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"The Automatic Baby" from Success Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Success Magazine
The Automatic Baby
by Ellis Parker Butler

For the last ten or fifteen years I have viewed with alarm the rapid progress of the efforts to create an absolutely automatic baby, and I have -- to use a cultured expression -- fought the movement tooth and toe-nail. But while there are still great numbers of babies that are treated as if they were adorable playthings, there is good reason to believe that in a few years all babies will be entirely automatic, like the penny-in-the-slot gum-sellers and the self-feeding music box. I am almost discouraged.

At the first sign of an attempt to standardize and sterilize the babies, I organized the "Fond Fathers' Oop-de-baby Association of America." For thousands of years fathers have been permitted to oop-de-baby unrestrained, and this right was one of the first rights attacked by the advocates of the automatic baby. I considered it a double blow, at the baby and at the father, and resented it as such. If a father may not oop his own baby, what is the world coming to?

Ooping the baby is a father's greatest pleasure. It is the act of grasping the baby under the arms, tossing the baby into the air and catching it on its down-trip, while the words "Oop-de-baby!" are repeated at each toss. This is repeated until the baby is hysterical, or drops on the floor by accident. It is then handed to its mother.

The first stand taken by the Amalgamated Mothers was announced in the words "No more oop-de-baby!" and it is now a brave father that dares oop his own child. But the movement did not stop there. Happy in having placed the fathers under control, the next great step taken by the promoters of the automatic baby was the formation of the "Society for the Suppression of Grandmothers." The grandmother is the greatest enemy of the sterilized, unrocked, unkissed, uncuddled baby. The adamantine stubbornness of a grandmother is almost beyond belief. She will kiss the child! Regardless of germs, microbes, Infusoria and rules, she will take the cuddly little thing in her arms, hug it up tight with cooing words, and kiss it. Right on the mouth, too!

The members of the Society had to be exceedingly firm with the grandmothers.

"Mother," the member would say, "please do not kiss that child on the mouth!"

"Very well! Very well!" the grandmother would say, just a little huffed. "But I am sure, my dear, I kissed you on the mouth a million times when you were a baby, and you seem none the worse for it."

"I prefer, mother, not to have my baby kissed on the mouth!"

"All righty, 'ittle baby!" the grandmother would say, patting the baby on the cheek, "grandma can kiss the pretty 'ittle footsies!"

"Please, please, mother!" the member would say appealingly; "please do not kiss baby on the foot! Baby might put her foot in her mouth afterwards!"

"Well!" the grandmother would say, pulling her shawl over her shoulders, and arising with tears in her foolish old eyes, "I see this is no place for a grandmother. Good bye, baby, I am not wanted here!"

"Goodness! Goodness!" the member would exclaim as she washed out the baby's mouth with an antiseptic after the grandmother had gone; "Mother is so old-fashioned!"

In this manner -- and only after constant snubbing -- the grandmothers were taught to leave the babies alone, and now the grandmothers are as well suppressed as the fathers are. In squashing the grandmother the Amalgamated Mothers removed one great obstacle from the path of progress. Grandmothers -- possibly you will not believe this but it is a fact -- actually used to rock their babies! Indeed, they did! They had an instrument, or piece of furniture -- now seen only in museums -- so built that it would sway to and fro, and into this they used to put the baby, and then sway the whole affair back and forth, singing a lullaby. The machine was called a cradle.

Personally I have never wished for the rehabilitation of the cradle. The cradle was not abolished by the Amalgamated Mothers. It was abolished by common consent of the fathers upon the introduction of the flat dwelling -- Harlem size -- and as a mere measure of safety. The bedroom of a flat, when containing a rocking-chair with two rocker points and a cradle with four rocker points, was no place for a father at dead of night. A father, routed out of bed in the middle of the night, has never been known to escape hitting the point of a rocking-chair rocker with his bare shin, and when six rocker points were congested in one small flat bedroom --! Either the cradle or the father had to go. The cradle, not being able to support the family, went.

But grandmothers not only used to rock their babies in cradles; they actually, at times, took their babies in their arms and lulled them. A grandmother would hold her baby against her breast and rock it there, and sing to it! The Amalgamated Mothers have pointed out the awful effect this had on the child. I am not just sure what the awful effect was. Perhaps it was baldness. I know a great many men who were rocked when they were babies that are quite bald now. That must have been the effect of the rocking.

As an opponent of the automatic baby the grandfather was no more advanced than the grandmother. When the grandfathers were fathers, and a baby was crying with the pain of teething, a grandfather -- even one of supposed intelligence -- would take the baby from the cradle and walk the floor with it at one o'clock in the morning, singing:

"I got to the river and I couldn't get across --
Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
I bet my money on the old blind hoss --
Doo-dah! Doo-dah day!"

Imagine (the Amalgamated Mothers say to us) the effect on the child! Of course the uncultured little creature ceased its wailing, or wailed less and less loudly until it dropped asleep in the warm arms, but ever after that it wanted to be carried when any tooth business was going on. And words can hardly express what an awful thing that is. Half the dread I have of entering a dentist's office conies, they tell me, from that very thing. Going to the dentist's should be a pleasure, but we grandfathered persons grew so used to being carried and sung to while our tooth affairs were going on that now we do not feel comfortable in a dentist's chair. If a dentist wishes to prove this just let him take one of his grandfathered clients and carry him up and down the floor, singing "Doo-dah! Doodah!" to him while he works on the tooth, and he will see how quickly that full grown man drops asleep in his arms. Mere habit, contracted in infancy, I assure you! A result, they tell us, of criminal grandfathering, now happily suppressed.

