My Son, the Lab Rat

[Baby Watch: Day 157]

We got a letter in the mail from a prestigious local university seeking participants for a study on infant cognitive development. Being the curious type, and having nothing better to do, I thought it could be a unique and amusing adventure, so I signed up.

Here’s how I envisioned it playing out:

We’d show up and the researchers would say, “So I assume your dummy child just drools all over himself and that’s basically it, right?” And I’d say, “No siree, Bob!” And then Oliver would solve complex math algorithms and do handstands while reciting passages from Canterbury Tales.

Here’s how it actually played out:

Oliver woke up 2 full hours earlier than normal. Because of course he did. He did this because he hates me. So, at 4:30am he was happily screeching like a howler monkey from his crib, full of life and ready to start his day. Our midday appointment time made a 4:30 wake-up time . . . . rather unwise. But we could always make it up with a hearty morning nap.

Next . . . you guessed it . . . Oliver refused a morning nap. Our fate was sealed. The day would be a total loss. Stubbornly, I refused to reschedule the appointment, and instead plowed forth with the jackass mindset of “Once we’re in public, he’ll be so interested to see new things that he’ll be engaged and well-behaved.” You read that correctly. I, a college educated adult, assumed that, once we were within eyeshot of other human people, my son would suddenly, for the very first time in his life, act like a perfect little angel.

I’ll pause a moment while other parents LOL their faces off at my naivety. Sleep deprivation and sound deductive logic do not go hand in hand.

On we went with our morning – all the usual playing and eating and puking and pooping and crying. As the time came to get him ready to go, I realized his fingernails were pretty long (and dagger sharp), so I decided to give them a quick snip. “Quick” being the unfortunate part of that sentence. In my haste I accidentally hacked off a sizable chunk from his right thumb. Because of course I did. And then he bled.

And he bled.

And he bled.

He bled practical joke amounts of blood as though he was rigged to some sort of blood spurting machine for an SNL skit. And obviously it took me a good 30 seconds to notice it, by which time he had smeared it all over his yellow shirt, the white changing pad cover, the tan stuffed monkey he was grasping, the green wall and (my favorite part) his face. One minute I’m trimming a cute little boy’s nails. The next minute he’s prepping himself to be an extra in Braveheart 2. (To be fair, his war cry is rather advanced for his age.)

After tending to his thumb and cleaning the mess, I resumed preparation to leave, only to discover Oliver the Baby Cannibal gnawing on his bandaged hand. He’s been working on eating some mushy baby foods, but I didn’t want his first solid food to be a gauzy choking hazard, so I took it off of him, made sure he had stopped bleeding, then put him in his crib with some toys to play for a few minutes while I got myself dressed and ready to be around other human adults. When I came back I found that he’d whacked his hand on a plastic toy hard enough and often enough to reopen the cut on his thumb and that it had now been bleeding unattended for upwards of 10 minutes. (I had to make sure my hair was juuuuust right.)

Several of his favorite toys, both hard plastic toys and stuffed animals, were completely covered in blood stains. I learn new things about my son every day; today I learned that he can create crime scene cribs like a baby Jackson Pollock in less time than it takes me to don pants. Let nobody claim that Oliver doesn’t put blood, sweat, and tears into his art.

Having completely had it, and now running seriously late to a COMPLETELY VOLUNTARY STUDY, I quickly stripped the crib, threw the toys in a “need to be de-bloodied” pile, and changed his clothes; this time I wised up and put him in a solid red outfit to hide any future blood stains. (The Revolutionary War taught me something!) I also decided to prevent any additional chewing on his new Band-aid by leaving his arm inside his shirt like a baby straight-jacket. He obviously hated this, but I’d long since passed the point of caring. Let the record show, in the Hemmings household, if you get blood on Sophie the Giraffe, you will be physically restrained within your own shirt. It has been decreed.

Eventually I made it to the study, damaged and dog-tired baby in tow. The entire thing was supposed to be 30 minutes tops. (Spoiler alert: IT WAS MORE THAN 30 MINUTES!) There were two parts, one studying cognitive development, the other studying language.

In the cognitive development study, Oliver was shown images (that looked like they were created in a 3rd grade graphic design class) on a TV screen and they recorded how long he looked at them. I mean, they were literally pixelated circles lollygagging around the screen like a roving gang of homeless shapes, out in the streets looking to stir up trouble. A few times a lion’s face confusingly flashed on the screen, which I can only assume was a pro-Cecil, anti-dentist political statement? I’ll let you guess which happened with more frequency – either A.) Oliver stared at the screen with a burning intensity, or B.) Oliver glanced back at me with a raised eyebrow, essentially asking, “Why did we have to drive all the way down here to watch the lamest TV show ever when we were perfectly happy watching Caddyshack II at home?”

In the language study, a green circle flashed on a computer screen while various sounds and words were played for Oliver to react to (i.e. not react to). The problem was, each “word” was said in a monotone voice about 45 times continuously. “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.” “DEEE-BO.”

And following each “word,” Winnie the Pooh would come on the screen, tell us his name, giggle, then run into a bush, at which point the next sound would start. “PAAA-COO.” “PAAA-COO.” “PAAA-COO.” “PAAA-COO.” “PAAA-COO.” “PAAA-COO.” “PAAA-COO.” “PAAA-COO.” After a VERY short amount of time I became completely convinced that the study was actually to see how long it would take to persuade an otherwise sane adult to commit a homicide. (The answer is two minutes.)

Eventually I tried to think of the words as a kind of calming, zen-like experience. “DEEEEEEEEEEEE-BO.” Breathe in. “DEEEEEEEEEEEE-BO.” Breathe out. It must’ve started to work too well, because the girl conducting the study interrupted, saying, “ I figured your baby probably had enough,” at which point I realized that Oliver had vomited on himself while I had my eyes closed.

After quickly completing some forms and questionnaires about what words Oliver can speak and / or understand (“Does he know the word ‘flower?’” “No.” “Does he know the word ‘cloud?’” “No.” “Does he know the word ‘aardvark?’” “Lady, he’s literally zero years old.”), he and I fled the premises like we’d stolen something. Technically we hadn’t, but as compensation for our participation they did give me the choice of an “I’m a Scientist” infant t-shirt or a baby book of wild animals; I asked if I could have both, and they agreed, so I feel like we made out pretty well. (I am the world’s easiest person to bribe; my murder for hire business folded after I began accepting pudding as payment.)

With our door prizes in hand we left, bloodied, bored and beaten. Oliver slept the whole way home and an additional two hours. In 6 months to 1 year, I will be receiving information on the results of the study. I’m fully expecting formal notification regarding Oliver’s classification as a child prodigy, accompanied by an invitation to train to be a new member of the X-men. (Drooling while staring is a mutant super-power, right?)

Until then, Oliver and I will patiently bide our time . . . . DEEEEEEEE-BO . . . DEEEEEEEE-BO . . . DEEEEEEEE-BO . . . DEEEEEEEE-BO . . . . . . .

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