As I mop the floor with a sleeping baby wrapped up on me, I am thinking about a grant application that needs to be revised. It has been on my mind all day. But what do I do instead? I set up the tripod and fiddle around with the timer settings on my camera. And when this sweet baby boy wakes up from his nap, I put on a fuzzy cardigan and cuddle him in the light.
Taking timed photos in front of my office window feels a bit awkward, but later in the day when I upload the photos, I am so glad to have this image. This is true reflection of our days together. We spend our days very close. Wallace likes to be close — close when he is awake and close when he is asleep. When my body grows tired with so much closeness — so much holding — it helps me to revisit one of my favorite articles by Peggy O’Mara. She says:
[My baby boy] was a baby who liked contact, who demanded contact, who wanted always to be in touch, who in every way is a very physical person. We are often impatient with babies because they are so physical. The popular media suggests we have to train our babies to control themselves, to be independent, to sleep, and to obey, as if these were not things that had intrinsic value and would be learned naturally, as a matter of course, in human society.
How dangerous for our society that we distrust the very behavior that is the most necessary for human survival. It is those babies who demand to be attached who are the most evolved. And it is the most securely attached babies who will have the best chance to be the most resilient adults. Resiliency comes from having internalized the functions of an empathic mother and father.
. . .
Our children are born hardwired for survival. Their needs and wants are the same. They know what they need, and they demand it. In hunter-gatherer societies, being in the arms of the mother meant that the infant was safe from the tiger. In modern times, being held in another’s arms still means survival. The single most important factor responsible for an infant’s normal mental and social development is physical holding and carrying. Infants need to be in arms. They know it, and they let us know it.
Current fashions and customs conspire against these natural and necessary needs of human infants. Devices such as the plastic infant carrying tray, pacifiers, cribs, and bottles are ways to distance ourselves from our babies, to gain a respite from the intimacy they require for full human development. Trends in perceiving the life of the home as servitude and drudgery, as well as lack of economic support for the family, also conspire to separate us from our loved ones, as these trends quite literally put physical distance between us.
Human infants don’t like physical distance. They like constant physical contact. They expect it. They need it. And they’re totally content when they have it. But how do we learn to surrender to this fierce need when others warn us that we must teach our infants to sleep, to be independent-and certainly not spoil them?
It is obvious that dependency is feared by many adults. Many are hungry for intimacy but afraid to surrender. Yet, life with infants is a surrender. When we just give up and give them what they need, it becomes so easy. It reminds me of the true meaning of the Sabbath-a day of leaving things just as they are, not trying to change them, and not doing anything. With infants, we are but humble servants to what is.
. . .
Don’t stand unmoving outside the door of a crying baby whose only desire is to touch you. Go to your baby. Go to your baby a million times. Demonstrate to your baby that people can be trusted, that the environment can be trusted, that we live in a benign universe. The crisis of the first year of life is trust or mistrust. Which will your baby learn?
— Peggy O’Mara, In Their Hands: Editorial, Mothering, No. 85, Winter 1997