Whilst watching my team play in the FA Cup on the TV last weekend I realised I need to curb my enthusiasm in the presence of my baby son. My beloved LFC were playing a club from a much lower league and I had imagined the win was guaranteed. There was as always I slight doubt in my mind as Liverpool seem to raise their game for teams better than them and don’t try hard enough for teams worse than them. And so it was. Oldham bullied them through the most part and sliced through the shaky defence when needed. The seed was planted as they scored first while we hardly had a single chance. I thought their goal would stir my team into action and this seemed to work when our lucky number 7 equalised.
In standard football fan tradition, I shout out as their net bulges and picturing a reversal of fortunes for us, stand up waving my fists at the TV screen and our opponents. The sudden unexpected change in position and volume disturbs Theo, who up to this point was happily playing on his mat right in front of me. Within seconds his bottom lip begins to tremble, his face reddens and then he lets out an ear-shreading cry.
I bend down to pick him up, apologising and trying to settle him with soothing words: “Silly dad, shouting like an idiot, scaring his poor Boo. Oh sorry my love” etc etc. He cries for a few more moments and takes a little longer to completely calm down. A few more cuddles and then 10 minutes in his bouncer brings the smile back to his face.
As it goes, the rest of the game has no further excitement anyway and we later trail 3-1 before finishing 3-2 after we score from a deflected shot. A deserved win for Oldham and another day wiser for dad.
The way an adult tries to build a relationship with a baby is fascinating to watch. As soon as a baby can smile, every adult feels the only way to justify their own existence in some way, is to get the baby to smile at them. As if the smile shows that they are acceptable in the eyes of someone with little or no actual opinion about anything.
Babies generally learn to smile socially around 3 months, before that time their face is a mystery to them, and only useful as an opening for food and air. To the parents the non-smile period of development is tough as you have no indication a baby is happy, or more specifically, whether he likes you or not. Of course you know when they are not happy, but for the rest of the time you have to be satisfied that they are content and comfortable – happiness is not a concept understood this early on.
Babies tend to mirror the smile they see on faces around them in the early stages, but then go on to be more choosy, as they appreciate the connection between the joy they are feeling inside and the muscles around their mouth.
When an adult knows a baby can smile they feel an irrepressible urge to test their skills to get the baby to smile. Depending on the baby’s mood they may be successful, but this is not an event that will repeat itself every time that person steps into view. The adult then has to make a decision: do they accept that the smile was just luck and walk away, or do they persist and spend hours trying to entertain the tiny audience in the hope that he will take pity on them and smile again.
So I ask myself the question: does the adult want the baby to smile for their sake or the baby’s? And if it is for their own sake, do they mind whether the baby is smiling for joy, or just to please the audience? For me, I only want my son to smile when he is happy, not to make me feel better, because that kind of smile is fake. Honesty is always the first lesson! Integrity the second!
I guess my problem is that when an adult tries to get a baby to smile, they work to a point of desperation, which is not an attractive quality. Moreover, the poor child has a gormless adult’s face flashing in front them, waving all manner of toys, to the point that the baby is exhausted and is less likely to be in a good mood than if left to their own devices.
I try and learn when my son is in need of external stimulation and when he is content in his own world. I think we will get on better this way.