Lately, when I can no longer wade through the relentless newspapers reports of the impending financial apocalypse or endure another television news bulletin all but declaring “the end is nigh”, I slip upstairs to the nursery. I open the door gently so as not to wake the room’s sole occupant. Then I ease myself into the rocking chair by the side of crib. There, in the silence and the soothing pastel colours (painted clouds scudding along the wall), I watch little Finn Hannigan sleep, the swaddling blanket gently moving up and down with his every breath. And suddenly, for a few moments, the outlook for us all doesn’t seem so gloomy anymore.
Towards the end of June this year, I read a report in the New York Times which estimated it now costs the average American family almost a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child from birth to the age of 18. A statistic to make the parents of 10 and 4 year old boys shudder. That same week, we held a family yard sale, a handy way of raising some petty cash while clearing the house of stuff we no longer needed. Among the items practically given away to customers that weekend (no, please take them) were a buggy, two car seats, a feeding chair, and a baby’s swing. That was on a Saturday morning. On Monday night, my wife discovered she was five months pregnant.
In the middle of the worst recession since the 1920s, in a year when our household income is down about 30 per cent, and professional prospects have never seemed dimmer, we brought a new baby into the world. Another mouth to feed. Another boy to clothe and coddle. It was the most reckless, optimistic and beautiful thing we could have done. Some might even argue it was selfish. Yet, as Finn prepares to celebrate two months on earth this Christmas Day (he hasn’t much planned apart from sleeping, eating and pooping), the man we dubbed our October surprise has turned into our very own little anti-depressant.
It is almost impossible to remain downbeat and pessimistic when you spend any time in his orbit.
We watch him kick and punch excitedly every time he’s released from the blankets in which he’s imprisoned for so long each day. We gaze into his baby blues as they widen and try to take in ever greater views of every room he visits. We laugh at the way he runs his hand back and forth in front of his face, hypnotising himself. These are cameos of wonder that light up our lives and make us feel, well, any planet that brings forth somebody as perfect as this can’t be all bad and/or might actually be worth fighting for.
He is also a cogent reminder of how much we over-complicate our lives. He cries when he’s hungry, he sleeps as long as he needs to when he’s tired, and sometimes, he just wants to be wrapped up and held in the arms of somebody who loves him. Self-help gurus have made millions peddling mantras that make a lot less sense than the simple rules he lives by. At a time of year when parents are driving themselves demented questing for electronic gadgetry for their children, here is a little man most content when lying on the couch staring at the lights snaked around the Christmas tree.
At the end of each year, we are all advised repeatedly to occasionally stop and smell the flowers, to savour the little things in life. Most of us never, ever do. We’re too busy, too self-important. A new baby forces you to take time out because, several times a day, you have to drop everything and shove a bottle into his mouth. That urgent phone call you needed to make? It has to wait. All those emails you need to respond to? They are put on hold. You have more pressing business to attend to, marvelling at the way he enthusiastically drains each ounce of his bottle, wishing you could make everyone else in your life this happy just by offering them the most basic food.
The great thing too is that he’s a gift that keeps on giving. After the initial period of house arrest, we remembered what it’s like to have a new baby out in public. To bring him into a supermarket or a coffee shop is to witness the very best in strangers. As if uniquely designed to turn frowns upside down, he draws people to him and they swoon and smile, better for the experience. Not so much because Finn is especially handsome (which of course he is!) but because he’s a glimpse of pure innocence, a snapshot of human potential, a perfect little being not yet distorted and manhandled by the outside world.
People look into that pram and see somebody staring back at them unaffected by the daily diet of bad news, uninterested in wallowing in ever-increasing circles of despair. Just happy to be here. A lesson there for all of us this week. Out of the eyes of babes, etc…
(first published in The Irish Daily Mail, December, 2010)