Baby vogue

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Vanity is the least of a new parent’s concerns. Public appearances become a great mix of prideful entrances and apologetic exits. A tired, hungry baby has no interest in social etiquette.

I’ve become less concerned about manners myself. I’m no longer embarrassed by the breast milk on my nice shirts. I nod away in naps everywhere we go, leaving forehead smears on windows or jolting awake as my elbow slips off the table. I once caught up on my sleep at a dinner party, magically propped up in a backless chair, a hunk of cheese in my hand.

I used to comfort my crying boy by walking in fast circles in the privacy of my backyard, sometimes in interesting and unpredictable figure eights. I was self-conscious about his crying, especially after the leaves fell and the neighbors could see us — a crying baby draws accusatory glances, like a sneeze in the produce department. Now, I make no apologies about the volume or the pitch.

I don’t seek approval for my wife breastfeeding in public and I nod to other mothers I see nursing, giving them good, unflinching eye-contact to ease any anxieties they may have. I look around with clenched fists for anyone who rolls their eyes or says something discriminatory about a mother feeding her child. Breastfeeding is the perfect nutrition for a baby; it’s soothing, inexpensive, and portable, and there are no parts to accidentally leave behind - except for the baby.

After nursing, my son sits with the rounded belly of a gluttonous roman senator. The look on his face is one of drunken satisfaction. I prop him up at my shoulder and pat his back so he can practice his burps, some of which seem to echo against the mountains and sound as if they hurt, always drawing glances.

Under that rounded belly he is building up a lethal bubble. My wife says it’s due to the steady diet of leafy greens and the healthy portions of oats that I insist we fill our cart with. She says I feed her like a horse, but I serve her on a plate and only occasionally from the hand. She is correct, however, in that my son has the deflations of a four-legged beast — the acoustics and maturity of which are nothing short of impressive. It’ll make you jump from another room. If I had not placed him in the crib myself I would think there was a grown man curled up in there. But he doesn’t usually choose the privacy of his nursery to demonstrate his capabilities. It’s always somewhere where people are at their quietest and easiest to startle – like church.

In my peripheral vision I can see the heads of other churchgoers lean forward and look over. I keep a straight face, looking forward — the same tactic I used when I was the kid eking them out on the cedar pew in the stained-glassed silence — ignore it and it remains a mystery. If you look over, you’re caught. I don’t bat an eye at my son’s secret. Neither does he.

My wife doesn’t consider herself in moments of parenthood, either. I’ve watched her change a diaper on a store shelf. She’s pulled what looked like an earthworm from my son’s nose and casually wiped it on her jeans. I’ve seen her hold him up in front of her face to take a sniff. That was my wife running with the dripping baby at arm’s length through the crowded grand opening of Trader Joe’s.

A new parent cannot consider personal appearances when everything he owns glistens in a thin film of goo. The stakes are too high. There are a lot strange people in the world and some of the fault may fall on bad parenting. We need to be there to soothe, to love, to correct and to teach – no matter how odd we may look doing it.

Pico spent his childhood years in the Springs. Now, as a father, he's seeing the city (and life) in a different light. Follow him on twitter at @DavidXPico.

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