On Ugly Babies

Tonight, I came face-to-face with something no one really wants to talk about: ugly babies.

Our national lexicon for babies is swaddled with words like precious, snuggly, and awwwww. When we see babies, we coo, we twist our faces into expressions nowhere else employed, we seemingly regress in the presence of their indomitable cuteness. But, from time to time, we find ourselves in the presence of a baby that defies those conventions, a baby that, most certainly, even mothers have to strain to love.

And, so, there he was, bounding on someone’s knee, staring over a shoulder right at me. The Gerber baby was not worried about job security, and, as I munched on my sweet potato fries, I pondered the little chap in front of me. In fairness to him, he did have a face that one grows into. How I know that is a mystery, it’s just one of those instincts, like not eating rocks or hugging crocodiles. You just know. I’m sure the little tike will grow into a handsome man. Maybe he’s the next George Clooney, but, for now, he’s an ugly baby.

Being cute is, clearly, the number one rule for being a baby, but it’s not the only one. For example, a baby must also do adorable things like giggle, wear most of its food on its face, and fall asleep in your arms like a precious angel. This is what we think of, this is the baby job description. We must be genetically hard-wired to focus on these things, for, if anyone focused on the projectile vomit, sleepless nights, relentless crying, and hazmat-level dirty diapers, the human race would have said its goodbyes long ago.

Our penchant for focusing on the positive isn’t limited to babies. For most of us, we selectively recall the good moments, the big moments in our different phases of life, and the mind-numbingly boring or hard or painful stuff fades to the recesses of our minds. Now, we certainly remember and are shaped by tragedy and difficulty — life isn’t all cuddly babies and lollipops, but, when we consider having a child, or moving, or starting a new relationship, or even buying a new car, we tend not to focus on what could go wrong, on all the work necessary. Rather, we daydream in the romance of it all. The postcard moments. How it will all be just so wonderful. And that’s really all well and good, because life shouldn’t be all antiseptic spreadsheets and math. Everyone has to have some art, some music, some poetry to move them along.

And, so, in the face of this white-washing of life’s inconveniences, we encounter real consternation when reality vexes our idealized life — when the new car suddenly breaks down, when the new house is infested with mice, when the new job sucks too. And when the baby isn’t cute. We should be grateful for those moments, though. Until it gets real, you can’t get about the task of really loving it, really embracing it, really owning it. When you spend your time in the clouds dreaming about perfection and things being “just so,” you cheat yourself of appreciating what you have, of discovering hidden beauty and meaning in imperfection, and, most importantly, of understanding that, all too often, the things we want are neither real nor what we really need.

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