Thursday, June 11, 2009

We have this great pediatrician, a tall Asian man with a voice that's always about six decibels higher than everyone else in the room. He is jovial, amiable, always smiling, and as a result you start to feel better from the moment you see him. He surfs before work, which may be his Big Secret. He knows the good parents from the bad ones and doesn't over-diagnose. When he sees a worried look on a mom's face, he tries to talk her down from being overly concerned. He knows Mrs. Ditchman is not one to bring in her children for bandages and Tylenol -and I think he appreciates that- so yesterday when Mrs. Ditchman brought in the Little Digger for a bit of evaluation on the current cold, he took her seriously. The Digger has been crying a lot, she mentioned, and when they arrived the Doc, Baby Whisperer that he is, said, "I don't like the sound of that cry." A few minutes later, Mommy was hauling down to Children's Hospital.

I was building a dumb patio cover at the time, of course, and I got the call while she was on the fly. The baby had a pretty high temperature and a short list of odd, disparate symptoms, so the Doc wanted to get some tests done and rule out "pneumonia" or "meningitis" or some other worrisome thing. Turns out everything was more or less okay, but we're watching the little guy. He's not happy.

Which is the first sign something is wrong. He's normally just a happy person by default, it seems, not like his father. I am something else by default; pensive, guarded, shy, suspicious. I have to work at being happy, but this little guy smiles about as naturally as the sun coming up. It's not fair, but that's life. I have other talents, but smiling has always been a loathsome, embattled chore for me. (I'm getting better!) The past seven months have been special with this cheerful baby around, always happy to see you. It's a course-changer to be forever around someone easily happy like that. It energizes and enthuses you. It articulates the joys of life. But then to have them suddenly stop... well, the world becomes familiarly dim, and it's back to work.

It is not fun for a man to work and worry, when work is hard enough. And yesterday was a long gray day of June gloom. When I got home I was able to pick him up and get the Little Digger to laugh a bit, though it seemed a pained set of chuckles. Still, it was relieving enough for us to see and be buoyed that he was getting better. The world was less dim again.

It's a simple, troubling truth that happy people make the world more happy, and miserable people make the world more miserable -no matter how justified the misery, or how naive the cheer. Given the choice, I'd take the smile of an innocent, ignorant, sickly little kid, over the grim outlook of a jaded and calloused, matter-of-fact adult -however wise, accomplished, and honest he may be.

I'd take it any day of the week.