Why I’m Jealous of Your Baby

There are two kinds of babies: those who are described as busy, spirited, high-energy, active, sensory-seeking, adventurous, precocious or driven. And then there’s the good kind. I have the former. He’s busy. Busy.

Whoever came up with that one should get one of those MacArthur fellowships.

Welcome to the world of baby euphemisms. The babies you covet, well, we can’t just go ahead and call them “good.” We have to refer to them as “Zen-like,” “old souls,” “mellow,” “taking it all in” or, if you’re a hipster, “chill.” You can’t just admit you got one of the easy ones — that would sound braggy. But we know what’s behind the terminology. We who chase our “high-energy” kids around while they shove pine cones into their gullets and attempt to run down the neighbor’s pit bull, we know what “mellow” really means. It means that baby just sits on your lap at baby music class while my kid rummages through random diaper bags, climbs on a bench, helps himself to anyone’s juice, pulls off his socks, gums the side of a tambourine and attempts to escape out the front door before the wheels on the bus have even gone round and round.

But your “old soul” just “takes it all in” when the teacher sings songs about the earth being our mother. And I hate you for it.

That’s a strong word. I’m jealous and resentful and confused. Why did I step off the curb of Mommy Street and get sideswiped by a busy baby? Is it something I did? My DNA? These are the questions I ask myself as I toggle between enormous, visceral, gigantic love for my busy baby and trace amounts of shame and envy that swirl around and settle at the bottom of a massive vat of physical exhaustion.

Baby classes that involve sitting in a circle? They just enable those of us with spirited kids to have our spirits broken by staring right at the good babies. That’s right, let’s call them what they are.

The only word that really feels right to describe my baby is “spazz,” but at some point between junior high and today that term became completely offensive. So, I apologize. But in the argot of long-ago teenagers playing Atari, listening to Juice Newton and wearing Le Tigre, my 17-month-old Buster is a bit of a spazz. Bless the hearts of today’s baby experts. They tell you that though your kid may be “excitable” and “exuberant,” this is because he is actually “advanced.” Really? I would like him to advance himself toward some building blocks and amuse himself for 37 seconds so mom could blow dry three-quarters of her hair.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it, too. I’m telling myself daily that I have no right to complain. I have a healthy baby. What about parents with real problems? They wish their biggest concern were never getting to sit still. I know. I’m sorry. This is a high-quality problem. Still, thinking about those who have it worse doesn’t change the fact that some have it easy. You know who you are. You go rolling by me as your kid meditates peacefully in the shopping cart, blissed out like the Dalai Lama with a pacifier and a sippy cup of Propofol. In the two seconds I waste in awe over your baby, I’ve missed the fact that mine is now clutching a jar of strawberry jam over his head like a grenade.

Motherhood, while rewarding and life changing, is getting to be like “The Hurt Locker.”

Those of you who insist that busy babies grow up to be curious, dynamic balls of intense intelligence and great empathy, I hope you aren’t lying to make me feel better. However, if you are lying, you’re doing the right thing. Maybe temperament, like jam, stays the same unless something comes along to smash it. No one likes it all over aisle three, but it’s sweet on toast.

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41 Responses to “Why I’m Jealous of Your Baby”

  1. Mary
    July 6, 2011 at 1:50 am #

    Hey, you forgot one: “kinesthetic learner.” Both the story-time librarian and the music class teacher tactfully described my 18-month spazzer this way. At music class he managed to sprint over the copier way over in the corner and bust one of the paper trays before I could get to him. Meanwhile a circle of calm babies sat politely in their mother’s laps, watching.

  2. Sam
    June 21, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    I just found your blog and I love it! I also identify with the busy baby. I call him bonkers. People suggest outings to do with my toddler and they just don’t happen. He won’t sit still enough to participate. I even had my playgroup moms wonder if I wanted to be in the group because I never sat to talk with them – I was always with my baby. That was because I was chasing him around making sure he didn’t climb their stairs or break their lamps. Their “angel” babies all sat with their mommies or sat quietly in their high chair and ate on their own. I do take some pleasure now when I see one of those former angel babies pulling someone’s hair – I know! – shame on me!

