My son entered the world with the same attitude of every other baby: red-faced belligerence at the audacity of being pulled from the safe nest that created him. In the hours, days and weeks that followed, his outlook on life didn't get much happier. My newborn either screamed for food or slept for hours. The rare moments in between were given a skeptical, curious glare that I know he inherited from me. I didn't get a single picture of him smiling until he was nearly 5 months old.
Despite my Instagram feed giving the appearance of an infant with the attitude of a teenager, the reality is that my son is actually a pretty happy baby. After the shellshock from his trip through the birth canal finally wore off, he smiled plenty—provided there was no camera in sight. And then, one surprising day, he suddenly began to giggle as I changed his diaper.
My heart stopped and then I, too, began to giggle. Because when a baby laughs, it is a biological impossibility not to join.
Since that first time, he has grinned and laughed at every small detail he finds pleasant. Kiss his cheek? Laugh. Play peek-a-boo? Laugh. Pick him up off the floor? Laugh.
Observing him has taught me a lot about human nature. Namely, how did he learn how to make this sound?
I have taught my son all of his limited abilities. I taught him how to hold a bottle. I taught him where to place his arms and legs so he could crawl (we're still working on that one.) My attentiveness and response to his various cries have reinforced how to communicate. And his issues with nipple confusion and reluctance to nurse taught me that even things we assume are instinctive products of nature are not necessarily so.
My baby didn't even know how to eat to stay alive…but he knew how to laugh.
Becoming a mom has taught me a lot. But this has been my most important lesson. As we grow, the stress of the world tends to dampen our instinctive joy. We are quicker to anger, disappointment, defeat and anxiety.
How do we return to childlike reactions? How do we have honest frustration, but with an equal amount of honest delight?
Now that he's 8 months old, my son is becoming more judicious and intentional in his actions. I'm teaching him things that are more detail-driven. How to tip the bottle at a higher angle to get the last drops of milk. How to use his fingers to hold objects without having to wrap his entire arm around them. How to keep his balance so he doesn't topple over when sitting up.
He hasn't really understood any of these things yet, but we're getting there. It doesn't matter how long it takes; I'm happy to keep working on them as long as he needs it. Teaching him the basic functions he'll need to live is part of what makes me the mom.
The responsibility of raising a little human can be intimidating, but truthfully, I'm not worried about it anymore. As hard as I have worked these last months, I know I cannot take credit for everything about my son. Inside of him is a unique personality growing all on its own merit. And I am so proud that he is brave enough and curious enough to follow his gut.
Yes, I had to teach him how to nurse. And how to clap his tiny hands. And a whole lot of other small but vital skills. But I didn't teach him how to hold his head up, grip my finger, roll onto his stomach or use our couch to pull his wobbly knees into a standing position. And I did not teach him how to laugh.