What is the one sound that resonates more than any other? What is the one sound that no one can ignore? What is the one sound that makes everyone respond viscerally, at the deepest level below conscious awareness?
A jet engine is annoying, loud, disturbing, unpleasant. Firecrackers going off can disturb your sleep and make you want to speak to those annoying neighbors about their feral children. Listening to a poorly trained violinist can make you rethink your belief in a just and merciful deity. Your Aunt Minnie’s unrelenting litany of complaints about her health has caused many a man to want to put a fork through his ear.
But there is another sound that is more cogent than any of these.
When US troops attacked a compound harboring foreign bad guys, they played loud rock music. Just learning the play list, I was ready to surrender. But there’s another sound that would have been even more likely to cause the enemy combatants to throw down their rifles.
The one sound that causes all of us to respond more quickly, more viscerally, and more emphatically than any other is that of a baby crying.
Even if the baby is not yours. Even if you don’t have children of your own. Even if you’re a 19-year-old fraternity pledge who couldn’t distinguish a baby from an empty pizza box. Even if you don’t particularly like babies.
The sound of a baby crying is more cogent, more compelling, more profound than fire crackers, jet engines, trucks backfiring, or your cousin Minnie with the digestive issues.
It’s not hard to understand why. In our evolutionary adaptive environment, there was an advantage to responding to the very real needs of our progeny. Those who ignored their kids were less likely to have their genes passed on to their grandchildren.
Which is not to say that while taking the trash buckets out to the curb having only told their able bodied 16-year-old son to be responsible on Monday and Thursday morning about a million times that even the most loving parent hasn’t wished that her child were devoured by a saber tooth tiger.
The tricky bit for loving parents is knowing when to set the limit, to understand that “no” is a complete sentence. Ignoring well-meaning friends who mistake permissiveness for affection is critical as well.
“How can you deny your child cake at her second birthday party?” they will ask. Rather than explain that in your home, you prefer fruit to icing, just go ahead, stand up, and do what’s right for your child. (Although I sometimes wonder if these same people just enjoy saying “you’re raising your kids wrong” no matter what you do and-were you to serve cake instead of fruit--wouldn’t object just the same. A subject for another column, perhaps.) How can you deny your 12-year-old child unlimited access to “Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, Blood, Blood, Blood, Kill, Kill, Kill?”
Easy. Watch me.
A baby’s every need should be dealt with immediately. A tired baby needs to sleep, a hungry baby needs to be fed, a wet baby needs to be changed, and a fussy baby needs to be hugged and soothed. A 12-year-old’s needs (food, clothing, shelter, affection, and camping trips with grumbling parents) must be distinguished from his wants (three hours a day of “Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, Blood, Blood, Blood, Kill, Kill,Kill.”)
Feeling that hard wired, age old empathy and addressing your baby’s every need is a good thing. Giving in to that which is damaging and dangerous for your adolescent children just so they’ll stop fussing may lead to increasing demands that can never be assuaged.