The title to this post comes from one of Sandra Boynton’s many wonderful baby books, Snuggle Puppy. In the book a parent dog sings a song to her “snuggle puppy” about how/why she loves him. Without digging too deep into the philosophy of a book geared for people who can’t read, speak, or think abstractly, I will say that loving a child (or anyone for that matter) both for who they are and for what they do is good and important. What a person does and who a person is often contradict each other. Perhaps the most famous example of this is King David from the Bible, who is “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), yet breaks very nearly all of the 10 Commandments in the episode with Bathsheba and her husband, including actual adultery and murder. At the same time David is a man after God’s own heart, yet what he does is horribly wicked. It is not inconsistent or hypocritical to love someone for who they are and yet abhor some – or perhaps most – of their actions.
Also important is loving someone simply for being. I have heard Tim Keller say in multiple sermons that when a wife asks a husband why he loves her, the answer should simply be “I just love you.” No wife can be assured of love based on attributes that change: beauty can fade or be destroyed in an instant, even the best personalities transform, the most generous person can become miserly, the most loyal person can become a traitor, the best mother can turn into a fiend. Loving someone for any of those qualities is unwise, because such love is not unconditional: if the foundations of love are actions and qualities that may very well change, then love is completely conditional based on what a person does. Loving a person simply because they are – because they were born and lived on Earth – is unconditional. Such love is based on something unchangeable, not on temporal attributes that are subject to change and decay.
Loving their spouse unconditionally should be the goal of every husband and wife, but such love comes much easier for children than it does for our spouse. The reason is because when we first meet our future mate we are attracted to changeable things – appearance, personality, etc. I would suggest we fall in love with a person for those things, but at some point we add a deeper love – an abiding love based on the simple fact of their existence alone. We may still be “in love” with all their wonderful qualities, but beyond that there is also an unconditional love: we love who they are and what they do.
Loving a child for who they are comes very easily to most parents. We love our little ones just because they were born, not because of any intrinsic positive attributes. I felt immense and unconditional love for Liam the day he was born, if not before. At that point he had done nothing whatsoever to earn anyone’s respect or admiration, much less intense love. I love him just because he is. Understanding God’s love for us becomes much easier now that I have a child: God loves His people because He has chosen to love them unconditionally, not because they have done anything whatsoever to earn it. Would even a man such as David be “worthy” of God’s love based on his actions? Of course not, yet He loves us to a degree that I understand much more as a parent. He loved us so much that He gave His Son to die for us. Other than Melissa in the most horrifying scenario imaginable, there’s no one in the world I would even consider sacrificing Liam to save. There are plenty of people I love, but not to that extent. That God would physically and spiritually kill His Son to redeem us, who are beyond odious compared to Him on a good day, is shocking, overwhelming, and thoroughly comforting.
Despite that tangent, the real purpose of this post is much lighter: to highlight some of the things Liam does that I love. We’ve established that I love Liam for who he is, that loving his actions and his being separately is good and right, and that I read way too much into a baby books. I love so many of the things that he does. Here are a few of them:
1. Laughing. Watching Liam laugh is my absolute favorite thing. He has an uninhibited, purely joyful, almost raucous laugh that can’t help but bring a smile to my face, and usually laughter of my own to boot. His smiles light up the room, but as a parent I find his laughter to be the most wholly gratifying emotional response. Not only is it irresistibly adorable, but it is comforting as a father to know he is – at least for the moment – happy. Liam has two types of laugh: the chuckle, which he does at random things that warrant a response beyond a simple smile, and a head-back, hard core belly laugh that at times turns into a shriek as much as a laugh. The former type is cute and sweet, but the second is the real kicker. His chuckle occurs several times on a daily basis, but the “big laugh” doesn’t happen more than 1-2 times a week, if that. Below are several videos of him laughing. By the time we get the camera out the major paroxysms have passed, but for those who haven’t seen his big laugh in person, these videos will at least give you an idea.
The first video was taken Thanksgiving weekend after we arrived back from Atlanta. Mr. Octopus always elicits a strong response from Liam:
The second video is Liam in the Aria hotel in Las Vegas. He was tired and giddy, so there was plenty of laughter and “talking”
2. Inspecting. Since birth Liam has often had a furrowed brow with an intense look at times, as if he’s seriously pondering the events around him or trying to decipher the secret meaning behind an object.
Now that he’s developed some eye-hand coordination, he tends to turn his intense gaze and thought process to whatever object he is chewing and/or sucking at the moment. It started while breastfeeding, when he started clutching the breast with both hands, taking it out of his mouth, inspecting it carefully by turning it side to side, up and down, and when satisfied with his studies, pulling it back into his mouth and continuing to eat. Such a ritual is not uncommon for his toys and pacifier (or as well call it, the “chupete,” derived from the Spanish word chupar, which means “to suck”). Even after enjoying the comforting nipple of the chupete for an hour or more, he will still decide to take it out of his mouth, inspect all of it very carefully, and then pop it back in his mouth (or at least attempt to). All manner of toys are subject to the same routine, from chew toys to stuffed animals to play books.
