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Bad Baby

in AdLib Mom by

The two questions parents with infants are asked most frequently have to be, “Is he a good baby?” and, “Is he sleeping through the night?”

I am confused by both of these questions.

First of all, what kind of response do people expect when they ask whether your baby is a good one? Doesn’t the possibility of a good baby imply that you may have a bad baby on your hands?

Most of the time I answer politely, “Of course he’s a good baby,” and leave it at that. But sometimes I’m rather tempted to say, “No, he’s really, really, awful. He’s a violent drunk and a compulsive gambler and I’m pretty sure he’s been organizing a meth lab under the change table when I’m not looking.”

It’s such a vague question to begin with: What makes a baby good or not?

I think babies can accurately be classified as pleasant.

Maybe they mean, “Is he a pleasant baby?” to which I’d be too quick to answer a resounding yes. In the grand scheme of things — alongside rape, torture, genocide and bad breath — I think babies can accurately be classified as pleasant.

But given time to mull it over, I may come up with a more reasonable answer, like, “Sometimes.”

Nearly having your nipple chewed off? That’s not pleasant. Delving into a poopy diaper eight times a day? No, that’s not pleasant either. Accidentally brushing hair out of your face whilst changing one of those diapers and then discovering that you have greeted the postman at the door with bright yellow poop on your cheek? Not pleasant at all.

You know it ain’t easy

Since colicky babies have a notoriously bad rap, I’ve often wondered if, by good baby, people might mean quiet baby. It seems a crying baby fails to live up to the public’s expectations: he lacks poise and fortitude as he struggles to tackle the bright, wide, over-stimulating, gas-inducing life he’s just been thrust into.

If only someone could explain that being overly demonstrative and demanding is not socially adequate. Don’t they know they’re going to make liars of their mommies and daddies who are forced to smile and say, “Oh yes, he’s a very good baby, indeed.”

Occasionally, I’ve turned the question around and asked, “What do you mean, is he a good baby?” Inevitably I get something like, “You know, is he easy?” Now, pinch me if I’m having a moment here, but — is this a trick question?

Teaching a little person not yet replete with rational thought processes most everything he will ever need to know to be human — easy? Being made CEO of another human being with no previously related work experience? Even the pleasant, quiet, I-don’t-want-to-cuddle-let-go-of-me ones aren’t, by nature of the job, easy.

If, by easy, people mean “Does he ever inconvenience you?” or “Does he let you watch the soaps?” then they should just come out with those questions as such, because otherwise I’m forced to make my own deductions, which, as I’ve just outlined, lead me to draw one final conclusion: all babies cry and all babies poop and nurturing human life is not easy therefore all babies must be bad.

Sleep is for the weak

But there’s something fishy about question number two, the “sleeping through the night” question: how it almost always immediately succeeds the “good baby” question and how they seem to come as a pair. This leads me to believe that sleep is the real meat in these casual, post-natal interviews.

To be honest, I didn’t realize any babies actually slept through the night.

That doesn’t mean I’ve figured out why people care if my baby is sleeping through the night. Did I miss something back in Girl Guides? Were they handing out Sleeping-through-the-night badges? Am I due a royal title — will they give me a fancy honorific and imaginary power over some territory when this happens? If I answer no, do the floor boards get pulled from beneath me and I’m thrust into a festering pit of failed parents?

If sound sleep is somehow what constitutes a good baby, then what of all my insomniac friends, the tortured artists and the sufferers of back pain and those with tiny bladders? Are they all bad adults?

To be honest, I didn’t realize any babies actually slept through the night. I always thought this was just something people lied about. I guess I’m not that annoyed if he gets a bit hungry or thirsty or lonely at 3 a.m. I like night-people. I’m used to them.

We’ve spent nearly two-and-a-half years answering the sleep question with a “no.” Our two year old may have slept through the night on his own once, but I don’t think I can say he does because of that miraculous occasion.

Even if he was sleeping through the night I couldn’t, in good conscience, accept the badge or title of Lady McSo-and-So of County Sleepy-sleep, because the ritual of sending him into dreamland is in no way a lesson in expertise.

It will take up to three hours: a warm bath, 19 storybooks (or the same trippy Dora the Explorer book 19 times), a back rub, a cup of milk, a glass of water and 10,000 questions to which I offer zero answers as I lay there next to him basically pretending to be dead.

A lot can be said for brevity

Maybe people are really bad at small talk. Maybe they want gossip, to be able to say,”Did you know their baby has colic and doesn’t sleep and must be a hermaphrodite?”

Or maybe people genuinely care whether I have a good baby because they like me and they think this illustrious good baby will make me happy. Maybe they are more concerned with my well-being than the quality of society’s future generations.

If this is the case,  if all people really mean by these good baby questions is, “does he sleep through the night,” then maybe they should rephrase, try, “Are you tired?” Straightforward, no messing around.

It’s less confusing. Parents with babies can be easily confused because the answer to that straightforward question is yes. It’s always yes. You don’t even have to ask.

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