  3. Becky
    May 30, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    This grown-up “easy baby” married a grown-up “busy baby” (who is, in fact, a curious, dynamic ball of intense intelligence and great empathy at 24, so there is hope) and spends some weekly quality time worrying about what might happen when those genes combine.

    If the luck of the genetic draw produces Busy Baby 2.0, then I’m thinkin’ the former busy baby of the house might get to take on the new role of stay-at-home dad, ’cause Former Easy Baby is still “Zen-like” (read: lazy, with a really slow response time) and liable to crack under pressure!

  4. Greta
    May 17, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    Oh my, I can relate to this! haha My oldest was (and still is!) such a “busy” little guy. I remember taking him to the library for story time when he was about 18 months and I would be sweating by the time we left from chasing after him the whole time! I would look at these other little ones who would sit at their parent’s feet and play with a toy while the mommies visited and I couldn’t believe it! Then…I had a second baby and I was surprisingly blessed with a “mellow” son! He slept through the night from birth and preferred snuggling to climbing and running. He did tend to follow his big brother around though. Now I have a third son and OH BOY, he redefines “busy.” At 17 months he has actually pulled a chair over to my side door and dismantled (yes – dismantled) the deadbolt. How? I have no idea. I had to take his big brothers’ bunk beds apart when he was only a year old because I would routinely find him on the top bunk. My husband and I started out wanting four children….we are now content with three! haha

  5. beabee
    April 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    My mom had two easy babies in a row (me and my brother) and thought she was the best mom in the world — wondering what the hell was wrong with all those “other people” who couldn’t control their kids. Then she had my sister, haha! It’s nothing you do. And now we’ve all, from the brother who routinely fell asleep in his high chair to the sister who pulled everything out of her closet during nap time, evened out into normal, educated, employed, socially functioning adults. I don’t think it makes much difference in the end. But my sympathies go out to you until then!

  6. Jan
    April 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm #


    My husband and I are trying to get pregnant and we need your help ;o) I was wondering if you would post a list of the Top Ten Porno’s from your baby making days. We are not a fan of all the spitting, name calling, etc. we have watched thus far. Just doesn’t do it for us.

    It would be MOST appreciated!


  7. Adina
    April 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    So my now 3 year old was definitely a pretty laid back baby, and now, at least among strangers, is still pretty chill. BUT, I also get flack because she’s shy, and quiet, among strangers. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

  8. Kelly
    April 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    I just linked to your blog from a TODAYMoms article, and have spent the last hour reading your posts and laughing out loud!! You hit so many of the mom challenges right on the head. I could really relate to a lot of your posts. Thanks for all the good laughs–I will look forward to following your blog!!

  9. Lori
    April 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Love this post. My boy is now 4 and still very, very busy. Sigh.

  10. Rebekah
    April 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    I think…. I love you! You have put down all the things I never say for fear of pissing off all my mommy friends with good babies. I have three kids under the age of five. My first is so spazz-tastic that I thought for sure if we didn’t have bother right away we never would, and she came out and was easier so I thought that surely this is what a good baby is! And then… We brought her home! It’s been non stop. And then the newest… He is sweet and smiles and loves being cuddled, but he is 9 months and all over the place now and if we try to contain him it’s the moments when he screams louder than the other two. When I take them places the only thing I hear is ‘wow’ and then… When we leave I hear whispers about that is really a handful.

    Thank you for this post, and for those responders who have spirited children who are spazztastic! I don’t feel so scared or alone now… I might get brave and go to the grocery store… If I can find the shoe they hid from me this morning….

