Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

October 15, 2001

Lucy vs. Science

I am an enemy of science. My high school physics teacher used to keep me far, far away from the helium tank. Even now, I can’t help myself when I think about pipettes and beakers. Grrr.

About a week ago, Lucy participated in a study run by the University of Washington. Researchers there are trying to figure out how babies find lost objects. The data are mixed. Some studies have shown that babies can remember where toys are hidden, even months later. Others have shown that babies can’t find toy that was tucked under a napkin while they watched, the poor dears.

This particular study was trying to determine what would make an infant remember the location of a toy, and what would make her forget.

None of that mattered to me.

Once I learned the study was about finding things, all I really cared about was that Lucy won. My child would not be a science loser like me. Never mind that there aren't winners and losers in this (unless you look at it as though Team Science is playing against Team Ignorance).

Even though I do my best to be a relaxed mother, I found myself quickly going bonkers at the thought of Lucy in a test situation.

I told everyone who came in contact with Lucy to help pump up her finding skills. “Pump her up!” I said, “Pump, pump her up!”

The cats responded immediately, and did their best to hide themselves as soon as Lucy came waddling toward them. Of course, this is pretty much what they always do when they see her.

Adam, possibly because he’s too large to hide behind the couch, was more methodical. He took out three leftover birthday hats and the head from her rubber giraffe, and played a sort of shell game with Lucy. She was really bad at it, and after failing to locate the giraffe head, she toddled off to her easel and started scribbling.

It was as if she was saying, “I’m an artist, dammit! Not a scientist. And that giraffe head is a little too Godfather, if you know what I mean.”

Lucy’s lack of passion for finding things left me feeling a little nervous the day the test — I mean, the scientific study — arrived. I didn’t want her to be late, so I packed her into her car seat early and took the long way there. I’d memorized the directions, because I didn’t want Lucy to be the only one who had to find things that day. And, I must say, I found the office very, very well.

Only I couldn’t find the door to get in. This made my heart bang in my chest. It was banging so hard I was worried I’d wake up Lucy, who had taken advantage of the long car ride to sink into what appeared to be a light coma.

The first door I tried was locked. It must be a trick! Some sort of twisted Mensa puzzle to keep stupid parents from showcasing their smart babies. I just knew it. And then I noticed a sign that said, “If this door is locked, use the back entrance.”

I’ve done this sort of thing enough before to know that the back entrance is the one on the other side of the building from the front entrance. I walked around the building and, lo! There it was.

Then came the next hurdle. There was a buzzer at the door, and several groups were listed. I knew this wasn’t the depression study or the marijuana study, so I dialed the number for the infant study. And then I hung up the phone and dialed again, for I had forgotten to dial the # sign first.

A man answered.

“Lucy Berliant is here for the study,” I said.

“Come on up,” he replied.

“Aren’t you going to buzz me in?” I said.

“No,” he said. “The door is already open.”

I had no idea this study was going to be so hard. We successfully made it upstairs using the elevator. I even managed to push the correct button the first time. So what if there were only three floors? I found the button that said 3, and I pushed it. I was winning.

Soon, we were upstairs. I was relieved to see that Lucy was still asleep. Relieved, that is, until I remembered that she would have to be awake to find things.

I didn’t let this setback flummox me. Lucy is a terrible napper. She wakes up when a fly bonks a window in the house next door. Any second now, I told the scientist, Lucy will perk right up.

She didn’t, though. She lay on the couch in the full crucifixion pose, with her hands pointing east and west. Her chest rose and fell. She snored lightly (and intelligently, I noted). The scientist asked me to stop touching her, as sometimes a mother’s presence will keep an infant asleep.

I took my hand away, cursing myself, and cursing science.

But still, she slept.

Then the scientist started asking me how Lucy generally slept. He’s on to me, I thought. He knows that I am an incompetent nap enforcer. He probably knows that Lucy didn’t sleep through the night until she was 1, and that sometimes, she wakes up and Adam and I let her scream and cry as long as 30 minutes.

Breathe, breathe, I told myself. And then I said to the scientist, “She isn’t really a great sleeper.”

“But,” I added, “She knows a lot of words. She eats vegetables. And she likes books.”

The scientist regarded me kindly and said something. I’m not quite sure what, because I stopped listening when he said, “She wouldn’t be growing if she weren’t getting enough sleep.”

I chose not to mention that Lucy is very tiny for her age. I didn’t want to have to report myself to Child Protective Services.

After the scientist turned on all the lights and opened the door so that a blast of wind from the air conditioner enveloped Lucy, she finally came to. But the only thing she wanted to find was my nipple, so we had to wait a few minutes until she was able to make her contribution to science.

All told, Lucy did pretty well during this two-day study. She found the frog and the lamp. She found the book, and she found the dancing bears. She was much less confused than I was when they hid the Andy doll and the paper goose on the second day. She couldn’t figure out that the rubber baby was under the napkin, but that’s because Adam used a giraffe head and party hats. After it was all done, the scientist said he was impressed with her vocabulary and her ability to focus on two-dimensional objects.

But I think that was a nice way for him to say, “Your baby couldn’t find her head inside a hat."

After that, Lucy and I found our way outside. It hasn’t moved, so that was a pretty easy task. As we were walking toward the car, I noticed that Lucy had made her way to her favorite spot: my left hip. She was hanging on me like a little monkey — and not a diaper-wearing, sign-language performing monkey that was part of any experiment. She was a happy monkey, content to have found a place where she felt safe, but could see the world.

I may be no science genius, but I think Lucy has found everything she really needs for right now.

Except, maybe, the secret to taking a good nap.


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