Language. One of the things I love about my academic training in linguistics is that knowing about language often pops up as something useful or revealing. Here's what took me by surprise in this case as I strolled around our neighborhood: Moms and babysitters and nannies, who used to push strollers in pairs and chat between themselves, now push strollers alone and talk into mid-air. Cell phone conversations are prevalent in the stroller-pushing set, and they change the nature of the language and linguistic interaction that babies hear and experience. Just listen to normal "parentese" and you hear slow talk, long drawn-out vowels, repetition, high pitch, simple grammar, and lots of inflection. Many of these elements help babies learn language. This is not cell-phone chatter, which is one-sided, disengaged, truncated, and begs for context to make any sense. That doesn't help babies much. Even two-way conversations between adults, while different from one-on-one talk with small children, offer a relative wealth of information about body language, style, engagement, reinforcement, etc. that are missing in one-sided cell-phone talk.
I don't want to make too much of this; after all, how much of babies' or small children's time is spent in the company of an adult who is in phantom conversation? Nonetheless, it is something to notice. One way of taking a walk with a baby is akin to turning on the TV or background music—it provides relief for the caretaker and some form of distraction or engagement for the child. Another way of taking a walk is to talk to her about the world around her—the planes flying overhead; the raindrops shaking loose from the trees; the bumpy ride along the sidewalk; the shadows from the clouds; the trucks, dogs, other strollers, joggers, workmen, bikes, and on and on.
Technology. A quick catalogue of support, gear, and technology for daily life with kids. Please try to remember or imagine the day without the riches of Internet, recording systems, DVD players, or videos-on-demand (although there was a balcony level crying room for babies-and-parents at our local theater, which has since become a CVS pharmacy). Back then, collapsible strollers occasionally collapsed onto children, particularly when traversing sidewalk curbs, and there were no changing tables in public places. Recommendations came solely by word-of-mouth for kid-friendly places to meet, products to purchase, and childcare, as did advice on behavior, activities, hormones, moods, doctors, etc. That is the world today's young parents were raised in, even if they don't remember.
The accumulation of changes is staggering. I found that once I had mastered the array of snaps, levers, buttons, straps, and assembly routines, the total effect made for a much easier and more versatile texture of everyday life with children. My personal favorite is improved diaper effectiveness. I can imagine how digital resources, which have transformed my adult life, would transform life as a parent.
Two final lessons learned. The first was trivial but fun: I didn't need to worry about missing the gym classes. Tending a one-year-old is a total-body workout and bonus weight-loss program. It builds strong biceps and quads, and it melts away 2 pounds per week. Guaranteed.
The second was delightful: Occasionally in life, the chance to experience something essential and exquisite comes along. For me, this time with Jack was one of them. Time stopped and everything else was eclipsed.