Being with a baby during self-isolation


My daughter is going to celebrate her first birthday next week …  in isolation! Good thing that she will never remember it.

I am a French expat in the Netherlands and am in a bit of a peculiar position as my partner is a cardiologist in Breda, the epicentre of the Coronavirus in the Netherlands. Therefore, every day he needs to go to work and some nights he needs to sleep at the hospital. We could put our daughter at the nursery, as they allow it when one of the two parents work at a hospital,  but we have decided that it does not make sense. We could be carriers of the disease and pass it on to the children and the staff members of the nursery, who will share it with even more people. My partner had 3 colleagues who caught the virus and one of them is someone he works with very closely. We do not want to take any risks.   

So, I get to spend all the hours of the day with my daughter, this wonderful human being, whom I love more than anything else in the world! And after 24 hours of confinement; 24 hours of sharing this bubble of devotion with my darling baby, I have already came to this loving conclusion that I could never be a stay at home mother. I knew that before, but now it has become even clearer. 

All day long I am alternating  between the two songs « if you are happy and you know it clap your hands » with a bit of Carmen’s opera ( she loves the song « avec la garde montante » or at least I think she does), the general whinging and the whining here and there, and the food everywhere. 

During her moanings and naps, I try to work. When she is awake, either I have my conference calls with her in my arms, or I put her in the stroller and we go for looooong walks, like this she does not interrupt the conversation. But most of the time, it is impossible to concentrate. She will not allow me to focus on anything else than her. It is even tricky to prepare food ( why don’t I like sandwiches?!)
Now do not think my daughter is more difficult than the average child.  Because she is not. She is just a baby who is unable to understand the concept of work. 

I feel that I am disappointing everybody:  her, my work. I am constantly multitasking. In other words, everything is half done and mediocrely delivered.  But in this situation what I think is really tricky is to engage in meaningful conversations with my bebe. 

Having a conversation with a baby

My mum fascinates me – she can chat up a storm with anyone, even a baby. And I’m not talking about dull topics like the weather…Oh non, this French upper-class lady has no qualms engaging an infant in a one-way “debate”.

– “Bébé, what do you think about the coronavirus” She asked.

– “Argh bbbbbbb” Bébé replied, still recovering from the trauma of being squeezed out from a vagina.

-“I completely agree! We are living in strange times. My favorite son (She only has one son), who is an extraordinary doctor acclaimed by everybody (little bit exaggerated), has explained to me that the danger of this virus lies in the numbers; it is more contagious than the normal flu, and it can kill in less than 24 hours.”

Bébé interrupts her by throwing up a bit of milk.

-“Oh oui, you are so right. And thank god it does not harm babies,” she said, gently wiping down Bébé’s face while adding, “How vulgar to be seen fighting for paper toilet!” (she always reverses the two words.)
“And what is Macron doing about this? Tell me!
How is he helping the hospitals who are in normal times already lacking in human resources and financial support? He has despised them for years!
And what are your thoughts on the ethical question that the doctors need to make: let the elderly people die in order to save others?”

Bébé starts crying and my mother obviously assumes that she went too far by posing this fundamental question of life to an infant (she sincerely believes a baby can understand everything, hence this serious moral questioning).

This kind of mono/dialogue done in an exaggerated high-pitched voice can go on for hours, leaving both parties sincerely satisfied – and me utterly astonished. 

Because I just can’t do that … I am unable to share my trail of thoughts out loud with an interlocutor who does not respond back, who cannot hit back with counterattacks.
I know some mothers are enthralled by this baby stage. I think it is quite boring – I only say “quite” to not make me look like a terrible mother. 

I need a sort of intellectual battle with my interlocutor and that is why I like how Hegel defines dialectics.

Hegel’s definition of dialectics

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) is a German philosopher considered to be the hardest to understand. Rumor says that German scholars study his books in French, as the French translation is easier to grasp. Indeed, the German he uses is too complex even for such highly educated Teutonics.

Anyways, once these scholars have finished spending hours crying over his text and deciphering his grammar and theories, they can finally translate them back into a language comprehensible to the masses. Upon reading them, we will finally understand why we all should bow down to this misogynistic genius.

Hegel says philosophy’s goal is to “think life”. But “thinking life” is so complex; things are so constantly in flux that you need a concept to grasp this perpetual movement – and that is how he defines dialectics. 

Dialectics was formerly illustrated as the art of discussion following the mental process of thesis,  anthesis, and summing up these two contradictory arguments into a synthesis. Hegel holds dialectics to a high regard; it is the means through which we realize that we are not animals.

Hegel believed that man is born twice: first as a living being and second time as a spiritual being. To become this spiritual being; to understand that we are not animals but a conscience, we need to prouve to the others that we are not beasts. We need their recognition – and this recognition can only be gotten through a battle; a conversational battle. 

And that is why my mother’s talent is to be admired even more. While I still consider my baby as a primitive, yet adorable animal, she has elevated my daughter to a spiritual being. But for me she is still like a little feline.

My daughter is like a cat 

She cries to be picked up, then 3 seconds later wants to be put down – just like my cat, Mao, always indecisive about whether he wants to stay in or out. My daughter and my bengal, still have not learned how to control their frustration: both would show their little canines; they both yell when they are hungry; and they both adorably need and demand snuggles. My heart melts when I feel their little heads press against my body, seeking kisses. The only difference that I can note between these two is that my daughter doesn’t sleep too much. 

Even though, I still consider my daughter as an animal, this self-isolation is already changing me. I have started to become my mother. Yes, I have begun monologuing all day long at these two other beings who still do not give me any coherent sentences in response. But at the end of this confinement, I am sure they will both talk back at me. And perhaps they will tell me to shut up in the name of God. 

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