Crying Time

The art of pre-infant bonding

By Maria Johnson

Dear Future Grandchild,

I realize it’s brazen of me to write this directly to you because — as far as I know from both of my unmarried sons — you don’t exist yet.

I say “as far as I know “ because I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if one of them walked in with a small child, and I said, “Who’s this?” and he said, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? This is your grandchild. My bad. I thought I texted you.”

So let’s just assume you’re an unborn angel — and able to read (It’s a big ask, but humor me.)

Here’s what I want you to know: I want to hold you, gush over you, coo in a whispery voice to you. But there’s something going around that might make that difficult for a while: bonding.

Feel free to spit up in heaven.

Here, according to several of my friends, is how it works:

1. Your parents tell us, your grandparents-to-be, that you are on the way.

2. We, your grandparents-to-be, are beside ourselves with joy because, let’s face it, this is why we had your parents: to be able to spend time with you, our grandchild, without the responsibility of parenting. It’s like winning the Powerball of Procreation. You’ll understand one day.

3. We, the grandparents-to-be, start buying toys, clothes and other accessories for you. We marvel at the advances in baby technology. For example, back in our day, we had radio-based nursery monitors. Now, cameras allow parents to watch you on their phones, which is . . . an improvement? We recall the story of a father of our generation who went golfing while his wife was away. He took the radio monitor (range: oh, 500 feet), finished his round, and heard no sign of trouble. Until that night. This story could be apocryphal. But it’s probably not.

4. The time of your arrival nears.

5. Bing! The email arrives.

6. We, your grandparents-to-be, say: “WHAT THE **** IS A POST-PARTUM PLAN?”

7. Sorry, we promised we wouldn’t curse around you.

8. Yes, it’s a detailed plan. For the first days, weeks, or even months of your life. It spells out who’s allowed to visit, when, and for how long. It lists permissible behaviors. Taking out the trash, washing dishes and doing laundry are highly encouraged. Pets, perfumes and pathogens are out. Holding you is negotiable. Kissing you is highly unlikely. Forget pushing your stroller (which probably carries a “No Touching” sign, no joke). Like high-schoolers after try-outs, we read the list hoping to make the varsity squad: Those allowed to see you at the hospital.

9. If we don’t make the team, we’ll say what we swore we’d never say because it makes us sound too much like our own parents: “This world is going to hell.”

10. See Number 7.

11. Distraught, we, your grandparents — OK, just me, your grandmother — turns to friends to see if any of them have experienced this phenomenon.

12. “Yes,” they say, “This world is going to hell.” Then they tell stories about “smash cakes,” which are first-birthday cakes designed to be smashed by babies for video purposes, then thrown away.

Fair warning: If your parents throw away a birthday cake that’s perfectly good — save a few claw marks — the videos will show this grandmother diving into the trash after it. Hahaha, my ass.

Oops. See Number 7.

Back to bonding. According to my sources, the goal of bonding is that your parents will feel (air quote) connected enough to meet your needs and so that you will not grow up to scream “IHATEYOUIHATEYOUIHATEYOU,” which, newsflash, you’re going to do anyway, but your parents don’t know this yet, so let’s not ruin the party.

The point here is that baby ducks imprint on their parents in a few days, but you’re a human, so this whole step-away-from-the-child thing seems like a bit much.

Understand, I get the drive to attach to your newborn. On the nights my boys were born, I held them in my hospital bed and studied them fiercely, memorizing their eyes, noses, hair, ears, fingers — everything, lest we take home a stuffed animal by mistake.

Such cementing is largely due to hormones, which also usher in postpartum crying jags. Been there, too.

I get how visitors at this point can grate.

I get how new parents want to do everything right.

I get that every generation changes how they do things.

I also understand that it’s nice to have a pair of loving, experienced hands take a squalling baby so you can get a nap, or a shower, or escape to Walmart, which can seem like a dream vacation, especially if your child has colic, a condition that causes babies to cry pretty much nonstop for the first three months of their lives, for no discernible reason.

Oh, didn’t I tell you? My bad. Colic runs in our family.

Seeya soon.


Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. Contact her at

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