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Being Sadistic In The Very Best Sense of The Word

Most mothers will tell you they hate it when their babies cry. Then again, most mothers are the type who buy Snuggies, so do with that what you will. I don’t hate the first (FEW) moments of an outburst at all, in fact — and this is just between you and me — there’s a melon-ball-sized part of my heart that just plain loves it.

Will you still be my friend?

My husband is the same way. I pretend to give him a hard time when he laughs. Poor Madeline — there she is, having just endured a mouth-swipe to retrieve a popcorn kernel, or having just been run over with the plastic wheel of Drew’s Little Tikes car, and she’s wailing like a professional mourner in the streets of Beirut. What are her parents doing? Releasing discreet chuckles into the room like flatulence.

What causes this? Are we the only parental sadists?

I took Madeline to her one-year checkup today, which of course included a bouquet of syringes thrust into her plush thighs. The attending nurse loosened the plastic syringe tops one by one, getting them ready for quick stabbing, all while she tickled Thing Two with her gloved hand. Maddie loved that glove. That traitorous, traitorous glove. The nurse, however, seemed genuinely remorseful for what she was about to do. She was cooing and jabbering at Maddie, stockpiling goodwill for the long winter of rage that both she and I knew lay ahead. I thought this was remarkable given that this woman probably stabs 76 babies each and every day like clockwork and should have developed nerves of steel by now. Or a cold empty chest cavity.

But this is Madeline we’re talking about. The most beautiful, lovable, heartrending baby this nurse has probably ever seen. Taking her smile would seem criminal, which is just my objective opinion. I don’t pretend to be a medical professional except when Googling my abnormal growths.

Madeline did not disappoint. At first there was that terrible, breathless hesitation when the shot disappeared into her soft flesh before she manifested shock and fury. I almost, for a millisecond, thought she may not have noticed at all and would continue scratching the wall curiously with her fingernail. I thought that for only an instant, and then she screamed like I had killed a puppy.

But there was that old familiar feeling: delight. Why did my heart jump at her first brilliant wail?

I have three theories:

1. Both Things One and Two look like pug dogs when they cry. And this is precious. Their noses get all flat against their red faces. Madeline has a large mouth that makes her look like a pixie boa constrictor unhinging her jaw to devour an antelope. I just can’t get enough.

2. I think about the powerful singing voice Madeline will have someday. “Pipes” is what they call it. She has all the right physical structures. This makes me burst with pride and have thoughts of living vicariously through her, which is any good mother’s birthright.

3. There’s a deeper, visceral relief I experience when my child has been met with resistance or pain and proves her nerve endings and sense of justice are all in good working order. There’s a scene in The Miracle Worker where the infant Helen Keller doesn’t startle when something falls on the floor. Any other baby would have cried, but not Helen because she is deaf and blind. Her parents flip out, of course. My reaction is the opposite of that, and by this point in the blog I’m feeling pretty justified and will quit writing now. (You’re welcome.)

What about you? Admit it: you sort of love that inaugural wail.

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