BABIES CANNOT WALK
Babies cannot walk or talk or think
symbolically. When not asleep
they either wave their arms or drink
fresh milk––their mother’s is both cheap
and healthy, but they have no choice
of beverage, which may make them weep,
and draw with their loud baby voice
attention to themselves. Until
they smile they do not give
their visitors the greatest thrill,
but once they do we all forgive
the mess they make, and for the bliss
caused by the smiles, will often see
that they’re rewarded with a kiss.
What benefit can babies be
to people who look after them?
some cynics ask. The question’s fair.
They aren’t all born in Bethlehem,
attracting magi gifts. To care
for them is an enormous task.
What is the benefit to those
who care for babies who just bask
in beauty of their eyes and nose,
and hands and fingers and small toes?
Why do so many people whom
the parents never reimburse
help babies once they leave the womb?
This care we give has this result.
The way all people learn to share
in baby care makes them adult.
That’s why we all so love to care
for that young helpless being who
rewards us mainly with bowel movements,
quite undeterred when we say “Pooh!”
and never ask it for improvements
in toilet protocol till he
or she can turn the baby page
of smiling, walking and can think,
beyond the breast and anal stage,
symbolically, prepared to link
with other people to join in
the care of helpless babies who
attract us when they smile and grin,
and everything they do that’s new.
Inspired by an article by Natalie Angier in the NYT, March 3, 2009 (“In a Helpless Baby, the Roots of Our Social Glue”):
In seeking bipartisan support for his economic policies, President Obama has tried every tip on the standard hospitality crib sheet: beer and football, milk and cookies, Earth, Wind and Fire. Maybe the president needs to borrow a new crib sheet — the kind with a genuine baby wrapped inside. A baby may look helpless. It can’t walk, talk, think symbolically or overhaul the nation’s banking system. Yet as social emulsifiers go, nothing can beat a happily babbling baby. A baby is born knowing how to work the crowd. A toothless smile here, a musical squeal there, and even hard-nosed cynics grow soft in the head and weak in the knees. In the view of the primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, the extraordinary social skills of an infant are at the heart of what makes us human. Through its ability to solicit and secure the attentive care not just of its mother but of many others in its sensory purview, a baby promotes many of the behaviors and emotions that we prize in ourselves and that often distinguish us from other animals, including a willingness to share, to cooperate with strangers, to relax one’s guard, uncurl one’s lip and widen one’s pronoun circle beyond the stifling confines of me, myself and mine. As Dr. Hrdy argues in her latest book, “Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding,” which will be published by Harvard University Press in April, human babies are so outrageously dependent on their elders for such a long time that humanity would never have made it without a break from the great ape model of child-rearing. Chimpanzee and gorilla mothers are capable of rearing their offspring pretty much through their own powers, but human mothers are not…
However cooperative breeding got started, its impact on human evolution was profound. With helpers in the nest, women could give birth to offspring with ever longer childhoods — the better to build big brains and stout immune systems — and, paradoxically, at ever shrinking intervals. The average time between births for a chimpanzee mother is about six years; for a human mother, it’s two or three years. As a result of our combined braininess and fecundity, humans have managed to colonize the planet; exploit, marginalize or exterminate all competing forms of life; build a vast military-industrial complex all under the auspices of Bernard Madoff and with one yeti of a carbon footprint, and will somebody please hand me that baby before it’s too late.
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 3/5/09