The Modern Sport of Baby Charting

Once rid of the father, the grandfather, and the grandmother, the Amalgamated Mothers have proceeded rapidly in their work of charting the baby and creating schedules by which he may be operated automatically, but we would keep up the fight against the supremacy of the mechanical child if the baby itself gave us the slightest hope and assistance.

It will only be necessary for the nurse to put the nozzle in the baby's month, turn the spigot, and watch the dial.

I hate to mention such a thing -- it seems almost indelicate -- but there was a time when mothers nursed their babies. This operation was, of course, opposed by the Amalgamated Mothers as a relic of the dark ages, and if the babies had proved a little more progressive the feeding process would, by this time, have become a simple matter, being done with a large force pump in about two seconds, the whole machinery being worked by an electric motor, much as babies are now bathed by being held up in one hand while they are sprayed with sterilized water from a nozzle held in the other hand. In time the Amalgamated Mothers hope to evolve an output of babies sufficiently standardized to accept food from force pumps. The food will be made of predigested bran and supplied by the American Baby-filler Company in tanks that can be stored in the cellar. From the tanks pipes will run to the germ-proof nursery, and it will only be necessary for the nurse to put the nozzle in the baby's month, turn the spigot, and watch until the dial above the crib indicates that exactly eight ounces of food have entered the baby. The nurse will then close the spigot, and the baby will go to sleep.

That this condition of affairs, so greatly desired by the Amalgamated Mothers, has not been reached is due entirely to the baby. So far the baby refuses to be fed by machinery. He goes to sleep by schedule, awakens by schedule, has his daily lung-expansion cry by schedule, and is on schedule from morning to night, but he refuses to accept one uniform food, pumped into him by machinery. Why, no one knows! It is a mystery. Since the ancient method of feeding has become a mere poetical term, the baby clings to his bottle as if the bottle was the last hope of a conservative. But this is not so. The bottle does not represent the grandmother and the old-style mother. Even the bottle is sterilized between meals, and is given hygienic shapes, and an automatic, self-feeding nipple, and its contents are pasteurized!

The Baby Actually Likes It

To tell you the whole bitter truth, the baby does not mind being made automatic! The baby that is unrocked and uncradled and uncuddled, and fed patent ready-made foods, and sterilized, and scientifically reared, really thrives! He is put out of doors when the weather is two notches below zero, and his hands get warm! He is plumped into bed without a put or a lullaby, and he drops off to sleep like a little pink log! He awakens at uncanny hours of the night, and instead of howling, he winks a couple of times and goes to sleep again! He begins to teethe, and when he wails, instead of being fed and filled with soothing syrups, he has his food supply cut down to a minimum, and he teethes without fevers or stomach riots! He is bathed as a crocodile would be bathed, and he loves his bath!

I would not stand treatment like that, and you would not stand it, but the baby does. They take away his rubber comforter and he sucks his thumb. They tie his thumbs in sterilized thumb bags so he cannot suck them, and he gets along very cheerfully without sucking them. They refuse him his natural food and he takes to cow's milk with delight. They refuse him cow's milk and offer him farm-grown cereals, malted in a factory and diluted with hot water, and he thinks it is nectar! Now, what do you think of a citizen like that? That is what babies submit to right now in this Twentieth Century! And love it! If it were not unsanitary to do so they would cry for it.

Why, it was only a few years ago that Emerson -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, you may have heard of him -- was cracking up the baby as the one absolutely independent character of history, the boss of the universe and a tyrant of the deepest dye! And now look at the baby! He is a regular mother-pecked mollycoddle.

When Emerson -- Ralph W. -- was alive, you could not get a baby to open its mouth to let you extract a piece of newspaper on which it wished to gag unless you held the child down with one knee and used both hands. And now what? The baby is not allowed to touch a newspaper, and if you handed it one it would never think of it as an article of food, and if you told it the newspaper was good to eat and begged it to eat it, the baby would not take a bite of it until the clock struck the proper scheduled food hour! And as for opening its mouth it will sit up and open its mouth and hold it open to let in a big swab of antiseptic cotton soaked in boracic acid water, and not even whimper! Perhaps the baby is thankful to have that much attention paid it. I don't know. I don't know what to think of the baby.

A Discouraging Outlook

If I thought I could expect any support from the babies, I would continue my fight against the Amalgamated Mothers and their automatic baby idea, but the whole attitude of the baby is discouraging. I feel that he is becoming a downtrodden slave, and I would be willing to go ahead and raise a subscription to start a crusade to free the baby from the threatened bondage to the Scientific Motherhood, but the little rascal doesn't want to be freed. Instead of rising in his might and yowling for the rock-a-bye cradle, he sleeps contentedly in a flat crib, and I believe he would sleep as happily on a polished hickory plank, or hung from the chandelier by one leg. After eating germs, and drinking microbes, and breathing Infusoria for centuries until one would suppose he could not be happy without them, he is germ-proofed and he grows fat!

What is the use of starting crusades for a fellow like that? You might as well start a crusade against the live-boiling of potatoes and look for gratitude from the potatoes. So I say: Let the little tykes be germ-proofed and sterilized and modern-methodized for all I care! I am not going to bother my head about their rights any longer. I am going to desert them and start a "Society for the Amelioration of the Feelings of Huffed Grandmothers." The individual that deserves my sympathy is not the baby, it is the grandmother.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:12:13am USA Central
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