Oh baby, here come the swaddling bans

When our fifth grandchild was born, I was in our daughter’s hospital room alongside our son-in-law helping him freshen up this adorable creature, their third baby. We changed her diaper, put a sleeper on her and prepared to swaddle her.

babyOur son-in-law has excellent swaddling skills. He employs a technique much like folding a flag, which reflects his military background. The folds are so crisp you nearly want to salute the infant when he’s finished.

As he was spreading out the blanket, my daughter said, “Mom, did you know swaddling babies is now frowned upon?”

I paused before saying the first thought that came into my head, and good thing, because a nurse had quietly entered the room.

I was about to proclaim, “If swaddling was good enough for the Christ child, it’s good enough for this child!”

The young nurse picked up the conversation and proceeded to inform me why swaddling is no longer an accepted practice. I gathered from her tone that swaddling is not quite as bad as letting your children play in traffic, but a close second.

She explained that the new way to put a baby to sleep is to put the baby on her back in the crib, place a blanket over her and tuck the blanket in on both sides of the mattress. This, of course, is a direct violation of the standing edict of the past 20 years that you never, never, never put a loose blanket in a crib with a baby under age 1.

People have been swaddling babies for more than 2,000 years. But why should that stop us from denouncing the practice now? We are nothing, if not arrogant.

Any mother worth her stretch marks will tell you that swaddling calms babies. Swaddling simulates the tight quarters in the womb, reduces crying, allows babies to hold body heat and sleep well. Swaddling for a baby is like a Snuggie for an adult—only much tighter fitting and more socially acceptable.

Bureaucratic fingerprints are all over this baby. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education now states that “swaddling is not necessary or recommended.” What do you bet they were all swaddled as babies and swaddled their own babies as well?

In California, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, swaddling finds itself wrapped in virtual bans. Pennsylvania parents must obtain a signed wavier from a pediatrician if they want a daycare to swaddle their baby.

If only government bureaucrats intent on banning swaddling showed the same enthusiasm for deficit reduction.

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of the best-known gurus of baby sleep, maintains that swaddling has many benefits and “may well reduce infant sleep deaths.” But why listen to him? He’s only a well-respected, highly regarded specialist in how babies sleep; whereas the government specializes in . . . I’ll get back to you on that one.

When my obituary for Common Sense was published in a small book several years ago, it’s a shame we didn’t insert 100 blank pages at the back of the book so readers could add their own examples.

Sadly, you could fill a new page almost every day. This is definitely one for the book.

Nite, nite, Mr. Germ

Like a lot of kids during cold and flu season, our grandchildren have been trained for good health and good manners: Cover your mouth when you cough and say bless you when someone sneezes. Earlier in the day, one sneezed and another one said, “Hey! Don’t bless on me!”

Three of the grands are spending the night. Their mother is putting them down and I have been summoned to tell a bedtime story. The baby is already asleep, another is on the verge of sleep, and the third apparently has been downing espresso on the sly. The conversation between the very awake toddler and her rapidly fading mother turns to germs. “Grandma is going to tell you a story, because Mommy doesn’t feel well.”

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” the three-year-old asks.

“I have a virus,” Mommy says, getting up to leave.

“What’s a virus?”

“A virus is caused by a germ.”

“What’s the germ’s name, Mommy?”

Mommy sits back down. “I don’t know.”

“But, Mommy, what’s the germ’s name?”

“It’s probably rhinovirus. All right? Mommy’s going to leave now.” Mommy gets up again.

“But wait, Mommy. Where is the germ?”

“It’s in my mouth.”

“How did it get there?”

“I don’t know. Germs just travel this time of year.”

“Oh. What’s the germ’s name?”


“Oh. I can’t say that.”

“It’s a hard word to pronounce,” says Mommy, who has inched her way to the door.

“And it’s in your mouth?”

“Yes, it’s in my mouth.”

Mommy leaves the room. I begin telling a story about a heavy snowfall and a full moon. It is a captivating story, if I may say so myself, and yet I am interrupted.

“Mommy has a germ.”

“I know. And on the most crooked branch of the tree sat a very round and puffy owl.”

“What’s its name?”

“What’s what name? The owl or the germ?”

“Mommy’s germ. What’s the name?”

“I think it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“I don’t think that was it, Grandma.”

“Maybe not. I don’t remember the germ’s name.”

“It’s hard to say, Grandma.”

“Yes, I know. The owl had yellow eyes, pointed ears and a hook nose.”



“Mommy has a germ. The germ has a name. The germ is in her mouth.”

“Yes, that’s why she has a sore throat and doesn’t feel well.”

“Do I have a germ in my mouth?” She opens her mouth wide.

“No, all you have in your mouth is your teeth and your tongue.”

“Oh. That’s good,” she says with a yawn. “Good night, Grandma.”

