Hey, parents of the world. It’s me. The stranger staring at your baby. More blatantly than I could ever stare at a full-grown human. Maybe making faces. Maybe just staring, neutral until both of us find an honest face.
C’mon, guys, be cool.
I do know it’s impossible to fake-smile at a baby. Go ahead, try your subtle ugly out on someone under three feet tall. Actually, don’t. Flashing an imposter smile at a baby feels perverted, like telling them Santa isn’t real.
Reflexively, they smile back at first. But they always catch on, round cheeks melting, confusion clouding that baby glow. What is this labored expression with no life behind the eyes? their own searching ones say. Am I doing it wrong? They couldn’t imitate it if they tried.
I’m sorry, you want me to what?
Babies know what’s up. It’s a ludicrous notion — forfeiting participation in your face. I love life most when I smile, and life loves me right back. But I don’t always have a smile in me, and in those moments, I wish I could make like a baby and just stare until something moves me. Or scream and squirm and pound and gag until everyone around me is all OH NO HOW CAN WE FIX THIS and the non-baby people decisively see themselves out.
As babies know, that’s exhausting. Nothing is ever worth screaming about for very long. It’s only a matter of time before they’re back around to smiles and everyone’s all gah, a baby! And baby’s all hey, girl. Let me see ya grillz.
It’s not in our nature to go through the motions. I know because babies don’t do it. They know better. We all did, at one point. The smiles find us, if we let them. If they don’t, we use our tiny, mighty wills to make it right.
Babies remind me to trust the cycle. To opt for curiosity over indifference. To make my default mode delight and not disdain. Cling to your smile like your life depends on it, babies. Know that, at the very least, your happiness does.
And that’s not even edible.
So that’s why I’m staring, parents. Don’t worry, I’m harmless. Just in search of an honest smile. Do your thing. I’ll be right here staring at your baby. Please let me. Please let your baby make me better at being grown.