Friday, October 22, 2010

"Now That's a Baby!"

When I mentioned in yesterday's post that I'm not normally excited by pictures of strangers' children, I couldn't help remembering my friend Paul's aversion to having photos of babies waved under his nose.  Paul was one of my co-workers in New York; he was witty and intense and dressed like a cover model for GQ.  He was also an only child and he and his wife were childless, so he had had very little contact with small children, and babies in particular made him very uneasy.  Because he was one of our marketing executives he traveled frequently to our customers' offices, where he was almost invariably waylaid by women twice his age brandishing pictures of newborn grandchildren.  He attracted them as if he were a magnet for bragging grannies.

"I never know what to say," he would wail after each of these experiences.  "They're all smushed and red and funny-looking.  I can't say they're cute because they're not."

The rest of us finally made up a list of rules for him:
  • Do not guess at the baby's gender.  Use neutral language until the relative lets slip a "he," "she," or unambiguous first name.
  • If possible, flatter the proud relative.  "Isn't that your nose? Don't you think the baby flatters your side of the family?"  If the baby is excruciatingly unattractive, give the relative a chance to dis the in-laws: "And who do you think the baby resembles?"
  • If you can't bring yourself to refer to the baby as "beautiful," "sweet," or "adorable," try noncommittal comments that the person hovering in a cloud of baby-love will interpret as positives: "Oh, look at that face!"  "What big eyes!"  "So much hair for a newborn!"  "Not very happy about the flash, is he/she?"
Armed with these suggestions he sallied forth with increased confidence.  I only regret that I didn't know Barry back then; Paul would have loved Barry's all-purpose response in similar situations: "Now, that's a BABY!"

“An ugly baby is a very nasty object - and the prettiest is frightful.” ~Queen Victoria

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