In the dark days of Sam’s first month, back when I wondered whether the diaper existed that could contain him, his principal redeeming feature was his infant semaphore. Startle Reflex occurs when babies instinctively raise their hands. Because they don’t yet recognize their own limbs, they’re frightened. I was tickled by his ‘what the...?’ expression as well as the idea of infants scaring themselves with their own arms.
Babies’ startle reflexes are totally natural; just as when the doctor boings your knee with a rubber hammer. For some reason, I always giggle at that too. Maybe I’m the immature one here, not my boy. Back then I used to watch Sam sleeping, occasionally freaking himself out like a stoner watching a looped horror movie. Only later did I recognize that it was me who was crazy, the lunatic adult who sat rapt on the edge of the bed, chuckling quietly as his tiny son raised his arms aloft like a footballer encouraging fans.
In his fourth month, I marvelled at his developing dexterity, his growing strength. Though he quickly became accustomed to his arms and no longer scared himself, the sudden two-handed salutes continued. I wondered what he was thinking, my tiny son venturing into his embryonic imagination – I imagined an event, an arena, and Sam rising intermittently to join a Mexican Wave amid a roaring crowd that only he could hear.
At five months old, he still naps occasionally with both arms raised over his head, as if surrendering to sleep. But he’s graduated from the startle reflex, in which his empty hands appear unexpectedly. Now the problem is what’s in his hands. Although Sam can pick up objects with the grip of a Burmese python, he has yet to master releasing anything. I watched him today, impassively gnawing Zoe the plastic giraffe. He drooled on her little nubbly antlers, wrapped a slimy paw around her nose and bit her foot. Giraffe feet are probably a delicacy somewhere in the world. Pig’s trotters are big in the Deep South, I’m told, so imagine what kind of cachet a giraffe offers for bigger game eaters.
Sam eventually tired of the chewtoy snack and tossed it aside with the casual profligacy of a drunken Mississippi gambler. Only he didn’t. Because his release isn’t perfected, a tightly-gripped giraffe appeared immediately in front of him. He stuck his lower lip out and looked at me desperately. I picked him up and nuzzled him and told him he was a good fellow and that a giraffe in the hand was worth two in the bush. It was the least I could do. After all, where else am I going to find a home entertainment system like this. I can’t wait till he discovers his feet.