I knew something was wrong when the baby started writing the letters. At first she started with the pen pals in foreign countries, you know, other babies her age. We could deal with pen pals. Pen pals were normal. She was writing a baby in Hanover named Jürgen, a two-month-old boy as interested in English as she was in German. Baby talk, mostly. She was still breast-feeding, so that was a major theme. Pacifiers were mentioned. Some diaper reviews. They tossed around the idea of reviving East German Kinderkrippen (free daycares) with great articulation. Her tone here could be described as playful, curious, inquisitive. What one would expect from a baby. She seemed drawn to this idea of collective imagination, that the distance between two playpens was largely irrelevant. She believed in universal infancy. That was truly remarkable.
But then she started writing the inmates, some of them convicts, murderers, even baby murderers. She’d been following a case in Iowa, a thirty-year-old baby strangler, life sentence, no parole. They were on a first name basis. She expressed deep condolences, but got right down to the nitty-gritty. Asked questions grown-ups were afraid to ask. “As a baby," she writes, “I have a right to know why.” She was more interested in motivation than anything else. The hows and the whys and the what-a-baby-can-do. She had this capacity to overlook wrong in the world. She believed letters had that sort of impact, that words could cause a ripple effect, like some kind of greater societal change starting with the individual. But her idealism was amateur, and this frustrated me as a father. I knew she meant well. If only she knew, I said to myself, if only she had my experience. I did love this baby. I thought it best she learned these lessons the hard way. It was that difficult teething stage.
She got involved in local causes. This was expected. She detected toxic pesticides on municipal lawns from her stroller. She was one of the primary advocates for organic baby food. She wrote letters to nonprofit agencies and religious charities, urging them to act. She wrote a local church about their nativity scene, how the plastic baby Jesus was not in any way accurately portrayed, and was, in fact, semi-offensive due to obscured genitalia or the lack thereof. “If you’re trying to make some kind political or artistic statement, just make it,” she writes. “We, the babies, would like a bit of clarity. We just fear your presentation is not fully conceived?” She was being an active baby member of society, doing her part, and I was her proud father.
But those were the good days, looking back. That was before she started with the Facebook. Before she learned to tweet. She mastered mail merges and encryption algorithms, vertical integration, multi-format positioning, social platforming. It wasn’t long before she got in with the bad boys. Got into the dirtier work a baby could do. One thing seemed to lead to the next. Many say her tone shifted; no longer the baby visionary, her letters and tweets had less conviction, more threat. Some say she was outsourcing. Some say she was no longer writing the letters herself, but had established a kind of late-Warholesque baby empire, with a top-floor corner crib complete with a treadmill, a view of Central Park, and an authentic mini-mobile by Alexander Calder to hang above her customized Ubabub Pod. Now the letters were coming in this special font, self-developed, licensed, downloadable from her site, with the title “Papoose Light.” I felt it, deep down. I was losing my baby to some unseen globalizing force, a feeling I can only describe as post-apocalyptic.
It never occurred to me the baby was in this for financial gain. Maybe she wanted to give back to us as parents. Maybe she felt the need to compensate for a prolonged mix of low self-esteem, seasonal depression, diaper rash. The facts: near the end, she was beyond disillusionment. Her tone was downright automated. Animatronic. A robot baby in a robot world. But I never gave up on her. I did my job as a father. I did what I could. She wasn’t ready for this place is how I see it. I wasn’t ready for her. And I really wasn’t ready for that final letter, in crayon on a pale blue aerogram, addressed only to me, with the single sentence: “bye-bye, da-da.”