By Janice Bagawi-Cabahit
Ubbog Cordillera Writers

YOU'VE never heard pure delight until you’ve heard a grandmother laughing at the antics of her newborn grandchild; and, you’ve never seen sheer bliss until you’ve seen a grandfather’s face glowing at the baby grinning back at him.

When you see and hear those, you can be sure that babies are magical creatures. They bring out in us raw and undiluted emotions that we would rarely display openly to fellow grown-ups.

When my daughter, Ananda, was just a few months old, she’d fuss and whimper as soon as she sees her grandfather. The whimper would evolve into a full wail if he takes her in his arms. That went on for a few months. One time, in an attempt to bring down the wailing, my father asked Ananda, “Why do you cry so? What do you think would I do to you?”

To his own question, he replied, “I will do nothing but love you because you are my apo.”

To have drawn out such words from a man so taciturn with his emotions that he was never heard speaking the L-word to his wife and children—that is certainly magic.

What I call “magic” the psychologist Carl Rogers calls “congruence”. He posits that babies have congruence in their thoughts, feelings, and actions. To clarify that, he gives an example: when babies feel hungry, they think they are hungry, and thus act hungry by crying out for food.

I agree that this is rarely true for adults who, for instance, feel hungry and a) know they are hungry but refuse the food offered them because they want to look sexy or something; or, b) refuse to admit they are hungry because the food offered them doesn’t appeal to their palate; or, c) etc.

Because adults could rarely be defined as having congruence, they are attracted to babies who are, by nature, congruent. I have closely observed this attraction to babies when I had one of my own. I have seen how friends, neighbors, and strangers almost tangibly and without warning shed their shells of self and indifference whenever they approach my baby.

It seems that we aren’t only attracted to babies but also, without knowing it, take on congruence when we are near them. We have a friend who is very self-conscious of his looks which, he’s sure, is less than handsome. He wouldn’t join any of our games, no matter how exhilarating they promised to be, if they involved anything that made one look silly, funny, or ugly. Yet, when playing with Ananda, even when there are other people around, he readily makes silly faces and funny noises to make her laugh. And he doesn’t seem to mind that she isn’t the only one laughing at his antics.

It is heart-warming when friends come at your baby with puckered lips and crinkled noses and make high-pitched akoocheekoochee noises meant to amuse her. But when the self-conscious ones do so, it is downright touching.

Two doors from our house, I often pass by a man whose life, or what I observe of it, closely echoes mine. For one, he has a kid attached to him like a barnacle to a whale. Whenever I pass by their house, he’d be doing laundry or hanging tiny clothes on the line to dry, or bed sheets that, I imagine, were the latest victim of a bed-wetting incident. All the time his two-ish toddling boy is never far from him.

That is so the story of my life—except for the part where Ananda isn’t toddling yet so she’s strapped to me with an uban.

I gather that this man is a single father, since I never see anyone with the kid except him. One time, on my way to buy lutong ulam, I met him carrying a bag of the same thing on one hand and his child on the other.

There we were, like mirror images in a fun house; and then he caught my eye. “Nagrigat gayam nga agbalin nga nanang! Maymayat pay ti mapan makikabkabite,” he exclaimed with all the feelings that go with such a statement.

I smiled and we continued on our own ways. But in that brief crossing of paths, I had a rare glimpse into the soul of a stranger. It wasn’t because I had compelling, perceptive eyes (I wish!), but because the baby straddling my hip signaled to him that there is another soul who understands the weight of the onus of bringing up a child alone.

To draw out in us, especially in strangers, our side that we tenaciously guard against others’ judgment—that is certainly magic.

(To be continued)(/I)