Open Mouth, Insert Foot
"Liam, open wide for your vitamins."
I've been saying this every morning for years now. Which is odd, because my son is only with me some of the time, and I really wonder what it says about me on a Saturday morning as I say these words into the ether. But in the area of reflexes I can't seem to suppress, this one doesn't even register compared to another one.
Understand, Liam has a few medical issues. Nothing which I need to go into in any graphic detail, but just understand that in order to resolve some of them, he's been prescribed a fairly substantial number of morning supplements. Essentially, each morning Liam has a bowl of vitamin pills with two or three "Kixx" cereal nuggets on the side.
He also takes several liquid supplements. Unlike Daddy's liquid "supplements" that come with a proof rating, these ones don't seem to noticeably do him any good, but I continue to give them to him anyway.
But here's an experiment for the reader. First, obtain a liquid, a spoon, a mirror, and a test human. It doesn't particularly matter to me if the human is your grandmother and the liquid is Geritol, or the human is your buddy and the liquid contains enough alcohol to prep him for surgery, or if the human is your ex-spouse and the liquid came from an un-flushed commode. I really don't want to know.
Pour a reasonable-sized amount of the liquid into the spoon and attempt to feed it to your test subject. JUST as the spoon breaks the plane bounded by their lips, look in the mirror. Your mouth will be open. I promise you that.
Now, knowing that, repeat the experiment. It happened again, didn't it. And so now you are, like me, thinking "Well, this is stupid. I'm a rational human being. I understand that this reflex is borne out of a need to model behaviors for babies, who will mimic our behaviors and thus open their mouths for the incoming food, but this person to whom I am feeding this liquid is neither a baby nor in fact anyone who will respond in any way except possibly with derision to my gaping mouth, and so I should be able to keep my mouth shut", and are now looking around for a new test subject to try this on, your first one having tired of being force-fed some random unsavory substance as though they were unable to feed themselves (a status which, coincidentally, could result FROM this experiment, depending on what liquid you chose).
And here's what you'll find when you try the experiment again: You'll find that you CAN successfully prevent your mouth from opening. You'll find that the experience is oddly discomforting, like the moment you realize, in the dead of night, that the seat of the toilet you've just sat down on was up. You'll also find that your concentration will waver, and so every third or fourth time you try it, you'll be standing there mouth agape and feeling like a fool. And if your frustration level with yourself is similar to mine, on at least one occasion you will find that you concentrate so hard on NOT opening your mouth that you pour a goodly portion of clarified cod liver oil down the front of the shirt of your nearly six year old son. Which will probably surprise you inasmuch as until that moment, most of you won't actually have HAD a nearly six year old son, but you will now, which just goes to show the awesome power of the scientific method.
Now, we can all agree that certain reflexes are important, such as the reflex to close your eyes when you sneeze, so as to prevent having to clean splattered eyeball off of the wall in front of you, or having the oddly disorienting experience of seeing your own face. But I ask you, what biological or evolutionary imperative could POSSIBLY make that open-mouth reflex important? Are we expecting momma bird to show up and regurgitate partially-digested worm directly into our stomachs? Really? This, to you, is a good breakfast?
There are so many reflexes of parenthood that don't make sense beyond a certain point. My friend Kate points out another one...
Liam sleeps in my room as often as not. There's a big empty house, and he's at the age when that house holds secret terrors in any room not within direct eyesight of Daddy, and so he prefers to sleep on the loveseat in my bedroom, a situation I plan to allow only as long as it does not require a saw, a double amputation, or Liam taking up yoga in order to comfortably fit.
But invariably in the night some primitive instinctual urge will awaken me. Rarely, it is the urge to urinate. More frequently, it is the genetic knowledge based on years of human experience that I'm running the very real risk of waking up refreshed and alert in the morning. But when this happens, I nearly always get up, go over to the love seat, and put my hand just below Liam's nose in order to reassure myself that he is still breathing. I learned with my older two children that the urge to do this only stops when sleep breathing begins to have a volume.
Why do I do this? I don't feel the need to count his fingers and toes to make sure he's got ten of each, like I did when he was an infant. I don't pick him up and burp him after a meal (not since he threw up down my back that one time, anyway). So why do I have this paranoid fear that I'm going to find my son not breathing? And what are the odds that if I DID, it would be a recent enough phenomenon that there'd be anything I could do about it, other than appreciate the lovely shade of blue my son had attained?
And one final reflex I sorely wish I could break, the reflex to go right on typing, because I can't think of a good "kicker" joke for the essay until I finally resort to something stupid that doesn't relate to the topic at hand.
Like a nun with no sense of personal hygiene, some habits never change.
Copyright © October 14, 2011 by Liam Johnson. http://humor.liamjohnson.net