Last fall, my nephew’s brave wife gave birth to iden­ti­cal twin girls. My sis­ter, upon becom­ing a first-time grand­moth­er, imme­di­ate­ly ascend­ed into sev­enth heav­en, where I sus­pect she has relo­cat­ed permanently.

Baby Art - Acrylic by Adra Fisher
Acrylic by Adra Fisher (Click image to enlarge)

A momen­tous occa­sion for any house­hold, in our small clan this event cat­a­pult­ed me into the cat­bird seat of our fam­i­ly tree. Great (or is it grand?) aunts get to enjoy new arrivals with­out being expect­ed to do much else.

Finally, a fam­i­ly role in which I can excel.

I am not, and have nev­er been, a baby-crazed per­son. I like babies, don’t get me wrong. They seem like nice enough peo­ple. They’re awful­ly small though, and appear very needy. But who am I to judge? My beloved chi­huahua Pico was that way, too.

When I encounter babies, I look them in the eyes and say hel­lo. I don’t feel com­pelled to scoop them up or make strange nois­es in a high-pitched voice. Smelling their downy heads doesn’t occur to me.

I have been told this is unusu­al, that my reac­tion to babies would be dif­fer­ent (i.e. more effu­sive) if only I had been a moth­er. I have no rea­son to doubt this. My reac­tion to dogs would be dif­fer­ent if I had been attacked by them, and I bet I’d eat a lot less ice cream if I was lac­tose intolerant.

I was once a baby myself, of course, as were most of my friends and acquain­tances. But that doesn’t seem to mat­ter much in terms of one’s affin­i­ty for infants. Apparently, it takes a sus­tained peri­od of moth­er­ing (or prepar­ing for moth­er­ing) to ful­ly acti­vate the “mom genes,” accord­ing to Abigail Tucker, author of a best-sell­ing book on the sub­ject (Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct).

Fully acti­vat­ed moth­ers, it seems, inhab­it a jacked-up par­al­lel uni­verse all their own. Why? Because they have to. Babies are relent­less, which is wear­ing at best, exhaust­ing at worst. Add to that their abject help­less­ness, and the job of moth­er­ing becomes insane­ly stren­u­ous — a marathon with­out a fin­ish line.

But evo­lu­tion is crafty; it knows when to bring out the good stuff, chem­i­cal­ly speak­ing. Mother’s lit­tle helpers, in this case, are the bio­log­i­cal and neu­ro­chem­i­cal changes that nec­es­sar­i­ly occur to help har­ried moms fall lit­er­al­ly in love with their offspring.

Having nev­er belonged to the hopped-up moth­er­hood tribe doesn’t pre­vent me from appre­ci­at­ing the cute­ness of babies, how­ev­er. Austrian ethol­o­gist Konrad Lorenz had a term for this cute­ness: kindchenschema.

According to Lorenz, babies pos­sess a num­ber of awww-inspir­ing phys­i­cal fea­tures — huge eyes, chub­by cheeks, round faces, and big heads — all of which draw us in and make us want to take care of them.

Evolution, it appears, is not only crafty, it’s shame­less, hav­ing no qualms about don­ning a giraffe-print one­sie if that’s what it takes to get the job done.

Now, if only evo­lu­tion would tone down Covid, I could vis­it more often with my kind­chen­schemic young nieces.

In the mean­time, I rely heav­i­ly on cell phone videos, FaceTime, and my very dear sis­ter, who reg­u­lar­ly blows up my screens with irre­sistible images — one of which inspired the por­trait accom­pa­ny­ing this article.

In this par­tic­u­lar cell phone pho­to, my niece’s baby­face had an amus­ing bob­ble­head qual­i­ty that cap­tured my heart and imag­i­na­tion. I had nev­er tried to paint such an image before, so that alone seemed like fun.

I usu­al­ly pre­fer water­col­ors, but because I want­ed this piece to be dra­mat­ic and bright, I turned to more full-bod­ied acrylics. A smidge of water and glaz­ing medi­um (left over from my faux-fin­ish­ing days) made the paints slight­ly trans­par­ent and eas­i­er to blend.

After rum­mag­ing around for a paint­ing sur­face, I set­tled on the fair­ly rigid back cov­er of an emp­ty pad of 14”x10” water­col­or paper. With acrylics you can paint on most any­thing you have lying around, so here’s a tip: save home improve­ment left­overs like Masonite, tiles, or pan­el­ing for future art projects.

When I paint, a real­is­tic like­ness is rarely my goal. (That’s what cam­eras are for.) My goal is to pick up a brush, fill it with paint, and see what hap­pens. If the end result is pleas­ing, that’s nice, but it’s not real­ly the goal — or the point.

The point is the process: being engaged and open to the act of cre­at­ing. In art and in life, isn’t that real­ly what keeps things interesting?

As this new year pro­gress­es, I hope you’ll make a point of being open to process. Engagement — with­out attach­ment to out­come — blows the doors to growth and pos­si­bil­i­ty off their often rusty hinges. Babies, in all their cute­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, have plen­ty to teach us in that realm. I don’t know about you, but I’m look­ing for­ward to a very edu­ca­tion­al year.

A note to readers

Like babies, cer­tain­ly — and all of us, hope­ful­ly — WinCity News & Views is a work in progress. You may have noticed the site evolv­ing in var­i­ous ways.

As a per­son who is not on Facebook, one of these recent changes makes me very hap­py: the addi­tion of a direct writer’s email link at the end of each arti­cle. At last, I can respond to your comments!

Please send me your thoughts, ques­tions, sug­ges­tions, even pho­tos of your own art. I’d love to hear from you. Writing can be a lone­ly busi­ness, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion should nev­er be a one-way street. I hope you’ll click the email icon and tell me what’s on your mind.

And as always, thanks for reading.

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    Adra Fisher grew up in Winchester, moved away in her ear­ly 20s and returned a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry lat­er. She enjoys all types of art and encour­ag­ing oth­ers to live creatively.