The Boy has definitely been smiling at The Wife more than me lately. I denied it at first - thought it was a figment of my imagination. But the more I paid attention, the more obvious it became – she was getting more grins.
I chalked it up to breastfeeding at first. After all, those are clearly some blissful bonding moments. But suddenly this hardly seemed fair. Who knew how this would affect my relationship with The Boy? I started to worry I’d be chasing his elusive smile for the rest of my life. Always accommodating him, always caving to his demands in hopes of seeing that smile that would make me feel important and relevant in his world. I’d be like the U.N. Security Council. I couldn’t give up without a fight.
I spent a day jerry rigging a harness that held a feeding bottle at the exact angle of The Wife’s breast. When I was done it seemed functional but looked like I was wearing some sort of fetish gear for people who want to be told they're naughty. Regardless, when I finally tried it out on The Boy, a chest hair poked him in the eye and he started wailing.
I had to change tack. If The Wife was going to provide nutrition and comfort then, I decided, I could provide entertainment. At first I kept it to the basics. I walked up to him as if everything was perfectly normal, and then I pretended to be surprised. Like, “Oh, my God, what happened?” (which is pretty much how I feel as I go about my day). That got him to raise his eyebrows but no smile. Then I pretended there was a fly buzzing around the room so I twisted my head around and around until I had to sit down to steady myself (also something I have to do quite frequently throughout the day). The fly routine got the dogs interested for a few minutes but The Boy was unimpressed.
To up the ante, I borrowed a few tricks from the timeless and mysterious art of pantomime. I waited for The Wife to leave the apartment and then I got to work. I was hoping to paint my face white, but all we had in the house was the purple outdoor paint we used on our fence. I hesitated until I saw we had turpentine. And just to be extra careful I only used one coat.
Once the paint dried, I got into my black leotard that I don’t often talk about, and I headed for The Boy’s room. He couldn’t suckle my teat but I could put on a show! I found him with his entire right hand in his mouth and his eyes locked on his feet. Tough crowd. When he finally noticed me, I leapt into action. I pulled on the invisible rope, I moved my hands along the invisible wall, I even ad-libbed by pretending to raise and lower the curtains. I got nothing. Even if he knew how to clap the sound would have been deadened by that soggy right hand.
While I waited for my face to stop burning from the turpentine, I picked up a book I’d been ignoring for weeks: Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton. It’s about the emotional and behavioral development of children from birth to three years old. To my surprise the book fell open to a section on communication and ‘motherese’: “the soft, gentle, high-pitched baby talk” which apparently lets your baby know he should pay attention to you. Brazleton says that motherese helps the baby save precious energy by ignoring the other adults in the room (a skill we could all use especially around the holidays). “All right, Dr. Brazleton,” I thought. “Assuming that’s your real name...”
It was worth a shot.
I started talking to The Boy in a high-pitched voice that landed somewhere between The Nanny and a balloon being relieved of its helium. I immediately got The Dog's attention again. My 15 year-old mutt hobbled out of bed to find a quieter place to sleep. And he’s deaf. Anyway, within seconds, right on cue, The Boy, good ol' Enrico, gave me a big smile. Even a few squeaky laughs followed by more smiles as I kept talking to him in motherese fatherese.
What a relief. Now I figure I’m only a few months behind The Wife with regard to bonding with The Boy. But I figure if I talk in that helium voice every waking moment for the next few months I should be able to catch up before he gets to daycare where all sorts of other high-pitched voices will vie for his attention.