  11. Rebekah
    April 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    I think…. I love you! You have put down all the things I never say for fear of pissing off all my mommy friends with good babies. I have three kids under the age of five. My first is so spazz-tastic that I thought for sure if we didn’t have bother right away we never would, and she came out and was easier so I thought that surely this is what a good baby is! And then… We brought her home! It’s been non stop. And then the newest… He is sweet and smiles and loves being cuddled, but he is 9 months and all over the place now and if we try to contain him it’s the moments when he screams louder than the other two. When I take them places the only thing I hear is ‘wow’ and then… When we leave I hear whispers about that is really a handful.

    Thank you for this post, and for those responders who have spirited children who are spazztastic! I don’t feel so scared or alone now… I might get brave and go to the grocery store… If I can find the shoe they hid from me this morning….

  12. Rebecca
    March 28, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Oh lord-thank you. You have written everything I am thinking! I have a spazz, as well. At the play area in the mall, while other kids are happy to climb the tree house and slide, my 2 1/2 year old is escaping and running into Spencers!

  13. Megan
    March 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    As the owner of two children – one “busy” and one “mellow,’ I know exactly where you’re coming from. Let me tell you, the reports I get from preschool about my high-energy son just make me smile and enjoy the nine hours a week it’s just my mellow baby and me. And yes, all of that energy translates to one freaking hilarious three year old. And one exhausted mama.

  14. The columnista
    March 24, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    I too had a busy baby. He is now nine and one of his favorite bed time stories are his many baby stories which usually involve him being mental and me being humiliated. I have to start with the early ones (where we went to a massage class full of cooey, relaxed babies and he screamed rigid for 45 minutes) and then finish with the ‘dirty beer story’. This was when I took him to a new music class in which he was the only boy (should have seen read the signs!) and rather than stay within the circle he proceeded to run up and down the hall screaming ‘DIRTY BEER!!!’ (we had been to a pub for lunch the day before and he spent the whole time trying wrestle his Dad’s beer out of his hand- hence ‘No! dirty beer!). The teacher stopped mid wheels on the bus “What is he saying?”, ” Teddy Bear!?”, was my answer as I hot footed out the side door. Your blog is so funny and your child will love reading all these stories in future years.

    P.s. loved your Huff Post column on Charlie Sheen/Amy Chua, I wrote about what Charlie Sheen has in common with my print New Yorker on my blog this week. Tenuous link, but it’s still a #winner!

  15. Kristin
    March 23, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    i would suggest having another child – we all know you never get two alike! :)
    i have three, one of each extreme behavior and one in the middle.

  16. Jenn
    March 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    This post could have been something I wrote. I am jealous of the “zen-like” baby mamas. At music/gym class this past Saturday all the other babies were nicely sitting on their mama’s laps during the good-bye song. My busy bee was running circles around the room. The boys just happened to be on one side of the circle, the girls on the other. My daughter (she just turned 1 on March 1) turned to the boys, giggled, lifted up her shirt to flash them, and then put her shirt back down and contiuned to run circles. Let’s just say I wanted to claw this one mama’s eyes out when after class she said “man I’m tired” when he kid did NOTHING but sit there. I was tempted to say I’ll watch you kid and you can take mine.

    I read somewhere that the average toddler walks the length of 39 football fields a day. My family likes to joke that my daughter walks double that.

  17. Alicia
    March 16, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Love, love, love this post! My 16 month old is one of the “busy” ones. I can totally relate to the grocery store scene…your description had me laughing so hard I cried! But, as another commenter said, I am so happy to not look at my daughter and wonder if she’s on track developmentally…she’s light years ahead of some of her schoolmates, so I hope that just means I have one smart cookie on my hands (even if those hands and the rest of my body are ALWAYS tired)!

  18. Adina
    March 15, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    I have one of each. The first one is restless and the second one quite a bit better. So child #1 is still in daycare 9 hours a day while I am at home on mat leave with child #2. I was the child from hell, apparently, but I never thought that has anything to do with the behaviour of my first born. Nor did I think any of it was my fault. The second child proves that I was right. Not only is he easier to be with, but he also validates my baseless parenting theories. I could designate him as my favourite and start setting aside therapy money for my daughter, but she is so much cuter! So I will need more evidence before I decide which one is better.

