There’s so much here that’ll seem familiar to parents and anyone who’s spent a lot of time around babies; but for most of us, and for me two weeks ago, these experiences are wholly strange and exotic.
Take wiping another person’s ass. In most cases I think this would horrify both parties involved, but as it stands now, the process is only occasionally uncomfortable for the owner of the ass in question—a young boy who kicks his legs so hard as this is happening that you have no choice except to hold both of them together by the ankles high up in the air, so you can clean off every last pasty speck of curry-colored shit from his ass crack, all the while fearing that he is not yet finished, that more gas and shit lingers inside his intestines, and that in a moment all of it will jet forth in a brownish fountain and spray hordes of shrieking, innocent bystanders, with an endless flood of spewing, tumbling, oceanic, shit.
Tolstoy wrote that there is no condition to which a man cannot become accustomed (here I have won the “Imitate Ian” Contest); and before this baby popped out of my wife’s swollen abdomen I feared only his screaming, his shit, and the possibility that the radiation from Japan had ripped through one too many of his double helices. In the case of all of these fears thus far, none have been as frightening as I had supposed, but naturally there are other issues that have arisen.
What, for instance, should I say to him during the few hours a day we spend together, when he is alternately gorging himself on impossible amounts of powdered goatmilk, writhing about like a snake on my legs and staring in any direction other than my unpleasantly hirsute face, or kicking his own legs and pumping his own arms because he is trying to expel whatever is inside him?
I am not one of those people who talks down to children, unless they really ask for it, and the same goes for adults (I hope)—only when a person purposefully acts idiotic does he or she deserve to be addressed as an idiot. Otherwise they are innocent until proven guilty. This is actually one of the secrets of hanging around young kids: don’t be a hypocrite.
So despite its benefits, babytalk is pretty much out of the question. Much of our time together has actually been spent in relative silence because I’ve had no idea what to say to him, and this definitely isn’t good because my wife doesn’t speak English to him all the time and, really, except for her and me, everyone else has been babbling to him endlessly in Korean (asking, for instance, if he is cold, when he starts to hiccup). And one can only talk about how pretty his eyes are so often.
Although I talk people’s heads off about all kinds of stupid things they don’t give a damn about, I still don’t really like one-sided conversations, and what else could a conversation between us be, at this point, when the boy’s verbal language is almost nonexistent? But my wife told me I should just talk to him, and there’s actually all kinds of things on my mind that I think about when we’re together—I just keep them to myself, because I assume that he isn’t interested (a phenomena one must get used to if one is to embark on a study of books rather than football games).
And although after trying and failing to read three of his most popular books, I have concluded that Umberto Eco is overrated Borges-lite, saying in hundreds or thousands of watered-down pages what Borges can say in five focused gems of the brightest luminousity, I still remember how he said once that he only started writing books after his own children grew up, and he had no one to tell any stories to. It was his explanation for becoming a novelist so late in life. And so, because my wife is not so gaga over all the weird ideas I imbibed while sponging up my private pantheon of assorted thinkers and luminaries, I’ve decided to break the damn, release the river!, and dump all I’ve got into his unbelievably cute skull, whenever we’re together, and whenever I haven’t yet managed to put him back to sleep.