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My mom came to visit us in Germany when Thing1 was born. Like most newly re-minted grandparents, she and my Dad were there to pitch in and weigh in with their years of experience, but the real reason for their visit became clear about 20 minutes after we go back from the hospital.
I had not willingly put the baby down for six days. It had been anything but sweetness and light – we had a heck of a time getting started with nursing – but I simply could not bring myself to put him down. I think I was secretly afraid he might disappear if I did, and the Big Guy practically had to fight me for a turn.
I could cuddle overtime in the hospital when there were nurses managing the logistics of life, but when we got home, responsibility greeted us at the door. Fortunately, Grandma and Grandpa were only too happy to help with the slack – especially with the holding of the baby. We all picked up, cooked, diapered, and competed for baby holding time, and that first week home, Thing 1 rarely saw the inside of his crib. More than once my mom quipped, “You can waste a lot of time staring at a baby.”
That phrase has followed me for years – whether I was cuddling my own two little imps or wistfully staring at someone else’s newborn. It still echoes in my head, and it always spurs the obvious question of why babies are so intriguing. Love was the easy, automatic answer in the beginning. But my babies are boys now, and, while I still marvel that they’re mine, Mom’s musing had been silent in my head for a while – until last night.
I was poring through my book of drawings in search of an image of a seated woman when I stumbled on a drawing done by a French artist, Timoleon Lobrichon, in the 1850s. The image of a perfect, plump baby enjoying bath time caught my eye and my imagination, and I knew I had to copy it. I put my search on hold and opened my pad.
I blocked the big shapes in and then started zoning in on the details. As I stared at this curve or that shadow, I was struck by the immediacy of the original drawing. Created at a time when home life was very private and most art still focused on battle scenes or exalted figures and subjects, this drawing was the work of a man who had spent hours staring at a baby.
Later I went through the book looking for more work by this same artist, and while he had covered many other themes, this drawing exuded with intimacy – an not just with the subject. Through his portrayal of innocence and exploration, simple pleasure and even hope, this artist created an unusual kind of intimacy with the viewer.
And, as I viewed this baby one hundred fifty years after the message was drawn, I began to realize the time spent watching an often wriggling, crying, utterly dependent bundle of humanity is not wasted. It’s a reminder of the hope and curiosity – and even innocence – that, while often disregarded, still lies in each of us and waits to be nurtured.