  19. Sheila
    March 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    T – Loved this piece. I had one of each and both have their positive points and negatives that drive you out of your tree. My “busy” child I often referred to as my two-and-a-half foot terrorist. Barking orders and screetching her displeasure at my speed, my ability to successfully grant demands, anticipate future desires etc. The other one was happyy to lay in her crib and paly with the contents of her diaper (which only caused me to lose my mind the FIRST time it happened). It is really interesting how they could be so polar opposites of each other.

    They DO as your other commenters mellow with time, but honestly – if I look deep enough, my two foot terrorist is as demanding with herself as she once was with me, and my Hakuna Matata kid is still totally blissed out and everything that happens to her has a positive spin to it. She simply won’t let other peoples expectations OR other peoples bad days impact her day. A long line at Starbucks, or *G*d forbid” …. the expresso bar being broken so she can’t get her drink now THAT’S a crisis that would derail her week LOL.

    I can say that there does seem to be some ancient genetics at play with busy boys – I think there are still some men who we can count on to face down the Sabre tooth tiger at the cave door – we NEED those guys, because we should not be responsible for causing the McGuyver gene to become extinct on our watch.

  20. Becky
    March 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    My oldest was like that, too – now that he’s hit 5, he’s mellowing a bit but that spaziness still comes out when he’s tired or overwhelmed. I always wondered what I was doing wrong – my kid was the only one at playgroups who wouldn’t sit still, wouldn’t stay out of things, wouldn’t stop screeching just to hear his own voice. I wondered too, if it was my faulty genetics. And I felt guilty because I felt resentful more often than I’d care to admit. Then my second child was born – a zen baby – and I stopped feeling like my oldest’s personality was a reflection of me. But then I felt guilty because I found my youngest’s company more enjoyable than my “busy” child’s. (Now the scales are tipping the other direction again as my youngest is in the throes of the terrible 3′s…)

  21. marisa
    March 12, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Wait until he’s two and learns to jump. Or four and figures out the electric wire outside his third story bedroom window is EXACTLY like Batman’s zipline. 6 years later I haven’t slept for more than four hours at a time. I had to be a leash parent. I know. But with LA traffic and Disneyland and the OCEAN I was CRAZED and it was one less thing to worry about. Don’t be scared to get the retractable one. It looks great with the monkey backpack.

  22. Cat
    March 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    Thought you would like to see this! And I hope you do. http://www.celebritybabyscoop.com/2011/03/11/selma-blairs-brentwood-bump

  23. Zilla
    March 11, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Um…my 21 month old daughter is a total spazz. What’s wrong with calling her that? I’m thinking of adding it as a second middle name on her birth certificate.

  24. valentina
    March 11, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    I have gone through THREE busy children, and the youngest is the busiest. He is 3 1/2, but still busy. Mostly I am chasing him before he disappears in the subway by himself or thinks he has to be first wherever we are heading, thus racing down a street/hall/shop. At least his sister is a year older; before I would have to save both of them from their lemming behavior. Just caught one in time from speeding out of the supermarket, immediately having to chase the other one with the children shopping cart a centimeter away from smashing a tower of jars with jam or running down customers. Oh, and I live in Germany where people sue kindergartens to close down because of the “unbearable noise”. Imagine the disapproving looks (glares), when we use public transport.

    Somehow I envy those parents with Buddha children. On the other hand, my friends love those stories I tell (like sister proudly presenting her artwork of baby brother’s face full of my Shiseido cream or the youngest putting on mascara on ONE eye, ready to join KISS), and at the end of the day, I do laugh about it as well. They are quite creative, huh?

