Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I love my baby. And my other baby. And my other baby.

The other day O. looked up from his pile of Lincoln Log rubble and asked “Mama, why do mans call womans ‘baby’?”

At first his question seemed to come from left field, but I quickly realized that my Old Man and I had recently wrapped up a quotidian conversation during which he had probably referred to me by one of several terms of endearment he routinely graces me with, the classic “baby.” It made sense that this would confuse a four-year-old kid, especially one for whom the recent arrival of a baby sister has made the word “baby” take on all sorts of new and concrete associations.

I tried to explain why “baby” is a common term of endearment, reminding O. that I sometimes call him “baby,” too. But, as so often happens when a kid inquires into some mystery of adult behavior, I wasn’t really able to explain adequately. For one thing, it’s totally different when I call O. “baby” and when I call my Old Man “baby.”

It was odd not to be able to explain to O. why it makes sense for a grown man to call his best beloved “baby,” because it was when O. was a baby that I really came to understand why this is such a powerful and enduring term of endearment. (Or at least can be. Like many powerful and enduring things, it gets used lightly and not very lovingly all the time.)

My Old Man and I have been calling each other “baby” since our early days. I started it. Even though I’d never used “baby” as an endearment, it just sort of came naturally to call him that. And though he’d always thought of it as a cheesy epithet, coming from me he suddenly found it touching. Pretty soon he was calling me “baby,” too. The name became part of the fabric of our love, and I accepted it without thinking about it much.

When O. was born, it suddenly made sense why “baby” is such a common endearment used between people in love. Spending time with my newborn son felt very much like falling in love, and those early days reminded me a lot of the beginning phases of an intense romantic relationship. And now that I’m in that intense phase with Roo, I’m reminded of it all over.

What more powerful way to metaphorize the intensity with which you love your grown-up loved one than to liken them to your baby, that little adored being that is literally a part of you? It can seem so icky, sleazy, or infantilizing when the wrong person calls you “baby,” but coming from the right person, it makes sense. After all, I think my baby is beautiful even though her head might be a bit misshapen and her face peppered with infant acne. I can’t stop kissing her. I love the way she smells. I think about her constantly, and feel sad when I’ve been apart from her for too long. When we're alone together, it feels like we're in our own little world. I allow her into my bed and let her suck on my nipples ‘til they’re raw. And, I continue to be crazy about her even when she inadvertently shits on me. Sounds like love, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’m sure some people think “baby” is a bizarre thing to call another adult, however much you dig them. But there is a certain compelling logic. And there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to endearments. For example, even though “baby” works for me, I find “babe” humorous and silly sounding (maybe because I associate it with Sonny Bono).

So, what are your favorite endearments, and have you ever contemplated what makes them powerful for you?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Watch the Breasts!

For the nursing mother, hugs can be dangerous. They can be quite painful in certain circumstances, like when your breasts are twice their usual size, engorged with milk, and especially sensitive. As we entertain a flurry of family from both sides over the course of four days, I’m getting lots of warm, vigorous congratulatory hugs that are proving to be a major pain in the tit. And since no one wants to pull away from a hug with a grimace of pain or an “ow!” I’m just smiling and bearing it.

I get plenty of hugs in my daily life, from my old man, from O., from my mom, but these never pain me. So I’ve started developing a theory of hugs. At first, I reasoned that it was a matter of how close my relationship to the hugger is, thinking that hugs from people who I’m very close to don’t cause me breast pain because they hugs tend to be full-body hugs rather than leaning-in hugs. Leaning-in hugs are the kind exchanged when you’re close enough to want to hug, but not so close that you’d hug without keeping intimate zones like belly and pelvis appropriately far apart. In-laws, for many people, would be the perfect example of a category of relationships where you exchange lean-in hugs (without necessarily even being aware you’re doing it).

I’ve had to modify my theory, though, as I continue to get more hugs from different varieties of family, especially repeat hugs. First of all, a “Good-morning, nice to see you again!” hug is definitely less painful than a “Hi! I haven’t seen you in four months and I can’t wait to meet your baby for the first time!” hug. But more significantly, I’ve been noticing that hugs from my female relatives and friends are almost never painful, while hugs from my male relatives and friends often are. So gender seems to be a key here, I think for two reasons. One, most women just hug more gently than most men. Many men are accustomed to giving other men rough, energetic hugs that clearly communicate Hail, fellow! Well met! And by the way I’m a heterosexual man, and perhaps this emphatic approach informs the hugs they give women as well. Two, I think the need to keep the areas of the body associated with intimacy far apart is greater in a man-woman hug than in a woman-woman hug. So the chest bears almost all the impact of the hug. And these days, my chest is all breast. And those extra-energetic, chest-to-chest hugs hurt like a mother. (And hurt a mother.)

So what to do? I can’t very well advise my male relatives and friends to “watch the breasts, buddy!” That would probably come off the wrong way. I think I’ll try to alter my hugging style a bit when I’m approaching a hug with a suspected hard chest hugger, coming in sidelong so as to say “Yes, let’s hug! But how about a nice side-to-side hug? So friendly, yet so safe!” Safe in more ways than one.