The first piece of advice I ever received about babies was very indirect, received years before I became a parent, and came from an office manager.
“I bet you pick up babies by their ears, too,” she said as I carefully carried a typewriter across the room by its platen knobs.
After that there were a good few years during which I never gave babies a second thought until I began to seriously consider one of my own. By that time, I already knew about not carrying them by the ears but everything else was a bit of a haze, given that the ears thing seemed to indicate that baby care flew in the face of any sort of intuition. In fact, there’s nothing really intuitive about babies and that’s why the bookstores are full of baby care books.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the one thing we all have in common is that we have been babies. And yet that experience, unlike other life experiences, is completely unavailable to us when we need it, when it comes to managing the welfare of our own babies.
“What does she want? Why does he do that? When will it stop? Why hasn’t it started? Do you think that stain will ever come out?” These are the sorts of questions you’d think we’d have an answer for without turning to Dr. Spock, Martha Stewart, or Dr. Phil (he’s not really a doctor).
But no, the questions new parents encounter will likely come out of the blue, and even the most dedicated technophiles will not trust the internet to provide the solutions for their babies. Babies are too important to trust their care to the profiteering, posturing and general misinformation typical of the internet. We need books, and more than three of them, to provide the required authority. It’s like turning to Walter Cronkite rather than the Weekly World News — a book cuts through the fear and the uncertainty and delivers just the facts.
“And that’s the way it is” Cronkite would say, ending any further need to worry about how it is. And the baby book’s firm print and regimented paragraphs answer your questions with a similar air of authority when you wonder what your baby wants and what, if any, sort of intervention may be required.
It’s probably because books have become the place where professionals congregate, where they take their valuable insights and information after fleeing the nonsense of social media and the internet in general. And while it’s fine to google a cake recipe, today’s weather, or the service interval for your Ford Pinto you wouldn’t do the same where your baby’s wellbeing is concerned.
If only it were just a case of avoiding the ears when picking up your baby, but no; there’s more to it than that and books provide a wealth of tried, tested, edited and confirmed information that can help us feel genuinely informed, more confident, reassured. Like we’re taking a proactive part in the whole process rather than being dragged around by it with only the indeterminate results of a frantic google when things may or may not be going south.
So maybe for all their shortcomings, babies will be the saviors of the book industry. You can imagine the last bookshop on earth would have a half shelf of Sci-Fi, a handful of local history books, and The Giant Caterpillar. Oh and an entire roomful of baby books that keep the whole thing afloat.