Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Nerd That Rocks the Cradle

The eternal conflict between nature and nurture could be witnessed in my home the other day. We played host to my two-month-old niece who has been having some acid reflux problems (poor kid, poor adorable kid) while my sister-in-law attended a social function.

Six years removed from daily infant interaction apparently makes you rustier than either my wife or I anticipated. Now clear on the other side of diaper changing, goo-goo-ing and excessive sleep deprivation, we overestimated our ability to fall right back into our previous expertise in caring for and entertaining babies.

We found ourselves with a very cute baby on our hands who was very upset. Her diaper was changed, she had a dose of “gripe water” and was being walked and simultaneously bounced. She expressed her continuing displeasure very clearly yet there was still over an hour between us and her next scheduled feeding. Stretching out the meal times is apparently an important technique when trying to provide babies with acid reflux some kind of relief. As mere temporary caretakers, we figured we could absorb the brunt of our tiny loved one’s anger for a short time to try and help her parents in the long run.

Even though the child is adorable enough to reduce the most proper adults to blubbering fools (Where’s the pretty girl? Where is she? There she is! A-boo-boo-boo-boo-ppppbbbbhhhhttttt!) the constant sound of her crying was breaking both our hearts and minds. It was time to get creative.

My wife and sons (her proud, adoring older cousins) played peek-a-boo and made silly noises. We played a song that always used to calm my sons when they were infants (Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing for those taking notes at home). I even cooked up some bacon, because who doesn’t like the smell of bacon? None of this worked, though it should be noted that a crying baby has no effect on the deliciousness of bacon, which made me feel better.

We don’t have toys geared toward infants around the house anymore. The boys play now with action figures and Lego bricks, read a lot, ride bikes and jump on the trampoline. None of this was baby appropriate (or safe). And my little adorably uncomfortable niece was too young to play video games.

POP! Fizzzzzzzz…

That was the flash and fizzle sound of my brain hatching a ridiculous idea. She wasn’t old enough to play video games because infants don’t have hand eye coordination at that age. Anyone who doubts this should just watch a baby poke itself in the eye a few times. She could, however, watch video games.

I told my wife I had an idea. I could tell that she was obviously feeling sorry for our baby niece and desperate to comfort her, because she didn’t respond with a suspicious, “What kind of idea?” and allowed me to take the little one from her and bring her to our room.

Once there, I fired up the Xbox and started the factory-installed game, Hexic. With the volume up and my niece held at eye level with the screen, the crying suddenly ceased. The multi-colored hexagons, spinning, disappearing and dropping before her eyes, held her captivated. Not only did we hold out the hour until her next feeding, but we were able to extend her wait for an extra twenty minutes or so as she stared at the glory that is video gaming for over an hour.

Transformer Generation Dad, for the win!

When my wife took possession and began feeding her some formula, I took a moment to reflect. My sister-in-law and her husband are not people I would classify as nerds. They don’t talk about video games and I’ve never heard either of them use a Star Wars metaphor in conversation. So was it just the bright colors that interested their daughter or could the nerd gene be present in her? Was there a recessive nerd trait from past generations that made it into her somehow? Could it be that the synapses in the geek lobe of her developing brain were clamoring for some sort of stimulation?

I can’t be certain, but I do know she was receptive. I also know that, whether it be an inborn nerd tendency (nature) or a reaction to newly introduced stimuli (nurture), it is my responsibility to ensure that this potential geeky side of her is allowed to develop.

From now on, when we babysit, her crafty old uncle will devise schemes by which to expose her to the finer things of geekdom. We’ll continue with Hexic in the early months. Then we’ll move on to reading books together. I’ll set aside The Very Hungry Caterpillar and read Spider-Man or Captain America instead. Neil Gaiman published a children’s book entitled The Wolves in the Walls. That may find its way onto our bookshelf. Eventually, we’ll start watching the Star Wars films while she’s over, starting with Episode IV, of course (my niece brings a whole new meaning to A New Hope).

I must at least provide her with the option of expressing that side of her personality, should it truly exist. A nerd is a terrible thing to waste.

No comments:

Post a Comment