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Free-Range Baby

Up on all fours and gumming goop.

He's up. Finian is up on all fours, rocking back and forth, mouth open, eyes alight with desire for Da's keys, just out of reach. He rocks because the legs are willing, but the arms are weak. He throws his back half forward in what should be the beginning of a crawl, but those arms, straining to support the raised weight of his immense melon of a head, remain rooted to the spot. They can't be asked to do more. The momentum rocks him forward; for a moment it looks like he will pitch over onto his face, and sometimes he does. But most often, the arms act like a catapult — bending, bending, then snapping him back the other way.

And so he goes, rocking in a jerky succession of fits and starts, now and then getting his feet under him and pushing his bottom way up into the air. This continues until either the legs kick out from beneath him or the arms drop their load onto the floor. Once down, once free of his perceived duty toward the accepted form of baby locomotion, he can begin to move toward his objective. Through a combination of belly-dragging Marine-crawl inchings and angled rolls, he makes his way in a direction approximating forward until, sweet success. Da's keys are his. He gnaws the leather keychain, burbling and dribbling with contentment. For the moment, reach has ceased to exceed grasp.

The moment passes, Fin wants more. He wants to be sitting up. He is good at sitting up, except when he isn't and goes flopping backwards with a dull thud. His eyes get wide and search mine, which are horrified. Seeing this, he realizes that the pain in the back of his head ought to be worthy of such horror. His eyes shut tight, and red rings appear around them while other parts of his face blanch. He opens his mouth wide in silence, as if to prepare a place for the bowl to come, and then it comes.

There are remedies for this, both preventative and therapeutic. First, try to keep a pillow behind him. It's a practical impossibility — he's too mobile — but it's worth a try, Second, swallow the horror and smile, assure him that he's okay. Now and then, he believes me. Third, recall that such pain often lasts only until a suitable distraction can be found. Clucking like a chicken works pretty well these days.

I'm not trying to be flip or advocate carelessness, but if you don't want to keep your baby in a playpen, if you want a free-range baby, you have to expect a certain number of bumps and bruises. Kateri, my 14-month-old niece who started walking at 10 months in an effort to keep up with her three-year-old sister Monica, acquired the name "Katiebumps" early in life, because it sounded good. Now that she is living up to her name, she finds it occasionally shortened to just "bumps." My mother believes her avoidance of serious harm up to this point is proof guardian angels.

Like Kateri, Finian's desire to move goes beyond his ability, and no amount of babyproofing short of a rubber room can guarantee his safety. He flings his body about with happy abandon and lightning quickness. Once, Deirdre had just finished changing him on the bed and was standing against it, talking to me. Finian, who had been lying on his back a ways from the edge, was suddenly exploring the joys of free fall. Deirdre caught him, my heart left my throat, and Fin smiled. It was fun for him. Even when he is held, he remains a threat to himself. While being cuddled, he slammed his forehead into an end table — he still bears the mark.

Nor does he neglect the vertical in his efforts. Already glad to stand when pulled and supported, Fin has begun to do the job himself. It started with grabbing onto the bars of the crib he used in Kansas City and hauling himself up. Once there, he hanged his head against the wall for a while, then sat back down. Back home, where he still sleeps in between his parents, he has made Mount Mama his Everest. When she is reclining, he ascends the swell of her hip. When she is sitting, he seeks handholds in the crook of her arm and on her shouleder an din the ropes of blond hair that dangle above him. The Fin Kiss he gives upon arrival at Mama's chin has become a Fin Clench: a hard, toothless chomp, hand clutching the hair on the back of her head.

Motion follows upon the perception of goods not yet possessed, good like chokables, Deirdre's name for the class of bit Fin hunts down, clamps between thumb and forefinger, and lifts towards his mouth. Being closer to the floor than we are, he is better able to spot these bits, which seem to be heaved up from below in endless succession, like stones in a field. Vigilance is the watchword, and Baby in a Box (a cardboard wine case) is a remedy, until he gets bored.

Another development: Fin is beginning on solids, slurping squash, sweet potatoes, and apple-yogurt goop, and gumming bread crusts into mushy submission. The more tidy system of breast-to-mouth is accompanied by the mess-making potential of glop on a spoon and saturated bread lumps.

Finally, a New Year's resolution from Da: to love my boy better. To love him as his mother loves him. To clear my time with Fin of all else but him, instead of juggling the baby, the paper, the TV. To seek not merely to entertain him, but to enter his world to the point where I might, like Deirdre, spontaneously cry. "Dos pigos!" when setting two pink rubber pigs before him.

