The artist as a fat, ugly baby.

The artist as a fat, ugly baby.

I was a fat, ugly baby.

And not in the he’s-so-cute-and-pudgy-I-just-want-to-pinch-his-fat-little-cheeks kind of way.  I was fat in the way that people would look at me and say things like, “That baby has really let himself go.”

My brother was also a fat, ugly baby, but he had a better personality, so he could get away with it.

Because of this, I am always a bit jealous of cute babies.  My wife and I went to visit a close friend this past weekend, and she has not one, but two beautiful children.  One is 2 and 1/2 years old and the other one was born just a few day ago.  They’re both painfully cute.  And as much as I love them, they are both living reminders of how profoundly ugly I was as a baby.

Seeing the newborn, I was also reminded of how lame our species is.  Now before you jump all over me, I’m not saying that the baby is lame or useless or anything like that.  I’m saying the human species is lame.  Every other animal is born and can walk (or swim or slither or crawl or… burrow?) “within hours of birth.”  (I stole that line from every single nature show on the Discovery Channel.)  Seriously, a baby gazelle can hit something like 700 km/h with afterbirth still streaming from its ears.

Human babies are helpless.  I tried to make the one we visited run, but he just fell over like a wet noodle, even when I gave him a good shove to get him going.

I think it’s that initial helplessness that makes it so difficult to be a parent.  Even when your kids finally figure out how to hold up their own head, crawl on all fours, ride a bike, or mix you a martini, your first meeting was with this writhing, screaming, pink, dependent little… thing.  You can’t leave it for more than a few hours without having to feed it, wipe the poop from its butt, or lift it out of the reach of jungle cats.  It’s that initial “babyness” that sticks with you until your kid is finally taking care of you.

“It’s Emily, Father,” Morris told the old man, pulling her even tighter to his chest.  “She’s fallen ill, she has, and the doctor doesn’t know why.  She won’t wake up, not for a long time now she won’t, and Mary and I, we can’t… we can’t…”  Morris’s voice hitched tightly.  “We can’t lose her, Father.  We’ll break, we will, if we lose our Emily.”

The Father nodded slowly.  “Young Morris,” he said, his voice creaking with age, “if God wills her to live, she will live.  But if He wills her to join him now in the peace and grace of His presence, nothing you want will matter one jot.  Nothing that I want, or that your wife Mary wants, none of it will matter at all.”

Morris rocked Emily back and forth, tears now spilling from his eyes.  At that moment, she felt no bigger to him than the tiny red bundle that had arrived a decade earlier, the mewling shivering child that had nearly taken his wife from him.  He felt trapped in two different times, wracked with fear and doubt in both, wishing he knew some way to make everything all right, but knowing that he could not.