally Sheedy/Steve Guttenberg film “Short Circuit.” After being electrocuted and having his memory wiped, robot number 5, who later dubs himself “Johnny 5,” ends up in Ally Sheedy’s house, seeking “input”—information. His appetite for new information is insatiable.

That’s what Test Subject V has been like. She wants MORE INPUT, constantly. She can’t even sleep because there’s so much world to take in. It’s fascinating and inspirational and terrifying to watch.

Johnny 5 and ally sheedy look at a globe, as johnny requests input.
Johnny 5 from the 1986 film “Short Circuit” demands more “input” from Ally Sheedy.

CRASH! BANG! POW!

Test Subject V takes on an action pose in her Batgirl onesie

Because My Colleague and I are somewhat older parents– not “old parents,” by today’s standards, but we’re never going to be featured on MTV’s Teen Mom– we had an additional round of genetic testing while Test Subject V was in utero.  Everything came out completely average, and we both breathed a small sigh of relief.

The upshot of that testing, though, was that we discovered V’s sex extremely early on, before it could be detected via ultrasound.

All of this leads to a scene where I, overwhelmed father to be, just starting to wrap his head around the idea that he was going to have a daughter, found himself wondering the aisles of Babies R Us with his wife, trying to figure out how car seat and stroller systems work and whether or not you needed one, just completely experiencing sticker shock at everything.

And then I saw this onesie. This Batgirl onesie. And I knew that I was going to watch superhero cartoons with her just like my mother had with me, and that I wanted her to love comics as much as I did, and I couldn’t leave the store without it.

My Colleague humored me, as it was my money if I wanted to waste it.


I’m really more of a Marvel fan than a DC guy— I haven’t really enjoyed much DC since they decided to go all grimdark and I still long for the glory days of the Giffen and DeMatteis Justice League. I like the Bat-family well enough, but my Batman will always be either Michael Keaton or Adam West (with Casey Kasem as the voice of Robin, natch).

When I was a kid, my mom would watch Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends with me. My first comic was an issue of Spidey Super Stories. I grew up addicted to Marvel’s mutant books. I’m just not a huge Batman guy.

But I love this onesie so, so much. Not because of a particular investment in Batgirl (though I love Barbara Gordon and Cassie Cain),  but because it’s the first thing that I got that let me think about passing my fandom down to my kid.

And even more than that, it’s the first thing that I got that was really for Test Subject V, for her, and not just for “a baby.” This was the first purchase I made for her thinking of her as a person.

And I know my sense of her as a person will grow and change so much over the years, but this is where it began. And I want her to want to be a super-hero, to fight for justice, and to help ensure safety for the downtrodden and fairness for the less fortunate.

Plus, she’s just so damned cute in it.