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He's up. Finian is up on all fours, rocking back and forth, mouth open, eyes alight with desire for Da's keys, just out of reach. He rocks because the legs are willing, but the arms are weak. He throws his back half forward in what should be the beginning of a crawl, but those arms, straining to support the raised weight of his immense melon of a head, remain rooted to the spot. They can't be asked to do more. The momentum rocks him forward; for a moment it looks like he will pitch over onto his face, and sometimes he does. But most often, the arms act like a catapult — bending, bending, then snapping him back the other way.

And so he goes, rocking in a jerky succession of fits and starts, now and then getting his feet under him and pushing his bottom way up into the air. This continues until either the legs kick out from beneath him or the arms drop their load onto the floor. Once down, once free of his perceived duty toward the accepted form of baby locomotion, he can begin to move toward his objective. Through a combination of belly-dragging Marine-crawl inchings and angled rolls, he makes his way in a direction approximating forward until, sweet success. Da's keys are his. He gnaws the leather keychain, burbling and dribbling with contentment. For the moment, reach has ceased to exceed grasp.

The moment passes, Fin wants more. He wants to be sitting up. He is good at sitting up, except when he isn't and goes flopping backwards with a dull thud. His eyes get wide and search mine, which are horrified. Seeing this, he realizes that the pain in the back of his head ought to be worthy of such horror. His eyes shut tight, and red rings appear around them while other parts of his face blanch. He opens his mouth wide in silence, as if to prepare a place for the bowl to come, and then it comes.

There are remedies for this, both preventative and therapeutic. First, try to keep a pillow behind him. It's a practical impossibility — he's too mobile — but it's worth a try, Second, swallow the horror and smile, assure him that he's okay. Now and then, he believes me. Third, recall that such pain often lasts only until a suitable distraction can be found. Clucking like a chicken works pretty well these days.

I'm not trying to be flip or advocate carelessness, but if you don't want to keep your baby in a playpen, if you want a free-range baby, you have to expect a certain number of bumps and bruises. Kateri, my 14-month-old niece who started walking at 10 months in an effort to keep up with her three-year-old sister Monica, acquired the name "Katiebumps" early in life, because it sounded good. Now that she is living up to her name, she finds it occasionally shortened to just "bumps." My mother believes her avoidance of serious harm up to this point is proof guardian angels.

Like Kateri, Finian's desire to move goes beyond his ability, and no amount of babyproofing short of a rubber room can guarantee his safety. He flings his body about with happy abandon and lightning quickness. Once, Deirdre had just finished changing him on the bed and was standing against it, talking to me. Finian, who had been lying on his back a ways from the edge, was suddenly exploring the joys of free fall. Deirdre caught him, my heart left my throat, and Fin smiled. It was fun for him. Even when he is held, he remains a threat to himself. While being cuddled, he slammed his forehead into an end table — he still bears the mark.

Nor does he neglect the vertical in his efforts. Already glad to stand when pulled and supported, Fin has begun to do the job himself. It started with grabbing onto the bars of the crib he used in Kansas City and hauling himself up. Once there, he hanged his head against the wall for a while, then sat back down. Back home, where he still sleeps in between his parents, he has made Mount Mama his Everest. When she is reclining, he ascends the swell of her hip. When she is sitting, he seeks handholds in the crook of her arm and on her shouleder an din the ropes of blond hair that dangle above him. The Fin Kiss he gives upon arrival at Mama's chin has become a Fin Clench: a hard, toothless chomp, hand clutching the hair on the back of her head.

Motion follows upon the perception of goods not yet possessed, good like chokables, Deirdre's name for the class of bit Fin hunts down, clamps between thumb and forefinger, and lifts towards his mouth. Being closer to the floor than we are, he is better able to spot these bits, which seem to be heaved up from below in endless succession, like stones in a field. Vigilance is the watchword, and Baby in a Box (a cardboard wine case) is a remedy, until he gets bored.

Another development: Fin is beginning on solids, slurping squash, sweet potatoes, and apple-yogurt goop, and gumming bread crusts into mushy submission. The more tidy system of breast-to-mouth is accompanied by the mess-making potential of glop on a spoon and saturated bread lumps.

Finally, a New Year's resolution from Da: to love my boy better. To love him as his mother loves him. To clear my time with Fin of all else but him, instead of juggling the baby, the paper, the TV. To seek not merely to entertain him, but to enter his world to the point where I might, like Deirdre, spontaneously cry. "Dos pigos!" when setting two pink rubber pigs before him.

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