Baby Boot Camp

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

My life is certainly different than when I managed a large medical practice and was responsible for thousands of patients. I no longer take care of the herd, just sixty or so thoroughbreds in my concierge medical practice. I do stay busy and sometimes wonder how I got anything else done while I was working eleven hour days.

We have extra responsibilities this week because my daughter and her family are out of town, and Becky and I have charge of Josie, our seven week old grand-daughter, along with the chickens, horses and dogs on our mini-farm. Ordinarily, my daughter and son-in-law, Ryand, are a big help. I sometimes imagine myself as Mr. Douglas of Green Acres, who was barely competent to run his farm tractor, just as I am to run our John Deere. Ryand is a man of few words, and far more competent than Mr. Douglas’ farm hand, Eb.

It’s rarely dull on Thistle Farm, but imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I saw Ryand plowing a strip of our land within an adjoining residential development to plant silage corn for our chickens. Perhaps he’s heard the stories how Becky and I collect table scraps everywhere. Our chickens turn these scraps into eggs which we give away to family and friends.

Chickens are interesting creatures, but stupid. You’ve heard the term “bird brains.” Well it’s true. A few months ago I found a chicken half covered with snow who had forgotten how to get into the coop with the brood. And another evening I found our hens wandering aimlessly in the coop when the timer light malfunctioned telling them it was time to get up at 10:00 p.m. instead of roosting.

Josie is a blessing to us and a good baby. I don’t remember much about my girls as babies. I feel guilty about this and wonder if I was just distracted by work or otherwise inattentive. However, Becky says she can’t remember those details either, and she was a stay-at-home mom. I’ve always heard that being a grand-parent is different than being a parent. I never understood this assertion, but I can testify from personal experience that it is true, and this week has been baby-care-boot-camp for me.

So much is different these days. Infants travel with strollers, car seats and other equipment including a Mr. Coffee like machine that makes 2, 4, 6 or more ounces of formula at the push of a button. It comes out at ninety eight degrees in fifteen seconds – a real blessing at three am. Diaper pails have been gone for years as are cloth diapers.  Temperatures are measured with a digital thermometer run by a micro-chip, replacing the never popular rectal thermometers.

Since we’ve been the “parents” this week, Josie has gone everywhere with us. She attended her first church service, and I defended her to the minister when she slept through the sermon. I’ve slept through sermons as well. I remember going off call as an intern one Sunday morning nearly forty years ago and deciding to attend the early service to wind down. I had just settled into a pew, hoping to benefit from the sermon by osmosis, when I was suddenly thrust into a resuscitation crisis when an elderly woman fell over in the pew just in front of me.

I received a good medical education at the University of Tennessee Medical Units, and excellent hands on training at the old John Gaston City Hospital in Memphis. It was a sink or swim program where we cared for the disadvantaged like other inner city hospitals such as Belleview in New York. My training took over in the church pew, and fortunately the lady survived, though she spoiled my worship experience.

You never really know someone until you spend time with them. Josie has been one-on-one with her grandparents this week and she’s learning about us and has even been introduced to the Southern tradition of Sunday lunch with family and friends. But it is her grandparents who have learned the most.

I spend a lot of time holding Josie as she enjoys her bottle, and also just watching her. I once wrote a Focus essay about smiling. The experts have all sorts of theories about this basic human facial expression. Perhaps it’s a genetic phenomenon. I suspect it’s a learned response. Who can look into an infant’s face and not smile? As Josie sees me smile at her I think she responds by mimicking my ear to ear grin. But I wonder what made her smile as I watched her dreaming this morning. Maybe it was a full belly, clean diapers and the warmth of human touch.

Babies have herky-jerky movements because their nervous system is immature. Similar palsied movements in an adult are reminiscent of cerebellar dysfunction. There are three basic areas of the brain. The neural network in the cerebral cortex is where we think and reason, as well as where the senses are registered and interpreted. The medulla and brainstem control basic functions such as digestion, breathing and blood pressure. The cerebellum coordinates movements and, because a baby’s brain isn’t mature, smooth motor control hasn’t developed.

I’ve heard that if you want to know about love you should observe a dog. A dog loves you whether you deserve their affection or not. However, can you define love? The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant made a distinction between observable phenomena and other entities “perceived” without the senses. Intuition is an example and love is another. We “know” love when we experience it, but it’s difficult to define and impossible to write an equation for this most important aspect of the human condition, and the Divine.

The ancient Greeks and Romans thought a civilization could be built upon what came to be known as the cardinal virtues. These are common sense, courage, justice and moderation. The Apostle Paul would later expand these with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love – “and the greatest of these is love.”

This week I’ve been reeducated in the meaning of love by Josie. This seven week old little girl has become the teacher. She has taught the philosopher about the driving force of the universe. Truly, her lesson of love is a reflection of the sublime.

 

*Don’t forget the PARTY on Sunday afternoon May 17th hosted by The Focus at First United Methodist Church, 3316 Kingston Pike from 3-5:30 p.m.!

 

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