I was talking about the controversial trend of “baby swing yoga” (aka “dynastic gymnastics”) over lunch on Sunday. In case you are not familiar, you may want to spend some time on YouTube gawking at these naked infants being flipped and flung around by their limbs. It is alarming, upsetting and strangely mesmerizing.
“That’s idiotic,” Aaron said without hesitation as soon as I described it. “They’re going to end up giving those babies traumatic brain injuries!”
“Why would anyone think that’s a good idea?” said Wyatt around a mouthful of rice and beans.
Although I share Aaron’s belief that this practice is a terrible idea—the sight of those twisting limbs and little unprotected noggins flying through space brings my heart into my throat, especially in the clips where the babies are crying—I can also entertain the conflicting idea that there might be some shred of truth to the practice. Let me make this clear: I am not condoning baby swing yoga in any way. However, I think there is benefit to providing vestibular stimulation in infants—all the babies I have known love movement: swinging, rocking, jiggling, the rhythmic bounce of riding in a sling or chest carrier, and the vibration of riding in cars and strollers. I remember taking Wyatt on a carousel when he was only a month old. Aaron thought it was a silly idea—what could a 5-week-old possibly get out of a carousel ride?—but he entertained this impulse of a new mother, buying the tickets, waiting in line, shielding Wyatt from the sun with his shadow, worrying whether the music was too loud for his little ears, making sure nobody jostled us as we filed through the gate and onto the carousel. Then as the platform began to turn, the music playing, lights shining, horses bobbing up and down, we gazed down at our baby boy and were amazed to see his wide-eyed wonder. Wyatt was not smiling yet at that age, but his eyes lit up, he grew still, quiet, focused. Even without language or the ability to laugh or smile, we could both see that at the very least, he noticed. We went whirling round and round together. I think Aaron may have videotaped the entire ride.
With all three of our babies, we found they loved roughhousing and physical stimulation from before they could actively participate. We swung them (gently) in our arms, lifted them over our heads, (carefully) tipped them upside down, danced with them, bounced them, rolled them around, dipped their toes in the creek, floated them on their backs in the bath tub and pools, took their tiny hands and helped them feel the textures of their world—fuzzy fabric, rough tree bark, smooth skin, cool glass, etc.—before they had the ability to do so themselves. We never had any formalized plan in any of this. I suppose I was emulating the way I had seen my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles playing with my younger siblings and cousins my whole life, but more than anything, Aaron and I were both following the lead of our babies. That’s really what you do as a new parent: you try stuff and see what works. What works varies from baby to baby, age to age, day to day, but little by little you build up your personal repertoire of Things To Do With Babies. I think that sometimes people start to get messed up when they overthink this stuff—instead of trusting their instincts and following the leads of their babies, they look for an “expert” to lead them blindly along. Not all experts are created equal. Some of them are quacks. I think the most dangerously effective quacks are those that take some small piece of truth and ascribe all sorts of additional meaning to it until the truth itself is lost, obscured, overridden by quackery.
Thus I can see how baby swing yoga could come to happen. Babies like movement. A certain amount of physical stimulation makes for happy, engaged babies. One thing leads to another and suddenly we have a guru telling people to flip their babies wildly over their heads, dunk them under the sea, swing them in circles by one ankle.
So, I answered Wyatt’s question this way: “Well, these parents aren’t trying to hurt their babies. They think that they are doing a good thing for them. They think swinging them around will give them increased vitality.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means they think they’re making their babies healthier and stronger.”
“Ugh. Some people are so confused,” he scoffed and then he did the thing that he does, which is a defining characteristic of Wyatt’s mind: he made the mental leap of connecting and summing up seemingly unrelated subjects in an offhand comment. This is something we all love about him but these days we have to struggle to keep a straight face because he can get sensitive when he feels he is being laughed at. We try telling him that our laughter is not belittling—it is just surprising to have these glimpses of clarity of thought from a young kid (and his phrasing is frequently unintentionally funny)—but still he finds our laughter condescending. He imagines himself an equal participant in conversations with adults. He only wants us to laugh when he is trying to be funny (which, unfortunately, is often when he is the least humorous as he likes to go for slapstick, potty humor, inanity, teasing of brothers and loud repetitions of obnoxious noises).
So, here is what Wyatt had to say about baby swing yoga, delivered with maximum 8-year-old scorn: “Well… I guess it’s just this gluten-free age we’re living in.”