As if the recent presidential campaign was not disturbing enough, in the middle of it, my five month old morphed into Donald Trump. I’m not saying her mother once snuck off to climb “Trump Tower” when she said she was going out for gelato. It’s probably a coincidence that our child looks real estate-ish. All I know is, one day while smearing on organic diaper cream, I looked down, realized baby N’s hair had gone unnaturally red and feral, and noticed the belligerent sneer on her face, a kind of Superior Race lip curl that no one in my family going back to Great-Great-Great-Great Grandpa Shlomo has ever owned.
And just to further twist the whole experience, as Baby N hit the five months mark, she discovered her vagina. Picture if you will, a half year old Donald aiming her preternatural smirk your way while gurgling and thrumming her genitalia. Masturbating babies may be the best-kept secret in parenthood. As if, in some unspoken pact of delicacy, moms and dads have decided to keep this quirk of tot-dom to themselves, sensing – quite rightly – that, for those who have never actually witnessed the festive diddling of fresh-out-of-the-oven pleasure seekers it may be just be TOO MUCH. Conceptually.
I once heard Progressive talk show giant, (giantess?) Randi Rhodes remark that on every birthday her mother reminds her how she was born masturbating. I also just saw Louie CK do a whole riff on the subject of his little girl’s labial antics on his HBO special. The whole deal’s not unique at all – until you throw in the Donald face.
Naturally, I did what any parent would do when they find their five month old cavorting in what Pat Robertson would doubtless refer to as a, “highly secular and unholy fashion”. I hit the internet. And there it was, in black and white, on Baby Center.com. “Toddlers masturbate for the same reason that older children do. It feels good.” This mind you, is not idle patter. It’s been verified by the BABY CENTER MEDICAL ADVISORY BOARD! The article (entitled, catchily enough “MASBURBATION”) continues, quoting nurse practitioner Meg Zweiback – and no, I didn’t make it up, perhaps she works at a hospital with Nurse Tollhouse and Dr. Nutter Butter. Anyway, to quote Nurse Zweiback, “A toddler may masturbate herself to orgasm complete with panting, red face, and a big sigh at the end. But it’s absolutely not something to be worried about.”
Really? Did baby Jesus do this? I mean, I’m no prude, I don’t begrudge a recent newborn a little finger-fun. (Though I’ll admit, I could have gone the rest of my life without having to process the concept of “tot-gasm.”) It’s not like a kid that age has much else do besides suck Mommy’s nipple, crap herself, and stare out the window at trees. Poor thing can’t even crawl, so she can’t sneak off for a quickie where no one can see her.
As nature would have it, Baby N’s sudden interest in self-stimulation coincides with her discovery of her own voice. She now yammers all day long, raising her eyes to Mom and Dad like we’re a couple of feebs for not being able to understand her inchoate gurps and blurbles. But that’s the thing: maybe it’s not gurpling. Watching her work her nether cleft and babbling loudly at the ceiling, how do I know that she’s not actually saying something? That – just thinking this makes me wants to slap oven cleaner on a Q tip and jam it into my brain – that she’s NOT actually fantasizing about Justin Bieber and yelping, in some pre-lingual as yet undeciphered Crib-speak: “Oh yeah, Justin, yeah! You’re such a dirty little poopy-pants!”). THE HORROR!
Seriously, I don’t know whether to run out the door or text Sally Mann. The whole phenom makes me feel like my head’s going to shoot flames. Why don’t they tell you this in the hospital before they send you home? Not that it’s bad or somehow immoral. (Victorian nannies who believed that masturbation was Satan’s work would tie helpless infant’s hands to the bars of their crib, like they were wretches in debtor’s prison.) At first, I’m not going to lie the performance was a little… shocking. Doubly so because not two weeks ago, E and I read in the Times about the pedophilic New York cop who got caught sending emails full of fantasies about sex with infants, along with Top Chef ruminations on the joys of dappling their plump little thighs with butter and roasting them. I couldn’t help but imagine that somewhere in a world with enough child-centric perversion to keep Law and Order: SVU on the air for fourteen years, some sicko was getting off watching a roomful of Rumanian newborns on secret ‘toddler cams’.
“Privacy,” Nurse Zweiback goes on to explain, “means nothing to an ‘under 3. It’s not a meaningful concept.” Fair enough. As long as she’s not still doing it on subways at thirty, no harm/no foul. But what really is a progressive-minded product of a creepily dysfunctional (don’t ask) family to do? Well, thanks again to the No Nonsense Crew at Babycenter.com, my go-to guide for all things parenty and problematic, I know the answer: “Distract her. Even knowing it’s normal, even knowing lots of children do it, you’ll probably be embarrassed if your toddler starts masturbating in front of company. If you can’t ignore it or laugh it off, distraction is your best bet. Masturbation is a lot like nose-picking — children do it because it’s there, because they’re bored, and because their hands are free. If your toddler’s hands stray toward her crotch at inopportune moments (in front of your in-laws, for example), keep a squeaky toy or other substitute handy… anything that keeps her hands out of her pants.”
Wow! She had me right to squeaky toy. I’m no Sigmund Freud but isn’t it at least even odds that if I squeak her bunny every time my little sensualist rides the climax train, she might grow up suffering relationship-killing fantasies about rabbits every time she and her love-partner try to have ‘normal’ sex. (The actual syndrome’s name is Leporinia, an obsession, generally sexual with actual artistically rendered, or toy bunnies.) Every Easter will be a living hell until they find a cure. I can only pray that she doesn’t grow up and develop a Crush Fetish – trying to block her Peter Rabbit scenarios by snuffing out a store-bought bunny with a pair of six-inch heels. (In Berlin, there are special clubs. Café Der Hase Töten.)
But why worry about an uncertain future? Lately Baby N just puts the plushy long-ears in her mouth while slapping her diaper. At six months, she has not yet figured out how to slide her hand into her Huggie and merely smacks it, looking confused that somebody pulled down the garage door.
In other words, she’s perfectly normal. Dad’s the one who’s feeling a little weird.
Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.