By Greg Clark, October 22, 1921
We are gradually getting on to the doctors.
For instance, one of their favorite tricks is to order you to do some impossible thing. And then when you fail, as you were bound to do, the doctors clear their throats, make a hopeless gesture with their eyebrows, and say – “I told you so!”
Now, take a baby, for example.
The nurse, egged on by the doctors, tells you right at the start:
“Don’t spoil the baby. Don’t rush and pick him up every time he cries. Let him cry: it won’t hurt him. It’ll exercise his little lungs.”
Then you have the doctor in, just to look over the baby to see that his legs are quite all right even if they are bent that way, and so on and so on –.
And after the usual assurances that it is indeed a remarkable child, the doctor hitches forward in his chair and says very earnestly, looking both parents in turn sternly in the eye:
“Now, don’t spoil the baby by picking him up every time he cries. You will let yourself in for to end of trouble. Just let him cry it out. He’ll be no bother after that.”
“But,” you expostulate, “maybe he has a little pain! Eh? What if he sounds as if he were in agony?”
“Oh, well, they have their little pains, you know,” replies the doctor, deprecatingly. “If you like, pick him up for a minute, and rest him against your shoulder.”
And so it goes. What a fiction! What a tradition! Let him cry it out!
This rule may be all very well for second, third, and subsequent babies. But as far as first babies go I’d like to see the parent, male or female, who has ever carried out the rule.
They always try, of course. In a case with which I am acquainted the baby sleeps beautifully, softly, finely all day. In fact, he can scarcely be waked up for his meals, and falls asleep before even they are half through. He is all pink and dimpled sighs, snuggles, with quaint momentary blinks of wakefulness when he stares Intently and somewhat embarrassingly at your teeth or your necktie or your hair.
All day he sleeps. But at six p.m., he comes alive. He stretches his little arms over his head, starts a few premonitory kicks and squirms, and then opens his mouth and yells.
The first night this occurred the parents were, of course, naturally concerned. They both leaned anxiously over the crib.
“Let him cry it out, now!” warned the father. “Don’t you pick him up!” retorted the mother.
And it must be admitted the father was leaning a little the closer.
So for forty long seconds these young parents leaned over that crib and watched their baby yell and kick and wave its little hands. Then the father cried:
“Now, see! That’s a cry of pain, or I’m a Dutchman!”
But he had not completed the sentence before the mother had taken the cue and scooped that baby up into her arms with a gesture so swiftly divine – Oh, well! –
For several nights this same drama was enacted. The spell lasted from six p.m. till midnight. And during this time father, mother and grandma took turns in walking, rocking and singing to the baby, hushing it to sleep, laying it down in its crib, only to have it waken immediately and let out a most indignant cry. They took turns in picking it up.
After about ten days the doctor’s admonition was recalled.
“To-night,” said the father, sorrowfully, “we must let him cry it out. It isn’t that I mind nursing him. But we are spoiling him. It’s for his own good.”
Mother and grandma acquiesced.
But that night, after about two minutes’ crying, all three elders detected a distinct note of pain in the baby’s cry. And in the stampede to the crib-side grandma won.
For two weeks now they have been trying to let him cry it out. The longest period so far has been twelve minutes. That evening, when laid firmly in his crib and left to himself, the baby started with a few, casual, good natured yells. The three adults, sitting breathlessly in the next room, were smiling broadly into space. The quaint little shouts from the nursery would fall off for a whole minute, and they could hear him gurgling and clucking to himself.
Then the little rascal must have discovered he was alone. For all at once there arose a most abandoned yell from the nursery.
And father and mother and grandma jammed each other in the doorway in their haste –
It’s no use. These young parents I speak of have practically given up the attempt. They are reconciled to having a spoiled baby.
“Anyway,” declared the mother. “I detest those soft little book-fed babies that haven’t any steam in them!”
And she cuddles her little fellow till his face! turns red and he cries –
The only trouble about walking and rocking the baby is the songs that are inflicted on him. They are most demoralizing.
For instance, take this one, sung to the fine old tune of “There’s a Land That Is Fairer Than Day.”
The words come out something like this: (Sing it as you read it!) –
“There’s land that is fairer than day,
And by faith I think he’s going to sleep,
To-te-ta pick up the shawl off the floor
And put it on the head of the crib.
“In the sweet bye and bye,
This chair has an awful squeak,
In the sweet bye and bye
Turn out the light before I put him down.”
Then the father, along towards midnight, gets into a sort of comatose condition. And you can well Imagine the consternation of a church-going household, when the father, an ex-soldier, begins to vary his repertoire of cradle songs with some of the old war songs that have floated o’er Flanders fields. Picture him crooning, to the squeak-squeak of the rocking chair, the following billet favorite:
Gonna get drunk to-night
If I never get drunk no more!
One keg of beer between the four of us!
Praises be, there ain’t any more of us,
The four of us can drink it all alone!”
Following this unfortunate lapse grandma purified the little shaver’s ears by singing her favorite lullaby, which goes, to various tunes:
“Bye low, bye low!
Bye low, bye low!
Deedle dee, deedle dee!
Bye low, bye low!”
Editor’s Note: “I’m a Dutchman” is slang said after describing something that is obviously not true.