Sometimes I like to stick Jack in front of the mirror and let him babysit himself. Hey, sometimes you just want to take a shit or a shower in peace. Sometimes you want to eat a sandwich or make a phone call. Sometimes you want to masturbate. It’s perfect, but I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last now that he’s starting to figure out that he’s the little man in the mirror.
I’ll often put him in his walker and set him down in front of our full length mirror in the bathroom. He can stare at the mirror for close to half an hour usually, before getting bored. At first he used to alternately smile and hide his face, possibly thinking that the baby in the mirror was not a reflection of himself, but another baby. He’s pretty social, so it works. The other day though, he started to figure everything out. He stared into the mirror, looked back at me, back at the mirror, and back at me. He looked confused; then he smiled; then he went back to looking confused. Then it seemed to click, he smiled again, and he turned his attention towards the toilet paper roll. A little bit of innocence lost to that first connection between his synapses; his first realization. Once you realize that you’re looking at yourself in that mirror, everything changes.
I imagine being his age is like being stoned on really good weed or psychedelics 24/7, with the added bonus of someone wiping your ass for you. Everything is amazing, and you want to taste it all. I’ve often wondered what Jack is thinking; what it must be like to experience things we take for granted for the first time, or even better, the second time, when recollection kicks in and you can really start to examine and take it all in. What was going through his head the first time he saw a cloud? Heard the rustle of leaves? Felt the wind on his face? The sights and sounds of the outdoors must be pretty intense to a six month old. You’re just getting your bearings, and suddenly your plopped down on the front lawn, grass tickling your face for the first time, and the intense smell of wet dirt entering your virgin nostrils. Then a dirty, exhaust pumping, loud as hell dump truck drives by and scares the shit out of you.
I love to watch Jack getting super startled sitting outside on the front lawn, looking into a mirror and smiling at himself, or better yet inquisitively sprawled out on his play-mat with all of is random hand me down toys and books. He’ll attack an object wholeheartedly and examine every possible inch, curve, and tag. He’ll grab things in ways I would have never imagined, touching them with his feet and face as well as his hands, and sticking items or parts in his mouth that I hadn’t even noticed. It’s as if he sees with his tongue. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he has tasted every single thing in the house. I recommend passing on a lick of the carpet in the living room if he offers, I think it’s gone bad.
It’s so fascinating to watch him focus on one thing and then move on to the next thing, never spending much longer than a minute or two with any one cardboard book, stuffed Eyore, or plastic set of keys, and always looking up at me for my reaction. I wonder why, every single time he does it. Is it to see what he can get away with, or if I’m paying attention? Maybe he’s looking for approval, or encouragement? That’s all most of us are ever looking for anyways, though it’s also nice to know what you can get away with. More importantly, it’s nice to know if in fact your parents are paying any attention at all to you whatsoever. I usually am, so he’ll crack a smile and return to his explorations. That gets me every time. I swear, I’m in tears at least twice a day with this little fucker. I cried during a goddamn Uncle Kracker song on the radio this afternoon. Exactly. I’ve always been pretty sensitive, but sometimes being with Jack all day is kind of like being on Ecstacy. I’m so into him and the way he smells and feels, I love everything he does with extreme empathy, and there’s a lot of sucking on pacifiers.
Sure, learning not to stick everything in your mouth is definitely a key part to growing up and surviving as a human being, but I can’t help but think the rest of us are missing out sometimes. Perhaps we should still be exploring the world like a sixth month old? We are all too often distracted by meaningless concerns, fears, rules, norms, and schedules, that we forget to truly explore everything around us with all of ourselves. We no longer immerse those selves in the moment. We don’t enjoy the way the breeze hits our face, we don’t stare at the clouds just because, we don’t stop and smell the front lawn. We forget what it’s like to take chances, try new things, and think in different ways. We don’t question what’s normal. We stop really looking at each other, which means we don’t really see each other. We definitely forget to understand each other. We stop making the effort. We don’t use our feet to touch things, and we are afraid to stick anything in our mouths. We stop taking the time to stare at the stars.
At least once a day Jack and I will sit up in his room and turn on the LED disco ball lamp we borrowed from my father in law, and just listen to music and watch the rotating “stars” on the walls and ceiling. He’ll follow the moving lights with wide eyed abandon, taking in the wonder of the spectacle with all of his being. He totally gets into the moment, prompting me to do the same, usually with a few tears in my eyes. The look on his face is priceless, and I don’t want him to lose it. I don’t want him to take it for granted. I don’t want him to take anything for granted. I want him to throw himself into every moment of his life just as he is now, an explorer of life. Touching it all, breathing it in, and tasting everything in sight. Just plain living it, like I am learning to do because of him.
You’re kind of forced to live moment to moment once you have a baby. Schedules are thrown out the window. Nothing is routine. Everything is new. I know someone who once equated having a newborn to living in a city prone to terrorist attacks. You never know when an explosion might throw off your entire day. Everything that you consider normal, is flipped upside down. You are,from the moment that kid is born, through the fucking looking glass. The key, is to stay there. To stay focused on my son, but also on every single other element that is a part of my life. I thought I lived before, but I didn’t know anything. I could have been trying harder. I could have been living more. The biggest surprise of my fatherhood so far is that my son, alive for a mere six months, is already beginning to teach me how to really live, how to really love, and how to stare with wonder at the stars again.
I probably won’t be able to use the mirror as a babysitter for much longer. I know this, and I know at some point he will probably outgrow our daily homemade laser light shows. Eventually, like the mirror, the disco ball light will lose some of its magic. Daddy will lose some of his magic. I can only hope that I can teach him to live like his sixth month old self, and as cliche as it sounds, to look at the world through those eyes. To always seek out that magic. To not be afraid. To cherish every single fucking second, like I cherish these random moments lying on the floor, just two dudes, listening to Hope Sandoval, and thoroughly enjoying each others company in an attic bedroom full of stars.