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Are babies human? « ruthbrandon.co.uk

Are babies human?

I feel increasingly caddish on my weekly visits to Esther.  Here am I, leading the life of Riley, all the pleasures of family life and none of the pain.  Esther’s job, on the other hand, is compulsory and fulltime.  If she needs to escape, whether to preserve her sanity or dip back into the world of work,  it’s up to her, as mother, to make the arrangements.  In that sense being a granny’s more like being a father, at liberty to dip in and, more importantly, out again, all fully sanctioned by society.  It’s true that it takes me two hours to get from ours to theirs, and another two hours back:  a ten-hour day, if you count in the round trip.  But as I leave Esther with I. newly post-meltdown and B. hovering on the line between sleeping and waking (i.e., howling), I still feel like a heel.  When Esther was a baby, people used often to tell me how much I’d miss her when she went to school.  Speed the day, I’d retort:  in my view, babies were the punishment we had to endure in order to arrive at children. My interlocutors looked horrified, though I can’t believe I’m the only person who ever thought this. (For the record, I was right, they were wrong.  She was a charming baby, but I did not for a single moment do anything other than rejoice when she went to school.)  Acquaintance with B., and memories of I. in his chrysalis stage, have done nothing to change my mind.  ‘It isn’t as though I’m doing this for short-term pleasure,’ Esther pointed out, as the relentlessly wakeful B. reattached herself to a nipple.  How true, I thought.  How very true.

Friends ask me how B. is, but frankly at this stage there isn’t much to say.  She’s progressed, just about, from being an internal organ, but is still little more than a growing machine.  However, human characteristics are faintly visible on the horizon.  She is beginning to focus:  when I held her, she looked, intently and unmistakably, into my eyes.  And she can straighten her legs, which makes her look a little less like a baby monkey.  Next, smiles.  Oddly, although we all know her features bear absolutely no resemblance to what will eventually emerge, she does, from time to time, look unmistakably like the philosopher.  Esther thinks it’s a matter of expression:  they both look severe, even when that isn’t how they feel.  She pointed it out to the philosopher the other day.  There!  That’s how you look!  Now do you realise?  It’s very odd, because B. can’t really be said to have expressions.  Rather, she has modes:  asleep, visibly wondering where the next meal is, or scarlet and screaming, with the vibrating tongue detail that brings it all back.  Yet there’s definitely something …


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