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By Susan Harlan
Today, the babies have no say.
The babies are abroad. They’re in Rome, or on the top of a mountain (in a fancy baby backpack), or on a blanket with mom at the beach.
The babies play at home on colorful elephant rugs. Then the babies are in transit. They wait with their parents in airport lounges. The babies are restless.
Today the babies are performing, but they don’t know it. Today the babies are just so many photographs.
The babies are with their grandparents. Sitting on their laps. Bounce, bounce. The babies are in home videos. They crawl on the floor and play with other babies. Adorable, the comments say. So cute. I am dying. The babies eat liquid food in highchairs, their faces smeared orange. Look at this. Eva loves to eat her mangos.
The babies haven’t left the hospital yet. They’re brand new. Violently red little creatures in plastic bin beds. The babies are animals. They clutch their dads’ fingers.
Today, the babies are a scroll. There they are, one after another. They get older. He’s gotten so big. She’s gotten so pretty. The comments say the same things about the babies. Same and same and same.
The babies’ heads loom over their little bodies. They don’t look at the camera. Look at the camera, baby. Look over here. No, over here. Tommy did the funniest thing today. Just look at this. Look.
The babies are inside a body. They are ultrasounds, pixilated black-and-white beans. Here is the inside of my body for you to see. Or they’re in bodies that are doing yoga and in bare stomachs encircled with male hands. Here is my outside. Beautiful, the comments say. You look amazing.
Today, the babies are almost invisible. There they are, wrapped up in their strollers. Swaddled in big blue bags like parkas. The babies are in laundry baskets and cribs. Lying there, looking up. Just looking.
The babies are misbehaving. Lara would not finish her banana. She would not to go to sleep last night. I’m so tired. Her dad is just hopeless with her. Her dad is just the greatest with her.
What do the babies say? The babies say nothing. They eat their rattles. They drool on these plastic things. The babies are teething. They are being potty-trained. It has been a hard process, but it’s going better. No, wait – the babies are not potty trained. There have been some accidents. The comments say, Oh, no! That’s terrible. Hope you are okay.
Today, the babies are ciphers. They’re outside in the yard, under storm clouds, playing in the rain. In yellow raincoats and rubber boots. Then they’re in their Christmas clothes. Red velvet. Plaids. Happy holidays! This is what the babies say.
The babies have new clothes. I love that butterfly t-shirt, the comments say. Adorable. Looks just like an ad.
Today, the babies have desire. They’re at the petting zoo. They love the sheep. Looks like a blast, the comments say. It was. Sara loves the cows. Yes, it looks like it, the comments say. Today the babies love this and this and this. This is what loving looks like.
Susan Harlan is English professor at Wake Forest University, where she specializes in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature. Her essays have appeared in The Toast, Nowhere, Skirt!, Literary Mothers, Public Streets, 5×5, Artvehicle, Cocktailians, Smoke: A London Peculiar, Airplane Reading, and Open Letters Monthly. Her online travel diary Born on a Train narrates a long-haul Amtrak trip she undertook in full 1950s dress and explores old-school train travel and retrograde models of femininity (www.bornonatrain.com). She also writes a regular column for Nowhere entitled “The Nostalgic Traveler.” This critique of the performance of parenting is based on her own Facebook feed.