I haven’t really figured out why he does it. Is he just bored and wants to look at something, with the most convenient item being whatever is marinating in his saliva at the moment? Does he taste something funny and want to check it out further? Or is he genuinely curious about what he reflexively shoved between his toothless little gums without a second thought? I wonder if he’s ever had “sucker’s remorse,” so to speak – has he ever decided there was something he should not have placed in his mouth? I doubt it, since virtually everything is dutifully restored to mouth from hand. Regardless of the motivation, it is interesting to see and, of course, incredibly cute.
3. Eating. Of the first 2 hours of his life outside the womb, Liam breastfed for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Right then we knew he was going to be a good eater, and that has turned out to be true. Despite his small stature (his weight hovers in the 5-8th percentile on the growth curve), he has always been good at breastfeeding, and now is having no problem scarfing down solid foods. Breastfeeding is no doubt still soothing to a certain degree, but he really enjoys partaking of some delicious, fresh breast milk. It has gotten to the point where he recognizes when Melissa is about to breastfeed him (getting out the boppy or loosening her shirt), and starts to “whine” and stares at her chest. When she is ready, his mouth is already wide open, ready to go.
The same is true for solid foods now. He recognizes when Melissa goes to the kitchen and prepares his food, and his eyes remain fixed on her every move. When she brings in the bib and his little bowl of puree fruits and/or veggies, he gets antsy and starts to whine a bit in preparation for his meal. He does well eating, and often starts to cry and “ask” for more when the bowl is empty.
I enjoy watching him eat solids. When he sees the spoon coming he opens his mouth wide and takes a big chomp, which may or may not result in most of going into his mouth. He gives a little mini-chew, presumably swallows, and it’s not long before he’s ready for the next spoonful.
Liam already has a hierarchy of food preferences. At the top of the list are bananas, followed by applesauce, pears, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, peas, carrots, and at the bottom is definitely yellow squash. The first time he ate squash was hilarious: he took the first bite expecting something tasty, and ending up frowning and squinting in disgust. He only made it through a few spoonfuls before losing interest altogether. So we started doing combinations: bananas and squash, carrots and applesauce, pears and zucchini, and a particularly daring cocktail of applesauce, bananas, peas, and squash. Yes, it looks and sounds disgusting to us, but for him it’s positively delectable. Whatever works!
4. Reaching. Since he was 3-4 months old, Liam finally figured out that he had arms and hands, and then that he could actually control them. Now he reaches for everything, usually with the goal of putting it into his mouth. Colorful objects, toys that make certain noises, and, well, pretty much anything can be the object of his reach. Of course whatever we have in our hands he wants in his, including food, cups, the remote control, and even the laptop I’m typing on right now – he has indeed attempted to put this HP Pavilion into his mouth. It’s intriguing (and of course cute) to see him reach for things. Reaching is something we take for granted as adults – how many things do we successfully reach for and use without even thinking about what we’re doing? But for a 7 month old successfully seeing, extending arm and hand, grasping, and moving an object to mouth is a major accomplishment. Liam has a natural curiosity about everything, as I suppose most babies do. I hope he continues to reach for new and interesting things for the rest of his life. Well, maybe not every new and interesting thing.
The most enjoyable part of him reaching is when he reaches for us. He now realizes that when Melissa or I (or any else for that matter) reaches out to him it usually means we want to hold him. He has started responding in kind.
5. Recognizing. Daddy and especially Mommy are easily recognizable to Liam now, and he has even started to fuss sometimes when Mommy leaves the room. He clearly knows when we walk in the room, and will usually stop and stare for a few seconds, and if we’re lucky we’ll even get a little smile. He recognizes other people as well, especially the abuelos (he even recognizes them on Skype!), and Lulie and Don-o, especially the former.
He also recognizes us when we walk in his room at night or when he wakes up in the morning. Fussing or “talking” quickly turns into smiles and excited kicking and waving the arms when he sees us peer over the edge of the crib. Of course, this recognition can be frustrating at night when he’s fussing and we want to check on him and/or coax him back to sleep. Seeing Mommy or Daddy at 2 am somehow translates into playtime in his mind. This can make for a very difficult night, especially given his well-documented sleeping woes. Plus, it’s very hard to resist the little guy when he looks up with a big, excited smile and kicks his chubby little legs.
Recognition is rewarding because our love for him is reciprocated in some way. Of course we shower him with affection in the form of kisses and hugs, but until the past few months we were essentially just like anyone else – merely two big people fawning all over him. Now he recognizes that we are special, along with his grandparents. This recognition is extremely gratifying as a parent. It makes us feel more like actual parents than caregivers, and that is a wonderful feeling!
M. MANDY SCRIPSIT