More Powerful than the Jedi Mind Trick
People spend years learning facts and figures in school, trying to gain skills in the workplace, earning the respect of peers and co-workers, all because it gives a person more power. I’m not talking about power in the narrow, nefarious sense of comic book villians, but also earning-power, the power to influcence others and make decisions, the power to control your life. Well, I’m saying that you can throw out that MBA, the Jack Welch book, your DVD of Ghost Dog, and your long resume of accomplishments- if you want real power, learn The Way of the Baby.
Pint Sized Thunder
Babies pack an incredible amount of power into a small, seemingly innocent package. Babies have the power- not only to make grown adults who have spent years slogging away in the workplace, want to throw away all of that invested effort in order to devote themselves more fully to beings that sleep 16 hours a day, but also the power to make a person forgo sleep, skip meals, neglect their hygiene, ignore friends, and generally become slavishly enthralled to a being (or two) smaller than many house plants. What makes these helpless, guileless, innocent creatures so powerful?
The Way of the Baby
The Way of the Baby is the ancient, highly evolved set of skills and attributes that babies are equipped with from the moment they begin to breathe oxygen. And these little ones know how to bring you, me, and nearly all hapless adults to our gibbering knees in an effort to make them happy- or at least get them to stop crying. One of the best ways to illustrate the power of The Way of the Baby is to walk a person through a small slice of a baby’s day. To achieve a full day and the absolute devotion of the unsuspecting adult, just repeat seven times with subtle variations- as the sleep deprivation adds up, so do the odds in the baby’s favor. In order to protect the innocent, I’ll call this hypothetical baby, the Baby- you can substitute your own offspring’s name or pick one you like. By the end of a day like the one described below, that baby will have you eating out of their hand- or to be entirely correct, he/she will have you feeding him/her by hand.
So imagine that the Baby is a gorgeous, wide-eyed, 8 week old infant. She weighs less than most of the turkeys that will be popped into ovens all over the US in about a week. The Baby is "helpless"- she can’t feed or change herself. She needs you to dress her, give her food, help her burp, brush her hair, snuggle, cuddle, and generally adore her in order to survive. Again, like that houseplant you have but wayyyy more high maintainence.
We’ll start learning "The Way" by checking in on the Baby during her morning nap. Currently, the Baby eats every three hours during the day, but at this imagined moment, she is supposed to be asleep- it’s half way through that magic three hour period between feedings. Her mom, we’ll call her "The Mommy" is trying to do a few of the above mentioned things that get discarded with reckless abandon – attend to personal hygenie, tidy the house, pay bills, eat, pee, etc., when she hears a sound from somewhere in the house. The Mommy is frozen by dread… was that the Baby already?! Isn’t she supposed to be asleep for ANOTHER 45 MINUTES?!
Part 1- Crying: The Sound of Power
Crying is one of the most powerful tools in a baby’s arsenal. It is deployed often and has many different frequencies and intensities to convey specific messages.
The Mommy pauses and cocks her head, not unlike what her dog does when the fire truck goes by with its sirens blaring. Is the sound she hears coming from the baby?! Is the baby just emitting some disatisfied quacks, making sure her mild displeasure is officially logged or is she really fired up and wants major attention immediately? Remember that scene from Pretty Woman and sucking up to the person in power? Is the Baby doing her Julia Roberts impression? If so, the Mommy (or Daddy) has several options:
1) She can ignore it. This is often the right thing to do, but can be incredibly difficult.
2) She can respond, dropping whatever she is doing- whether it’s pulling on socks, brushing her hair or eating cereal.
If, reading this, you immediately choose option 2, then it’s clear who "The Boss" is in your house. Perhaps your children are grown, but you remember how powerful "The Way of the Baby"is. Just as at the workplace, the Baby is like "The Boss" and can compel you to drop what you are doing and respond to their cry with alacrity AND a smile.
Part 2- No One Contradicts The Boss
Adults- whether parents, grandparents or other caregivers mistakenly think that they are "The Boss" when in reality, the baby has the power to bend adults to her will.
So, for a moment we’ll pretend that the baby isn’t "The Boss" and the Mommy will continue eating her cereal, pulling on socks, brushing her hair. The Baby begins to get annoyed at the lack of a prompt response and ups the volume. Mommy continues stubbornly eating/brushing/pulling. After 10 (20, 30 or more depending on your threshold) minutes or so, the expression on the Mommy’s face crumples into a look of defeat and she pushes back the bowl of cereal/throws her sock/leaves the brush tangled in her hair and tromps up the stairs to see what "The Boss" needs- even though "The Boss" is supposed to be sleeping and not bothering mommy for at least another 45 minutes. Who is a person supposed to get any work done around here?!
