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Playing favorites

December 8, 2008

Jack is happy to be held by any stranger on the street, but face-to-face time is a different ball game. We discovered early on, when he came to the office to help me on summer days when I kept long hours, that Jack is more easily won over by that quiet, nonchalant affection that Dudes often have for him (please see Exhibit A, below) than by the louder, expressive, point-blank attention he tends to get from the ladies. In fact, though he’s gotten more used to the latter, his early responses to it ranged from mistrust to alarm. And though I didn’t foresee myself being one of those mothers who apologizes for her baby’s very baby behaviors, I have at times made excuses for his skittishness.

(On election day, Jack visited our precinct twice, once with my mother and later with me, voter no. 68 of 121 — a good day, the poll officials said. On the first trip, he screamed with zeal when the four nice ladies protecting the polls introduced themselves to him. On the second trip, his mood was grim but quiet, and they recounted his earlier tantrum. “Sorry,” I said; “We don’t get out much.” At least they laughed.)

Though it’s true that he’s not around lots of people very often (excluding my large, loud, often combative family, to which he’s acclimated), on account of our out-of-the-way home, I’ve spent plenty of time worrying whether Jack’s nervousness toward emphatic baby talk is my fault. There was the time, for instance, that I was onstage during the concluding ceremony of one of my summer programs, with 80 teenagers and their families in audience. The students, who had spent the past three weeks with me on campus and had seen Jack on many occasions, spied my husband (I’d recruited him as my tech help) holding the baby backstage, and they started a hearty chant (Jack! Jack! Jack!).  D carried him out on stage, Simba-style, where at first everyone quieted before screaming for him.  Jack screamed, too, but less out of glee than trauma. I felt like the worst mother ever. (Except maybe for the one I saw at the salon last week having her toddler’s hair highlighted.)

He’s always made exceptions for kids, whose screams and sudden movements delight rather than frighten him. Lucky for us (and for strangers, too), Jack is beginning to extend that generosity to adult women and other spirited talkers. Because it’s the season for shopping, he’s been out and about with us for the past two weekends, and he’s kept his cool. He still prefers, I think, to at first be lightly tended to rather than eagerly ambushed, but he’s much more receptive of friendly exclamations these days.

I guess I should just be glad that, no matter what, he’s receptive of mine. Given the volume, speed, abundance and frequency of my conversational style, we could have been in real trouble.

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