The baby is magic. The miracle of new life, the epitome of innocence, the awesome force of pure and absolute curiosity, and so forth. Yes, you can stare at the baby in adoration, and for a time the baby may even stare back. But there is more to the baby than an adorable tranquility. The baby has surprise and mischief and wonder and glee, and they are yours to manifest so long as you have the moves. Do not be so vain as to think that simply by showing the baby your adoring face, you will unlock the baby’s many delights. The baby has seen many faces and many of the faces are better-looking than yours, and anyway right now the baby’s brain isn’t really up for distinguishing among faces. If the baby has seen one face, she has quite literally seen them all.
In order to capture maximum engagement from the baby, you must have at least one move, and your move had better be strong. Her grandmother’s move is “Patty cake,” and it is the Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fall-away of go-to baby moves. Unfortunately, once the baby has experienced grandma’s “Patty cake,” you cannot hope to utilize it in your own bag of tricks. You simply cannot execute the “rolllllllllllllll it” line with grandma’s irresistible suppressed giggle, nor can you hope to hit the supersonic pitch she reaches for the first syllable of “put it in the oven for baby and me!” Your “Patty cake” would be like the Dirk fadeaway executed by Aleksej Pokuševski. The baby would simply swat it back in your face.
Similarly, do not hum the theme song from Bonanza while rapidly cycling the baby’s legs. Her uncle does a best-in-class version of this, and the baby practically screams with excitement at it, and your rendition, by comparison, will be shit.
But you will need something. The baby—all babies—require as tribute that you present your One Good Trick, like the Ethiopians presenting jewels and furs before Seti I, before you may enjoy the full bounty of their cuteness. For some this will be a big expressive face—simply stand in front of a mirror for several hours and practice making the biggest faces you can manage, until you have hit upon the very biggest—whereas for others it will be a particularly stirring rendition of a nursery rhyme. For some it will be a certain engagement of the baby’s limbs or fingers or toes. For some it will be a song. But everyone will need something. Do not approach the baby without it, or you will be met with awkwardness and disappointment, and for babies awkwardness can rapidly descend into a condition of total hell.
Here are some ideas for your One Good Trick:
- A hook or ditty or theme song that you can hum in a fun way, while wiggling the baby’s limbs in rhythm. For this you will need to work out some interesting syllables and some good faces, because the baby will be presented many tricks of this sort. Only the best will make the cut.
- Some sort of peek-a-boo routine that goes beyond the standard face-behind-the-hands deal. The baby’s parents have worked that one to death and you will simply look like a doofus. Use the baby’s own feet or something.
- An interesting way of moving your hand from off in the distance toward and then onto the baby’s tummy, in such a way that the baby sees and is tickled or thrilled by the approach. Consider adding a sound effect to the approach, for maximum drama.
- A similar oh-no-here-it-comes routine, but for your face zooming in to smooch the baby. Consider not doing this one if you have a big bristly beard or the breath of a dragon.
- Gross and rude noises that you can make with your tongue and lips. Babies enjoy blowing “raspberries” and so forth, although they may become so fixated on your mastery of mouth sounds that they will go quiet as they process their awe.
- Any little sequence that involves presenting new things to the baby. This could even just be crap from your wallet, so long as you have an engaging way of revealing the crap and then explaining it to the baby.
- Bouncing or zooming of the baby in different positions, and with interesting sound effects. This will require some lifting and moving, and in many cases may require that the baby face away from you, so that you will not know whether your trick is working until the baby is either cackling or wailing in disapproval.
I am reluctant to share my One Good Trick, but in the interests of journalistic ethics or whatever I will reveal it. I have discovered that I do a performance of “The Girl From Ipanema” that the baby finds enjoyable, if I lay the baby on her back and lean down over her so that my face is taking up most of her field of vision. I have incorporated subtle shoulder movements and refined the “ah” and the pause before the “ooh” and I have mastered the volume and fine-tuned several crescendos for maximum baby enjoyment. I know that the baby will smile very brightly at some point between the word “samba” and “gentle,” and that I will get rapt attention all the way through the bridge. It is a winning Trick, and the baby rewards it with giggles and wiggles and many delightful babbled syllables of approval.
People who have had babies of their own are always enchanting to other babies, because they are loaded down with tricks. But you do not need to be a veteran in order to engage successfully with the baby. You must simply choose and hone and perfect One Good Trick, and then you will receive the approval of the baby, and perhaps even some “words” of affirmation. There can be no higher honor.