  25. Astra
    March 11, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    I can totally relate! My son is 20 months and is also very “busy” or spazzy. I call him the Tasmanian Devil because wherever he goes he leave a big mess behind. We took a mommy and me gymnastics class and it was a joke. The teacher actually thought he would sit in a circle and stretch? He got up and ran across the whole gym and climbed on the trampoline. After a few weeks I realized I was too exhausted to chase him around when we were supposed to be in a “class.” And yes, all the other kids sat and did as they were told for the most part. MY kid was the spaz. Fortunately he is so good natured in every other way that it makes up for it. Going to the park is NOT fun though. His favorite game is to run as far away from me as possible, all the while looking back and laughing maniacally as I chase him. I actually bought him one of those kid leashes but I’ve been too embarrassed to use it yet! I never in a million years thought I would be that person. I used to make fun of those people! I tell myself he will be good at sports and really “active.”

    Anyway I’m a big fan and I love reading your blog. Miss you on Adam’s podcast. :)

  26. JJ Keith
    March 11, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    My mom freakin’ loves the word “busy.” And jeez, isn’t it just so damn perfect that my toddler’s name is Bea? How apropos! I mean, could you die? I could. I really, really could.

    • Sarah
      April 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

      Ha! i had to respond to your comment because I also have a busy little Bee. Her name is Phoebe and we call her Bee all the time. She is definitely our busy bee.

  27. emily
    March 10, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

    If it makes you feel better, my baby was once zen-like. People were envious. And then she hit 18 months and turned into a spazz. I discovered it at Target, while I scanned the dollar bin, I turned around to see my calm observant child standing up in the cart, prepared to leap to the ground and run off with a new family. Sigh. I miss lap days.

  28. MamaRobinJ
    March 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Right there with you. Mine is 2 1/2 now and it hasn’t changed a bit. He exhausts me ;)

    My friend and I joke that my kid, who is, er, difficult, will grow up to be smart and successful while her kid, who was totally easy, will be the one getting them into trouble. We’ve told them to call her kid’s dad when they get arrested (he’s a criminal defense laywer). It’s a joke, but I do hope there’s some sort of payback for dealing with a high-energy kid!

  29. Shauna
    March 10, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    My mother always referred to me as “full of life” and now that I have a 17 month old I am getting my pay-back. My daughter is in a constant state of flux. While there are moments I wish she would just take a nap rather than demanding we sing Happy Birthday to her princess dolls for the 1579th time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  30. Vari
    March 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    As much as my wee girl is “good” in so many ways, she’s also “busy”… or as busy as one can be at 6 months. She rolls all over her floor, she rolls all over her crib, I often find her back to front and upside down in the morning. If she’s in your arms or on your lap, whichever way she’s facing, she’ll want to face the other way. My one friend calls her the wriggly roo. I’m skinnier than I was prior to being pregnant, cause I don’t get a minutes rest unless she’s asleep, which at 6:27am, she is not, after fighting going back to bed for the last 2 hours. My secret weapon is the babybjorn. No matter what state she’s in, or where we’re going, I can pop her in there and she’ll be as happy as larry for hours. It means I can fold laundry, or write an email standing up, or any other number of tasks around the house that doesn’t require a tool, or too much bending over, so it’s pretty priceless. She does still manage to retain her status as “busy” though, cause even while strapped to my person she’s flapping her arms trying to fly, kicking her legs, trying to swim, and she has this little gem where she head butts me with the back of her head, while simultaneously kicking me in the c-section scar. ooft. Double ooft, I started writing this almost 7 hours ago. Got a bit distracted. Ah the joys of parenthood.

  31. Dawn
    March 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I have an “active” and “busy” 14 month old. While some of my other friends talk of their kids around the same age watching TV or I see them sit calmly at a restaurant while we’re out, I feel a little jealous. But whatever, my kid is cuter! Joking! Just trying to make myself feel better! haha! Anyway, mine sleeps through the night so I am thankful for that because I know that’s not always the case.