Part 3- When "Helpless" Really Isn’t
Babies exert power by seeming helpless in order to lull you into doing their bidding
So, Mommy peeks into the room and sees that the Baby has managed to squirm her way out of a diabolically tight swaddle that is designed to help her sleep longer and she is frantically flailing her tiny fists in frustration. (Or is she really pumping those fists in trimuph because you have caved and entered the room?). Obviously, baby needs some serious attention. But, as the person with the power in this relationship, Mommy makes a desperate gamble to rescue the next 45 minutes and keep the baby on her schedule. She goes for the pacifier and coaxes it in between the baby’s pursed lips. The baby takes the pacifier for a moment and lulls Mommy into believing that she will be pacified and just as the adult starts to sign in relief, the baby shows Mommy what she really thinks of the infantile attempt to soothe her by spitting that pacifier halfway across the crib with an audible "pwtoot" sound. "Damn," thinks Mommy and tries one (or two or three) more times to persuade the baby to settle back into sleep. But she will not be swayed. A naive person would think that this baby is helpless and simply unable to soothe herself and is in desperate need of you to do it. This is when the trap is poised on the edge of ensnaring its victim completely. And adults just walk right in, like those cartoon dogs that follow the scent of food, entranced, straight into the arms of the dog catcher.
Part 4- Feed the Ego, Win the Battle
Babies realize that the best way to truly subjugate a person is not by brute force, it’s through conquering the heart
So, whether unsuspecting or wise to the tactics, Mommy leans into the crib and picks up the baby, wanting to soothe the baby and stop the terrible, gut-wrenching crying. Mommy, or any adult, knows instinctively how to soothe the baby- she brings her in close to her chest, cuddles her, and whispers softly into her hair. The baby, sensing victory, but wanting to ensure that it is complete, doesn’t comply at first, but rather, struggles for a few more minutes, tossing her tiny body about in Mommy’s arms. Mommy redoubles her cooing, cuddling, swaying, and soothing-that’s when the final trap is sprung. The baby relaxes into your arms and settles down. This is the baby’s trimuph precisely because the adult *thinks* it is really their triumph. The adult feels all-powerful and full of love because she was able to taking the screaming bundle of unhappiness and just with her presence and a little hip swaying, quiet the baby into a state of sublime peace and tranquility. The adult is momentarily drunk on this power- reveling in her ability to calm a tempest with her bare hands. So, Mommy sways a little longer, cuddling and cooing, thinking that "her work here is done." That’s when she learns that she is hopelessly ensnared in the trap and struggling to free oneself only makes it tigher. Mommy is the one with no power, because as she thinks of putting the baby down, before she even makes a perceptible move towards the crib to ever so gently place that bundle of peace and tranquility down (because there are still 38 minutes left before the next feeding), an eye pops open and looks up at Mommy. The eye looking directly into Mommy’s soul is a large, round, dark pool of love and Mommy is instantly drowning it it. That eye is looking at Mommy and saying, "You wouldn’t put this poor, helpless, smaller than a houseplant person down in that big, scary, dark, cold, mean crib, would you?!" As the piece de resistance, the baby innocently nuzzles against Mommy and makes a tiny chirping sound.
And that’s when the white flag is raised by the hungry, sleep deprived, one socked woman with a hair brush dangling from her head. She sits down in the glider and gives in to rocking the baby for the remaining 38 minutes. Clearly- food, clothing, hygeine, and sleep are all highly overrated when matched against those perfect round, slow blinking eyes that are begging you to cuddle them. And baby is thinking, "Mommy is such a sucker. I had no idea it would be THIS easy."
Building Up Immunity
There is hope for adults in this battle. Repeated exposure and prolonged sleep deprivation do, over time, increase a person’s immunity to these devastatingly effective techniques. The baby can’t always win and eventually they all get put down and the whole family gets some well deserved and well earned sleep.
Good luck to all the Mommies, Daddies, Grandparents, and friends. I suppose one satisfying thought for all of us adults is that babies DO eventually grow up and may have babies of their own to do battle with someday.