Four wheels forward, three back

Every time I walk through a parking lot, I look for the car we should have bought. The husband’s car was totaled by another car last year, so we had to buy another one. We bought a Mistake. That’s not the model name, but it should be.

First, there’s the color. We viewed color samples in a slick brochure and chose Kodiak Brown. It’s black.

If the sun hits it just right, it will reflect a deep beautiful rich brown. It happened once. On a Thursday. In the driveway.

I directed a valet to the car once and said, “Over there, the brown one.”

“You mean the black one?”

“No, it’s brown. Look again. Here, angle yourself just so. Better yet, come to the house on a sunny day, half an hour before sunset.”

You can also see it is brown if you hold a flashlight six inches from the car. That’s us driving down the street with flashlights suspended from iron hooks mounted to the car, illuminating the brown exterior.

The husband often laments the disappearance of the two-toned car. His fondness for two-toned is embarrassing, almost as embarrassing as being in a movie theater, watching a preview featuring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts and having him loudly proclaim, “If I ever say I want to see that movie, just shoot me.”

We are both opinionated. Our opinions sometimes differ on movies and cars, but we agree about the Mistake.

It’s terrible to have no affection for your vehicle. Ford knows I’ve tried to conjure up some feelings of warmth and affection. “Aren’t these seats nice?” I say. “Look how clear the glass is on the windshield.” It’s like telling the kid with the worst handwriting in the class that he dots his i’s well. Even a car can detect condescension.

The worst thing about the Mistake is the dashboard. It would be safer to drive, text, drink, smoke, apply mascara and fry chicken all at the same time than to operate the Dashboard of a Thousand Choices. It’s called “smart technology.” That’s code for “one more thing to make you feel dumb.”

There are no fewer than 28 buttons on the dash between the driver and the passenger. There’s internet radio, Bluetooth, MP3 integrated player, incoming calls, call to text, and more. All that’s missing is a button to froth a latte.

Of course, everything is voice activated, but the Mistake doesn’t seem to like our voices. “CALL HOME!”

“Calling Joan.”

The Mistake prefers accents. It will respond to a thick Southern drawl, a stiff British accent and pirate talk, but not us.

Good luck finding the button that turns on the radio. I’d like to see the dummy crash test for that one. “Not bad, only six broken bones.” All I’m saying is, don’t let your insurance lapse.

I have a bad feeling about the Mistake, a feeling that it is going to last 300,000 miles. We’ll learn to like it. We’ll have to.

In the meantime, would a car maker please consider bringing back the punch-button radio? I feel so desperate I’d buy a car like that even if it was two-toned.

Small dot accused of big attitude

Perhaps it is only an ugly rumor, but you never know. Word is, there is trouble brewing in the land of punctuation.

To be specific, and anyone with any regard for punctuation always is, the lowly period, that faithful end mark at the end of a sentence, is falling from favor.

This disturbing news comes by way of the New Republic. I often read a lot of disturbing things in the New Republic, but this may be the most disturbing of all. It would appear the period is now regarded as a small dot with a big attitude.

Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that his teenage son told him his text messages were aggressive because he used a period at the end. The young man found his father’s texts not only aggressive, but downright harsh.


Let me tell you about harsh, son. Harsh is Sunday dinner at your Grandma’s with 24 first cousins and one indoor bathroom. Harsh is growing up in summers with 105-degree heat, matching humidity and no air conditioning. Harsh is delivering three babies at the peak of the natural craze and having an Earth momma convince you there was no need for painkillers.

I apologize. I may have gotten a little carried away there. After all this is only about the period the most basic of punctuation marks among those configurations of dots and curls and squiggly lines that tell you when to breathe when to pause when to question when to change thought lines and in the whole scheme of things how big a deal can punctuation really be

Perhaps it is a generational thing. Years ago, when instant messaging came on the scene, my mother joined in and would instant message with the kids from time to time. They got a chuckle out of the fact that Grandma never ended a conversation without proper form. She’d type a closing (Love), followed by a comma, new line, then “Grandma.” My mother, once a teacher, wouldn’t have dreamed of ending a correspondence any other way.

As one who appreciates form, I must also confess that the young man’s perspective does have merit. I, too, have witnessed a growing streak of aggression in the period—not by its absence, but by its overuse. Usually displayed in the comments section on social media, it often looks like this:


There’s no denying such use of periods is aggressive bordering on harsh. Such posts are usually seen on Pinterest beneath a picture of cherry pie. Make that a harsh piece of cherry pie.

Too many. Too few. What to do?

Should we go to the other extreme and abandon the lowly end mark, I fear a domino effect. They scoffed at such theories during the Vietnam War, and there went Cambodia and Laos. It’s the period today, the comma and the semicolon tomorrow.

No matter how you look at it, there’s something terribly unfinished about a sentence without a period