Tuesday, January 17, 2012

my husband's thoughts on our newborn

When I look at my newborn son during a 3am feeding, I'm enthralled by the wide range of facial expressions. The giggly smile, the furrowed brow, the squished about-to-cry look, and the big-eyed "ooh", all seem to march across his face at random. I wonder what is he thinking? Is he thinking anything? His brain is still basically empty, right? So his imagination and emotions can't really deviate too far from the basics of "me hungry" and "me sleepy." And yet sometimes I can see in that furrowed brow some kind of worrying about the future…even if it is "when can I sleep?" or "what the heck is this itching going to stop?"

I'm probably projecting my thoughts onto Raffy, much as we project human thoughts onto dogs with expressive faces. The difference is that at some point I know my son's thoughts will be his own, and I have a big role in determining how healthy or normal those thoughts will be. So I wonder how to teach him to be everything I want him to be. Namely, happy, friendly, calm, kind, generous, and thoughtful. Teach by example the books say…be the man you want him to be, Ghandi would advise. I would agree. Even if I don't know how he learns things, if I am good man and I spend a lot of time with him, he will be good too.

But I know there is something in Raffy that is already predetermined. Sleeping giants passed down through DNA, waiting to stir given the right stimulus. Hearing a stranger on the street shout could make him timid for years, or seeing two squirrels playing outside our window could make him an extrovert in high school. I believe there are switches in the brain that can be activated. My job as a parent is to try to flip on all the right ones, and switch off the bad ones that are turned on by accident. I will do this to the best of my ability, but as with every parent, my son's actions both right and wrong, will inevitably surprise and frustrate for years to come.

So this my philosophy of how my child will be shaped. Of course I'm not the only one doing the shaping. My wife is the sun and the moon to him right now, and my mother-in-law's voice is more familiar than mine. How does he decide who to listen to for the important stuff? How does he decide what is "home"? Will hearing tagalog give him comfort? Will kisses forever calm him down? What is he learning from these two when I'm not around? Are we teaching him different things and maybe confusing his little brain? Why is he screaming when he was happy 1 second ago? What do you want, little buddy, I wanna help but can't understand you!*

You can see how the questions spiral out of control rather easily. In the end, 3 am will roll around again, and physical exhaustion will signal my brain to rev down. I'll console myself that at least you're thinking about these questions, which is a good sign I love for this guy. But I also know that we can never know exactly how, what, and why he will decide to absorb something and make it a part of his lifelong personality. I can only do my best and leave the rest in God's hands.

*We've since watched Oprah's interview of Priscilla Dunstan on 5 words babies use to communicate and hopefully we'll be able to interpret Raffy's cries better.

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