The Fascination With Babies (A Traveler’s Perspective)

On my way to LAX to take my daughter to camp and spend some one-on-one time with her, I was excited, but also uneasy and unsettled. I felt like I was ditching school, neglecting homework. There was also a twinge of something even more anxiety provoking I couldn’t quite place, as if I’d left the stove on.  All because I’d made the last minute decision to leave my laptop at home.

My husband had gently nudged me the night before…what was the worst thing that could happen if I was computer-free for 36 hours? While I had only planned to check in a little, more than likely I wouldn’t have been able to resist turning it on in the hotel room in the evening and first thing in the morning. I’d get sucked in, a few minutes would turn into an hour, and it would bleed into our time together.  My wise, yet vulnerable middle child, edgy and cynical (as is mandatory for a 13 year old), would never ask for my undivided attention. And I wouldn’t see her again for two weeks.

But what finally made the decision for me was some self-chastising — I should take my own advice…duh.  I’d recently written about parents, technology and the challenge of unplugging to spend time fully present with our kids. That this was even an issue for me was totally humiliating.

By the time our plane took off, I was more at ease about letting go. And en route to car rental on the SFO Airtrain, I was feeling freer than I’d felt in a long time (see my glee in photo above.)  My daughter and I had tender moments hanging out in the hotel room that I seriously doubt would have happened with the distraction of my laptop present. And in the morning, while she slept, I cracked a book that has been on my bedside table for at least six months.

Allison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby could have been written just for me. The introduction alone confirms the reasons I write and teach about babies. Do parents really need more advice? Probably not. But my interest in infants and toddlers is unending. I’m fascinated by the power and mystery of those first years. They have such a profound effect on our lives, and yet most of us have no memory of them at all.

“New scientific research and philosophical thinking have both illuminated and deepened the mystery,” acknowledges Gopnik. “In the last thirty years, there’s been a revolution in our scientific understanding of babies and young children. We used to think that babies and young children were irrational, egocentric and amoral. Their thinking and experience were concrete, immediate, and limited. In fact, psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered that babies not only learn more, but imagine more, care more, and experience more than we would ever have thought possible. In some ways, young children are actually smarter, more imaginative, more caring, and even more conscious than adults are.”

Once again it seems that infant expert Magda Gerber (with the wisdom gained from her mentorship with Dr. Emmi Pikler) was way ahead of her time. Well over thirty years ago she was urging parents and caregivers to treat infants with the same respect they would extend to another adult, to imagine life from a baby’s point-of-view and to pay attention, carve out time to be truly present with our baby…the way we would with any loved one. Long before scientists and psychologists studied infant awareness, she gave babies the benefit of the doubt. She believed in babies, perceived them as capable, competent, inner-directed individuals ready to actively participate in a relationship with their parents from day one.

By opening my eyes to see infants as these unique individuals worthy of our respect, Magda Gerber gave me a timeless map for parenting that made it intriguing, even exciting, and made the exhaustion and drudgery easier to bear. Whether or not I chose to stay on course, it was always there to guide me.

After settling my daughter into her dorm room and saying our goodbyes, I headed home, especially grateful I’d ditched the laptop and followed Magda’s guidance to pay attention to my baby.


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Beautifully written and very inspiring! I read The Philosophical Baby a few weeks before I found your blog! It IS a great book. I am very glad you took the opportunity to connect with your daughter!

    1. Kari, thanks so much! I’m still reading it and really enjoying it…

  2. Great article and I love how you noticed (and admitted) out loud the irony of your desire to take your laptop after your post on wired in parents.

    I think trying to the balance between writing/blogging/researching and parenting is so difficult but it’s well worth the challenge so we can spend time with our kids.

    Thanks again for your inspiration.

    1. Thanks, Barbi! It is encouraging to hear from an experienced journalist about the challenge of balancing the work part of the equation…since it’s relatively new for me…and I feel a little crazy sometimes!

  3. Roseann Murphy says:

    Great article, great insight…going out to get the book today!!

  4. Thank you, Janet, for two things:

    First, I went on a trip shortly after this post and decided that I too would travel without my laptop. Unnerving, to say the least, but ultimately really wonderful – allowing me to immerse myself in the here and now.

    Second, I got The Philosophical Baby from the library and it’s FANTASTIC! Thanks for the tip!

    Keep up the good work 🙂

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