“I see babies smile,” sang Louis Armstrong. So do I, Satchmo, and I think to myself: what on earth are they smiling about?
They have to contend with faeces-filled clothing, regular bangs on the head, and twenty miniature daggers of bone slowly slicing their way through their gums – which, in an absurdly vicious twist, also causes agonising inflammation of the arse. This is why we retain no memories of the first three years: because they’re hell.
It’s all to play for when you’re a baby. Everything is at stake. You’ve got to be careful not to eat from the cat’s litter tray, not to attract the nickname “Urinal”, not to turn out a heroin addict. Every beautiful little child, every dribbling, wobbling bundle of boundless potential, has a chance, however remote, of ending up in Real Madrid or Portlaoise Prison, of becoming an astronaut or a car clamper. We’re like those heartbreaking South Sea turtles that hatch on the beach and then have to dodge massed ranks of waiting predators to get to the sea – except it takes us 30 years to get there.
But when you’re a baby, you don’t know any of this. All you know is that damned screwdriver simply will not fit into the stupid electricity socket. All you know is that Mum insists on trying to perch you on the toilet even though you’ve told her about the dinosaurs lurking below. All you know is that there’s nothing Dad can say or do which would be even half as bad as the intolerable existential pain incurred by not being allowed to watch Toy Story right this second – who cares if it’s midnight?
A baby’s screaming has been scientifically proven to be the third most irritating noise in creation, close behind Robbie Williams singing and the words “Hi, could I just have a minute of your time?” Nature, in her wisdom, has gifted the infant humanoid with this infallible mechanism for drawing the attention it needs. But nature ain’t so smart (see also: the Chihuahua, Mike Myers, ragwort, breech birth). The infant’s siren call can easily repel the assistance it is intended to solicit.
But babies will squawk and toddlers will roar regardless, sometimes in duet, sometimes even kicking off just as Mr Williams comes on the radio and a charity mugger commences his spiel. At times like that, it’s easy to lose your temper. Remember, though, you were once the same. Sure, you were probably shouting for a nice new stick, or maybe a pig’s bladder to kick around the boreen, rather than the latest Bratz whore-doll or this week’s Man United jersey, like the kids of today.
But have some compassion, gather all your kindness and patience. We can never understand what babies are going through, but we know it’s bloody tough. In a few short years, they’ll have forgotten too, and they’ll be grey, slope-shouldered adults like the rest of us. These moments are fleeting. Treasure them now, tantrums and all.