June 29, 2005
Since my wife's pregnancy last year I've read my fair share of baby books--all the standard titles and a few not so standard ones. I remember my panic right after the initial "it's a baby!" news. "What do I know about infants.... NOTHING!" So I started reading, but the more I read the more convinced I became we are still in the dark ages of understanding of infant development.
There is so much that is simply unknown. Do infants dream? What do infants actually see? What is there perception of the world? Why do they cry sometimes seemingly at random? etc. Most of what we do know centers around obvious external developmental milestones (tracking a person across a room, responding to noise, sticking out a tongue, sitting up etc), but the actual reality of how they perceive world is little known. Infant sleep, a topic, most new parents can talk about ad nauseam is a vast empty sea of speculation and conjecture. Most of the books that deal with this subject are are organized like fad diet books and have "systems" to get a child to sleep through the night or in his own bed. There are competing theories often at odds with each other (in an extreme example: some recommend "extinction" which means just leaving the baby alone night after night until he cries it out, others say the calm that follows that kind of hysterical crying is a trauma shutdown mechanism and leads to emotional problems...). And then there are the differences between kids themselves. We know several babies born within a week of our son. All of them have unique behaviors so distinct that an alien researcher might conclude they were different species all together. It is easy to conclude we know very little...
So what is the point of this post? The point is that tonight as I was holding the kid in the dark rocking him back to sleep after an 11pm wakeup I realized that none of that stack of books had prepared me for that particular moment and that none of those theories or sleep formulas mattered. I just held him tight and told him a pretty good story about bear that lives in a forest on the far side of the moon and before I knew it he was asleep in my arms, soft breath on my shoulder. Somehow despite everything that is unknown, I had known exactly what to do.