A few weeks ago, I made a brief trip to our pediatrician’s office. The weather outside was brutal, one of the few really cold days we suffered this winter, and everyone inside looked haggard, except for the babies. They clucked and cooed and wailed. The one nearest me just kept repeating, “Ba! Ba! Ba!”
I was waiting in line to talk to the receptionist and could not help but look at this babbling kid and the thought just sort of came to me that both my babies—my wife and I had fraternal twin boys—are cuter than this baby. And that sort of got me started. The next thing I knew, I was killing time by looking at all the babies and children, coming and going, and stacking them up against my Jack and Eli.
I looked at boys around two and three and another girl around five and a newborn set of boy-girl twins and they all just kind of blurred together—appealing, in their way, but non-descript. A parent emerged from the backroom with a little girl in her arms, bundled against the cold they were about to forge into, and I took a good look at her and thought, “All right! Now here’s a baby.” And there she was, maybe five months old, with big blue eyes, and I looked at her, completely prepared to give her the crown in the unofficial little pageant going on in my head, but when I settled in and got a good peek, well, I don’t know how else to put it: I wasn’t impressed.
I mean, she was perfectly competent, as babies go. She had a kind of winsome charm. Gleeful eyes, round rosy cheeks, hypnotic smiles. Lots of babies have those. And she did, too. But my babies, frankly, have got it going on a way I never expected. I mean, I think my wife is beautiful but I did not project us to have what I call commercial-grade babies. What I mean by this is we’ve got a couple of Gerber babies on our hands, babies who define the essence of babieness—as in, they-oughta-be-in-pictures babies.
Now, this might sound like typical parent talk. I mean, all parents think their baby is the cutest, but here’s the difference: I’m a reporter. I’m trained to be objective. And our babies—they’re less like human beings than magic elves from some enchanted land. Eli has eyelashes as long as a butterfly’s wings. He smells like warm cookies. And he has this way of looking at you, sober and serious but warm, that just kind of conveys wisdom and understanding—like you don’t even have to tell him your secrets because he already knows what they are. When he’s 30, he’ll be the dude his whole circle comes to for advice and every girl knows is marriage material.
And Jack? Jack’s got this way of smirking— jaunty, knowing, confident but not overbearing. When he is 30, he will be the sort of guy who walks into the bar and picks a girl and—boom!—she’s going home with him. And the other guy, who had been standing there talking to this same girl, he’ll look at Jack and just—understand. Hell, he won’t even begrudge Jack the finest Philly in the herd because—guys don’t normally say this sort of thing out loud—but they know it when a better stud walks in the room. And, well, that’s Jack. He’ll do this sort of thing so often that he’ll get really good at it, so good he can order the guy he just bested a beer in a way that’s so casual, so charismatic—the dude won’t even feel bought.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is, like, satire or something. Volk—that’s me—is sending up all the parents he’s encountering now, who are convinced their babies are the utmost in beautiful. But, really, I am not joshing you here. This is not satire. I am not making this up. Your babies, I hate to be the one to tell you, are perfect—as in perfectly ordinary—and smell of sour milk. When they wail and scream it’s so unpleasant it shaves a minute or two off the lifespan of everyone within earshot. But my babies bear the perfectly symmetrical faces of the cherub. When they cry, they do so in warm bursts—reminiscent of Mozart or birdsong.
And no, there is no punchline coming. No line where I wink at you, dear reader, with your homely child, and say just kiddin’. Because I am a reporter. And of all the things people said would happen when the babies were born, losing all objectivity is the one thing I absolutely knew would never, ever happen. I mean, my babies are awesome. But not so awesome that they’ve compromised my judgment.
Steve Volk is Philadelphia magazine’s senior writer. A new dad to twin boys, he blogs about the ups and downs of modern-day fatherhood on Be Well Philly. Read the series from the beginning.