I used to think I was terrible with babies and all small children. I’d try to say “Hi!” to a baby and he’d look away or start to cry. I’d try to talk to a kid and she’d say, “Whut?”
I took the lack of interest from babies and children as a sign of my own personal deficiency. If I couldn’t capture a child’s attention, there had to be something wrong with me. Why didn’t my brain come up with brilliant ideas to entertain kids?
When I met a kid, my head usually went blank.
I’m now spending a good bit of my day with a baby, and I have learned that the problem wasn’t so much with me. I’m ignored on a regular basis, and it’s not for lack of trying. Sure there are some go-to entertainment options that have a better average than others, but my success is more akin to a good baseball batting average, where I get a hit about 35% of the time, make contact another 45% of the time without doing much, and then completely strike out 20% of the time.
It’s a big, new, interesting world for Ethan. I may offer him the soft gold fish bowl toy, which has a far more impressive average than I, and he may find the tag on a nearby cloth far more interesting. That’s just where we’re at right now.
Seeing a baby all of the time and being sleep deprived has saved me from my obsessive overanalyzing. Sure there are things I’d like to do better sometimes, but overall, I’ve gotten used to striking out or watching Ethan’s eyes drift away while I try to capture his attention.
Now that I hand him over to people who like babies a lot and who are generally good with kids, I’ve found that they sometime strike out with him. Better yet, I can offer them tips on how to make him happy.
I suggested one friend try kissing him on his neck, and he squealed with delight (at least I hope it was delight) every time she got close to him. I felt my old insecurities fade away that day.
Entertaining children, or at least keeping them from crying, has a lot to do with our familiarity with them. I know what Ethan likes, but I’m also used to him ignoring me. Sometimes I get a hit and sometimes I don’t. I see his tendencies, and I know what to expect. I dial down my expectations accordingly.
When I don’t know a child, I have one shot to hit or miss, and oftentimes I don’t know what he/she likes. I’ve saved countless people from Ethan’s bellows by simply suggesting they carry him facing out. It’s just something I know. I remind myself about that every time Ethan’s eyes take on a vacant look and he stares off in the distance while I make his stuffed animals dance.