Babies: Worth the Pain?

January 1, 2011 at 11:26 am, by

First off, happy new year!

Now, onto business: I just saw Babies (the movie). It’s from the people who did March of the Penguins, but this one has less dialogue. And quite frankly, this was probably the grossest movie I’ve ever seen, which means that either I need to get out more or this film really should have been rated NC-17 for graphic images of babies.

Cursing and drugs aside, this movie had it all: nipples, genitalia, buttocks, umbilical cords, defecation, urination, food-on-the-face, drool-on-the-face, snot-on-the-face, breast-feeding, breast-milk-on-the face, haircuts, scalp-scraping (at least I think that’s what it was), minor baby injuries, babies-in-the-face, animal-gutting, animals-in-the-face, and more. By about half an hour into the film, I decided that I had finally become hard-skinned enough to go see Black Swan.

If you can’t tell yet, I’m not quick to find all babies unconditionally adorable all the time.

There are a lot of cute babies out there, but my reaction to a baby with snot on its face is similar to my reaction to a teenager with snot on its face: I can be sympathetic under certain circumstances, but I might be slightly grossed out under a greater number of certain circumstances. That being said, I’m mentally in a stage where I’m still trying to get past the gross stuff (for example, fluids-on-the-face) and, considering that babies often (when I see them anyway) have the potential to be found in a gross scenario most hours of the day, it is hard for me to answer whether or not I find babies cute.

I find clean babies cute. Babies during gross moments though? My answer is the same as the answer the Jewish theologian Franz Rozenzweig gave regarding whether or not he wears straps of Tefillin during daily morning prayer: “Not yet.”

So, how do I get from point A to point B? I imagine that one day I’ll want to deal with babies in a fatherly fashion, and I will want to think of them as cute.

Fortunately, I like to think of my Jewish practice and the Jewish wisdom that I’ve inherited as a positive force that can give me hope in life—even for a hope as ridiculous as: I hope I don’t consider my own (future) kids gross if they spend many youthful hours basking in the glory of mucus, spit and some third unidentifiable fluid, each simultaneously dripping down their face, into their mouth, and into their digestive system. I want to be at a point where I will think of those babies as both cute and in need of many napkins. If I want to happily fulfill the classic command of “Peru urvu” (“Be fruitful and multiply”) (Genesis 1:28), then I’m going to have to get used to babies.

In Pirkei Avot, Ben Hey Hey (who was probably mocked as a child for having a silly name) says, “Lefum tza’ara agra” (“The pain is equal to the reward”) (5:23): the troubles we go through in life are commensurate to the benefits we reap. I’m not sure if this is true literally, but what he suggests seems to be that good things come at a cost: like boogers (though he doesn’t mention that cost specifically). In fact, the cuteness of these kids is not eternally external. Pirkei Avot also reminds us, “Al tistakkel bakkankan ella bemah sheyyesh bo” (“Do not look at the vessel, rather at what is inside it”): we shouldn’t judge things by the way they are on the outside. The child’s awareness of the world around it, growing on the inside, is even more beautiful than the way the baby might look on the surface (slimy).

So, I’m not too worried. Yes, Babies is a disgusting movie, and nobody should watch it without several paper bags handy, but these kids aren’t mine, and I’m sure that the babies in it are adorable in their parents’ eyes. And, hey, each of these kids had some adorable moments.

But, honestly, after about half an hour of the movie, I stopped feeling vomiting sensations, and I began to adjust to the things that were grossing me out. My stomach calmed down, and my eyes found it easier to spot the cuteness of these kids.

Life takes a little adjusting. Sometimes we have to wipe away some pretty vile fluids in order to find those beautiful reflections in some of life’s deepest waters.

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