Warning: This poem contains parental angst and fake smiles. It's mostly fluff though.
"The Beginning of Love"
[Thursday, October 2, 2014]
Mallory came downstairs to find
Heron making faces at the baby.
Nestled in a blanket on the couch,
Dairinne frowned and fussed at him.
"What are you doing?" Mallory asked.
"I'm showing Dairinne how to smile,"
Heron said, grimacing again.
"That is not a smile!" Mallory said.
"Look, you're upsetting her."
"I know, I know," Heron said,
slumping in place. "I'm so bad
at this, but I can't help it."
"You're a terrible actor,"
Mallory agreed. "Why
are you even trying?"
Heron looked down.
"Babies need to see smiles,
or they have a hard time learning
how and when to do it," he said softly.
"The children of depressed parents are
less responsive, because depressed people
don't smile or show other emotions much."
"That doesn't mean you have to do it."
"There's that quote, you know --
'Let us always meet each other with
a smile, for a smile is the beginning of love.'
I think it's good advice," Heron said, then
sighed. "It just doesn't fit me very well."
Mallory rolled her eyes. "Heron,
I think that you fell in love with
Dairinne the day we met."
"Okay, you got me," he said,
eyes twinkling with affection.
"She wrapped me right around
her little finger, didn't she?"
"Yep, you're a goner,"
Mallory declared. "Now
watch me do it the right way."
"Sure, go ahead," Heron said.
"Look, Dairinne," said Mallory
as she grinned at her daughter.
"Woohoo, Mommy's happy!"
Dairinne waved her hands
and gurgled a reply.
"Aww, Mommy's said,"
Mallory said as she
made a weepy face.
Dairinne scrunched again.
"Grr, angry Mommy!"
said Mallory, making
claws with her hands.
"I'm gonna getcha!"
and kicked her legs.
"Look, tragicomic Mommy!"
said Mallory, twisting her face
up and down at the same time.
"Truth in advertising!"
Dairinne looked confused.
"Well duh," Mallory said.
"I'm making faces. Babies
love watching faces."
"Not this young," Heron said.
"It takes a few months for them
to learn expressions from other people
and start making their own on purpose.
At this age, it should be strictly reflexive,
and it's really not. It's precocious."
"So we made a smart baby,"
Mallory said with a shrug.
"That may be more true
than you realize," Heron said.
"I think that between your abilities
and mine -- and all the checking
we did during the pregnancy --
Dairinne is already attuned to us."
"Okay, what does that mean?"
Mallory said, tipping her head.
"I don't know," Heron whispered.
"Well, you told me once that you don't
feel a need to shout your emotions
because Molly always knew what you
were feeling," Mallory said. "How did
that affect her when she was a baby?"
"I have no idea," Heron said, spreading
his hands. "I wasn't even born yet!"
"So ask your parents," Mallory said.
"I bet they'll remember, and that might
give us ideas on how to handle Dairinne."
"She doesn't need to be handled,"
Heron protested. "She just needs
to be loved. Babies need affection,
not discipline. That comes later."
"Whatever," Mallory said. "It doesn't
matter anyway. She's here, we're here,
we'll deal with what we got. And what we
got is you, so stop shouting with your face."
"But she needs to see people smile,"
Heron said, sounding miserable.
"Dude. Look around. Dairinne has
a house full of college students and
your very expressive family to learn
smiling from," Mallory said. "She does
not need you to fake it badly for her."
Heron's shoulders scrunched
inward a few millimeters.
"I just feel like I'm doing
a terrible job," he said.
Clearly Mallory was
going about this all wrong.
"Of smiling? Yeah, you are,"
Mallory said. Then she brushed
a hand over his shoulder. "Heron,
just be yourself. It's the best example
that she could possibly have."
"I don't know ..." Heron said.
"Look, you have a quiet face,"
Mallory said. "So does Shiv, when
he's not boiling mad about something.
So do some of the veterans who hang out
with Tolli and Simon. Dairinne needs
to learn how to read quiet faces as well
as loud ones. You focus on teaching her
that, and leave the grins to the rest of us."
"You really think so?" Heron said.
He looked so insecure that Mallory
wanted to hug him, so she did.
"I know so," Mallory said. "I may be
confused about a lot of things in my life,
but not about this. You're a great father,
Heron. Relax and enjoy it. Stop trying
to be like anyone else's idea of a parent.
Just be yourself, and trust that you are
the best role model Dairinne could have."
Mallory felt overwhelmed most of the time,
but she hadn't realized how often
Heron must feel the same way.
He always seemed so together,
it was easy to forget that he was as
new to the whole parenting thing
as Mallory herself was.
"I'll work on it," Heron said,
and his face finally relaxed
into his normal expression.
Mallory smiled, and then
the corners of Heron's eyes
crinkled just a little bit.
"See, there it is," she said,
cupping his cheek with a hand.
"You have a tiny smile. It stays in
your eyes most of the time, because
your joy doesn't make big waves."
"And that's enough?" Heron said.
"I can prove it," Mallory said.
"You think that Dairinne is
responding to us, right?"
"I'm pretty sure, yes,"
Heron said with a nod.
"Daddy is calm."
And Dairinne smiled.
* * *
"Let us always meet each other with a smile, for a smile is the beginning of love."
-- Mother Teresa
Smiling at babies is important for their development. If the caregiver is not expressive, that upsets most infants. Babies of depressed mothers or fathers are less responsive and more prone to behavior problems.
Portraying emotions is the root of good acting. Here is a list of emotions to practice, and a sample video. The Meisner technique and method acting are among the ways of portrayal. However, authenticity is essential both in acting and in everyday life; looking fake is a sign of a bad actor. Faking emotions can also take an emotional toll. On the other hoof, some people find that it builds emotional intelligence. Drama therapy can improve theory of mind, empathy, and emotional regulation. Learn how to show real emotion when acting by mastering your facial expressions. Exercises such as charades can help actors learn these skills.
Compare strong vs. subtle expressions. Subtlety can be an important part of acting. Subtle expressions often appear with low affect, which can have many causes. However, some people are just naturally reserved. It's essential to understand how to communicate with people who emote less.
Precocious behavior in infants can show early signs of giftedness. Read more about parenting very young gifted children.