An Ode to Crying Babies


illustration of baby's face upturned showing mouth with one tooth wailing giant white tears on orange background
Tim Lahan

Crying baby, I hear you.

I’ve got no choice but to hear you. You’re 10 rows ahead of me in Economy, raging like Lear on the heath. Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! You’re challenging the gods, the elements, the injustice of life. You may also have gas.

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Who is by your side as you arraign the universe? Who is with you at this ultimate moment? Lear had his Fool, and you have your parents. Wan, stretched, stooping presences. They loom over you uncertainly. Exhaustedly. Most horrible, with the last of their energy, they bicker : Even as they attend to you, they’re saying quiet, vile things to each other. If they get divorced, crying baby, it’s your fault.

But listen: I appreciate you. I appreciate your outspokenness. These bodies we’re in, they’re not always the greatest, are they? They itch, they sting, they ache, they bloat, they overheat. They feel weird. They get tired. They make us grumpy. (Which is, now that I think about it, another thing I appreciate about you: The old mind-body binary does not apply. You’re all mood. Or all physicality. Your digestive system and your emotional life are basically the same thing.)

I once lived with a crying baby. He’s 20 now. I used to come home from my job as a night baker at three in the morning, do a shot of whiskey, and fall into bed. An hour later he would wake me with his crying. I’d flounder out of bed, stumble toward his crib, and—quite often—faint. Bam! Out cold on the floor. Low blood pressure, as it turned out. Plus, you know, no sleep. The voice of the crying baby would wrench me imperiously from one form of oblivion to another.

Anyway—keep it up, little tyrant. You’ve got a lot of power, and no power at all. You’re a tiny fist shaken at the heavens. Soon you’ll be talking, and language will betray you. You’ll say vague, helpless things and make bad jokes. But right now your protest is very direct, very effective. It’s going right through my head.

This article appears in the November 2022 print edition.