In their defense, I was a miserable baby.
You see, I cried. Not merely when I was hungry or tired or soiled or generally displeased about the inaccessibility of my favorite small toy animal, a wide-eyed tiger. No, I had colic: intense and frequent crying, nay screaming, doubled down with irritability, sleeplessness and a vigorous inability to be soothed by any of the arrows in the slightly uneasy new parents quiver.
And it was the 1970s.
Therefore, I officially absolve my parents from any guilt that could be mined from the following revelation: They got me drunk. Often. My mother claims I sucked down several wine-dipped pacifiers at my circumcision, and since this seemed to keep me relatively mellow as an older Jewish man cut into my genitals, they continued the practice for the first year in an attempt to abate my near-constant wailing.
That's right, you read correctly, I was a baby wino.
Picture me in skid row, waddling around in an unchanged diaper smudged with chimney soot. I hoist a baby bottle full of liquid courage to my pursed lips, and then, flush with life, finally get up the nerve to pick up some sassy building blocks I've been eying across a stale-cheerio covered bar.
This was the 1970s... somewhere between the Age of Aquarius and the Greed-is-Good decade. My generation had parents weaned on Woodstock who soon after often fell into the middle-class drag. My folks -- never really hippies -- stumbled upon the wine solution and stuck to it like Nixon to his pardon. They did so for the same reasons parents today look to sleep gurus and organic diets and baby whisperers and baby sign language systems and sleek potty-training seats gleaming white as a blistering Fjord.
And so this sodden family tale once again appeared during a recent visit from my younger sister, Lisa, and her 10-month old, Mason. The little guy never took to the pacifier, wisely sensing the reek of dangerous drink following the males of our family who dare to partake of the oh-so-sweet plastic nipple.
Even though I am a thoroughly modern parent of two daughters, both of whom can work an iPad more efficiently than most adults, my wino-baby youth has made me consider some other strategies worth revisiting, perhaps in DayGlo flashback, from the bygone decade that brought us such conceptual masterworks as the pet rock.
So these, Lisa, are my avuncular suggestions for raising Mason, my nephew, to be the hippie-est baby on the block.
1. Shag it up, baby. What's with these 21st century activity rugs with brightly colored geometric shapes and stain/spill-resistant technologies? Mason needs the multi-inch fiber pile of the shag model. Compared to the flat planes of our current carpets, a shag will allow Mason to have a "bank" of sorts: If he loses a small toy part, and feels despair, he may in later times rediscover it in the waves of rug fiber... in a time capsule to his youth.
2. Take this kid on tour. Ok, he'll never hear the Grateful Dead do "Mason's Children" (um, ok, given the lyrics... he probably shouldn't). Still, it's not too late to camp out in the parking lot for some Phish shows. He'll feel comfortable in crowds and probably enjoy watching the devil sticks dance against the patchouli sunset. Extra tip: if you grab the nitrous balloons before people inhale them, well, Mason gets balloons.
3. Set up the disco ball: Keeping up with a toddler's diaper changes is nothing compared to keeping up with a toddler's battery changes. My daughters have so many toys that flash and make noise and walk and burp and fly and attack and scare the bejesus out of me that we are constantly buying batteries or plugging in the rechargeable ones to power the Wii controllers we need to run Netflix Kids, because for crying out loud Daddy needs like five minutes of peace and quiet to write this article and make dinner and think about something other than a pile of laundry. Anyway, you can minimize battery costs with a disco ball and a solar re-chargeable flashlight. Let the little guy shine on his crazy diamond until an inflatable pig blots out the sun. Toss in some lava lamps for a whole other level, man. (Wait a second: I am clearly stealing this disco ball idea from my mother, who in fact has my sister's wedding favor mirror ball hanging from her living room ceiling.)
4. Keep it cool. Let's face it, we inhabit a stressful geopolitical period: two overseas wars, threats of a possible nuclear inflected conflict with Iran, sky-high gas prices, a seemingly endless series of attacks on women's rights (clearly, some things haven't changed). I don't mean to suggest that the tumultuous politics of the 70s were any rosier, and I don't want my nephew to fall too deeply into the nostalgia trip. Even so, the 70s deployed the peace sign at a moment when it transitioned from its original nuclear disarmament use and later anti-war symbolism to a more general counter-culture patch. It represented youth not so much in revolt as in, for a few more years at least, reverie. My advice: plaster Mason's room and pajamas with peace signs, and maybe his day-care mates will pick it up, and maybe, just maybe, we'll grow a generation that can do it all a bit better than we have done.
If all of this fails, of course, there is always baby wine 2012, better known as Benadryl. Yet I know it won't come to that Lisa, for we are talking about my nephew, and like all the kids born in this new millennium, we need to keep him as awake as possible to make it in the world.
As for my generation, we've already screwed everything up. Still, it's not all bad. We love our parents.
In fact, I think I'll head over to my mother's house for a drink.