A weeklong electronic journal.
Oct. 30 1998 3:30 AM


       Today, a few thoughts about babies and the fine art of digestion:
       My late great-uncle Goodman Ace, an accomplished hypochondriac who, when he wasn't busy consulting doctors, was an even more accomplished radio sitcom writer and star during that medium's golden age, never quite got around to executing his idea for a stage play that he conceived as a romantic comedy based upon the premise that "the best cure for hypochondria is to forget about your own body and get interested in someone else's."
       Likewise, the arrival of a newborn child, beyond providing the opportunity to fall in love again, is an occasion to abandon a preoccupation with one's own somatic processes and focus upon someone else's. Paul, the 8-day-old baby in our household, has rewarded us with a diverting repertoire of reassuringly consistent habits: He sleeps 19 hours a day, punctuating this rigorous schedule with nine or 10 40-minute feeding sessions, which are themselves usually punctuated by a diaper change, which if spectacular enough can lead to an entire wardrobe change.
       The dramatic prelude to the diaper change features Paul at his most entertaining, offering up a sequence of exaggerated facial expressions that would strike most observers as bad acting if he was not in fact, at least at this juncture, a rather guileless little fellow. Mother's milk is a fast-acting laxative. No sooner does Paul drain a breast than he begins to flex his abdominal muscles, choreographing these exertions with a pageant of slowly elegant arm and finger motions that strongly resemble a tai chi routine. The face reddens, the eyes bulge, the eyebrows arch and droop, then the entire forehead furrows--a look reflecting what? Deep pessimism about the madness in Kosovo? Weariness at the prospect of Al D'Amato once again getting re-elected?
       Sometimes this gets the job done, but often as not our hard-working baby boy is forced to resort to even grander gestures: a series of tongue thrusts; a volley of hiccups; a pained grimace that says, "I have no idea where my wallet is"; a look of bloated misery worthy of an entire-anchovy-and-peppers-pizza-and-six-beers debauch. Next, a lopsided smirk that isn't really a calculated smile, because infants this young lack that particular language component. At which point, inevitably, he releases a noisy, high-caliber squirt into his diaper--praise the Lord! And then, without missing a beat, the finale: an O-shaped pucker and eyebrows arched in "Who, me?" mode.
       And his mother, a woman of exquisite refinement but, let's face it, a mother, burbles, "Isn't nature wonderful? Isn't he wonderful--that he can do that? He was floating in fluid inside me. And now here he is and he's taught himself how to feed and he knows exactly how to push out."
       Yes, nature is indeed wonderful. And this final thought: Mike Kinsley and Bill Gates were babies once, too, am I right?

Mark Singer is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His most recent book is Citizen K: The Deeply Weird Journey of Brett Kimberlin. He is the father of four sons, including Paul Mailhot-Singer, who was born Oct. 21, 1998 (7 lbs., 10 oz.).