  32. Gwen
    March 10, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    I simply LOVED the “Mommy and Me” classes. We are told by the leader that it’s a place to socialize and to engage our child. Really, it’s a competition. Who is the best looking mother? Who has lost the most weight? Who is sooooo happy all the time to be a mother? Whose child is most advanced? Whose baby is most alert? I always lost. I did not have “busy” children. I had lumps. My twins didn’t walk until they were NINETEEN MONTHS OLD! Not because they lacked the ability, but because they lacked the desire. I can understand the exhaustion involved with raising a “highly active” and “curious” child, but I haven’t experienced it. My children have proven to be “natural leaders who lack the gentle art of persuasion”. Yup, you guessed it…they’re bossy!

  33. amanda
    March 10, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    I had a little spazz too. He was into EVERYTHING, anything he could reach would be mangled, inspected, and mouthed. He was a handful until about 3 and a half. Now he’s almost 5 and he’s super sweet and easy.

    My niece was a bit easier as a toddler but she’s an a-hole now.

  34. It is what it is
    March 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    I remember when my son was an infant wondering why he was so active compared to the other infants I’d been around. I read a book (and tried in vain to find the title before posting this) that basically described three infant temperaments (two were active and calm and I can’t recall what the 3rd was) and the active child was my son to a “T”. Later, as we hit toddlerdom and the terrible twos set in at 15 months, my active baby gave way to a strong willed toddler who, at 4 is just as strong willed. If someone hasn’t raised a strong willed child they cannot relate to what its like and I won’t go into it here. What I can say, is that thankfully, time has mellowed him a lot. So, even though it is go-go-go from wake to sleep, it is easier to manage at 4.

    All this is a preface to say that I, too, shared the same jealousy and wonder at the mothers of children who were calm, serene, and taking it all in vs. the whirling dervish that was sometimes my son. My own mom regales me with stories about how when I was a baby and then a toddler she could put me on a blanket on the lawn and I would never stray from the blanket. I have never had that experience with my son (try as I did to replicate it).

    Good luck and thanks for posting this.

  35. Whitney
    March 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    Dear Lord, Can I relate. My 22 month old has one speed–ON! She wakes up in the middle of the night and demands her hat. She orders everyone in the house to do her bidding like she’s Atilla the Hun and she has us totally and completely wrapped around her chubby fingers. Here’s a perspective, I look at those little Buddah kids at play group and fine them totally boring. I would much rather be dragging my tired old can around chasing my little go-getter than wondering what’s wrong with my kid that she just sits around contemplating her navel. I’m currently jealous of the moms whose kids are reported to have potty trained themselves. Now that just isn’t right!

    • Teresa Strasser
      March 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

      The image of your child demanding her hat in the night is pretty priceless …

  36. Katie
    March 9, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    Great post! I, too, have a “busy” boy who also doesn’t love to sleep so I can relate to this 100%. I am thrilled that he is healthy and happy and “advanced” but I would love an afternoon of just coloring or building blocks.

  37. michael
    March 9, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

    If I remember right, back in an early ep. of Parent Experiment you sort of ‘whatevered” RIE and Magda Gerber. I completely understand that. I did as well. It seemed like a load of hippy sh*t to me. Even though I live in west LA and am surrounded by super rich hippies I’m not one. It might be too late to try it, but my older son started when he was 13 months or so and it really was the smartest decision we ever made. It helps them calm themselves and learn to play by themselves. It’s not perfect but I swear to f*cking god it’s worth it. here’s a clip of my kids playing

  38. Alex
    March 9, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Nice post T! It’s been awhile since i’ve seen a new one. …I’m assuming your grenadier is the reason why. Anyway, i’m loving your writing. Keep them coming.

  39. Jamie
    March 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Love this and relate completely. My first and only child is a busy guy, busy and precocious with the gross motor skills. When he started walking at 9 freakin’ months old I was like, “Aw, c’mon…can’t you just chill with the crawling for a while longer? Give me a break!” While I try to thank my lucky stars that my son is healthy and robust, being his mom just requires more physical energy and vigilance because he just all over the place and into everything. My little guy is approaching 3 and is getting a little easier at this point, so perhaps there’s hope that he won’t be a spazz forever. p.s. You get bonus points for the Le Tigre reference; I LOL’d.

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