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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

How To Talk To Your Newborn About Existence

Our new “baby book” is a handy monologue to explain the universe to newborns.

Starting your life can be a bewildering experience. Everything is new and nothing makes sense. Parents may struggle to know how to begin explaining the world to their newborns

Fortunately, Current Affairs has a new book that explains all of the basics to your day-old baby.

Illustrated by Current Affairs artist Ellen Burch, with text by editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson, Welcome to This Strange Thing Called Life offers a handy monologue that parents can deliver to their babies explaining the basic concepts that every child will need in order to navigate life successfully. They’ll be introduced to time, planet Earth, language, politics, animals, history, and various parts of the human body. It’s a quick tour through the basics of life on our planet, preparing every newborn for the experiences and objects they will encounter as they grow. 

At only a few days old, your baby might not appear to understand the whole monologue. But we don’t believe in talking down to babies. Give it to them straight, we say, and you may find they understand more than you think.

Welcome to This Strange Thing Called Life is available from Amazon and the Current Affairs online shop.

An excerpt follows.

Being born can be a very bewildering experience. Suddenly, after billions of years of being not-alive, you find yourself alive, and have to figure out where you are and what it all means. It is the job of adults to help new humans navigate the confusion. But more than one parent has struggled to explain life effectively to a baby. Hence this book, which provides a standard monologue that parents can use to introduce newborn babies to the world and answer all of their basic questions. We hope it can be useful for anyone unsure what to tell their infants about the meaning of life.

Good morning, baby. My name is [insert name]* and I am your [insert role: mother/father/other]. This is [insert partner’s name, if applicable] and they are your [insert role]. Welcome to the thing! I think the first order of business is apologize to you somewhat, because we realize you did not have much of a say in coming here. It’s probably all terribly bewildering, and in a way that’s on us because we sort of… made you. The process was complicated and I think we had better leave the full explanation of how it happened until later but I do want you to know that we are ultimately the ones at fault if you don’t end up liking this experience and rather wish it had never happened in the first place. 

We [use I and the singular if appropriate] will be serving as your sort of tour guides, or chaperones—you can call us “parents”—for the next few hundred thousand hours or so, or at least until you get tired of us and decide to go your own way. You can technically do that anytime, but just be warned that if you go off wandering by yourself too soon there might be questions and we’ll probably get the blame should anything unfortunate happen. 

Oh, yes, sorry, an “hour.” An hour is a unit of time,  and time is, uh,  a flow of events. Or something. (One discovery I’m afraid you’re going to make quickly is that [Other Partner, hereinafter OP] and I are imperfect guides to this place and a lot of your most basic and reasonable questions might not be given satisfactory answers.) 

Anyway, an hour is divided into sixty minutes, a minute into sixty seconds. Just to give you a sense, you’ve had about three minutes so far, and you will likely spend about 36,792,000 of them here in total. It may seem like a lot now, but they will pass by rapidly. So do be conscientious and try to make good use of them. The minutes you get cannot be replenished and some people get a lot more than others. They can be instantly taken away should something horrible happen to you, which we [gesture to OP] will be doing our best to ensure it does not.

There is a lot that we should tell you, and we won’t have time to explain all of it just now. First, the thing that is happening to you is called “life,” and it is either the greatest blessing imaginable or the cruelest curse to inflict on someone, depending who you ask. 

We consider ourselves to be in the “for” rather than “against” category, hence you, and this. Now, we realize that you will naturally have some queries of the “Why?” and “What?” variety, but please just put them aside for the moment and hold all questions until the end of this brief initial tour. 

Life takes place here [point to Universe] in a place called the Universe. You will grow accustomed to it with time. It is very big and spooky and most people try not to think about it very much because it can make you feel tiny and pointless, the former of which I regret to say you truly are, but the latter of which you most certainly are not (at least not to us).

Now, you are probably wondering what you are, and we actually have a reasonably clear answer to that: you are a creature. The world is divided into stuff, plants, and creatures, and you are in Group Number Three. The creatures are all very different—although, in a way, the same—and all related, which is weird to think about but true. The type of creature you are is called a “human.” It’s a kind of… elaborate monkey, and I realize you don’t know what a monkey is yet but just bear it in mind for context. Whenever you are confused, think “I am but an elaborate monkey,” and it may prove reassuring somehow. 

In a way, you are fortunate to have been born a human, since humans tend to eat all of the other creatures and if there is one thing I can assure you don’t want to be, it is eaten. (Do your best to avoid it.) But being a human also has its disadvantages, such as the inevitability of dread and despair. If you had been a snail—that’s a small gooey thing that lives in a hard thing—there is a good chance you would have just gotten to sort of wander around mindlessly, troubled by nothing, at least until being eaten. But here we are, what’s done is done, and you are what you are, and as they say, “you ain’t what you ain’t.”

A quick bit of information you will need: we have given you a label, [child’s name]. This is called your “name.” Try to remember it, as you may need to use it. I realize you might find it rather presumptuous of us to have decided upon this before you got here, considering that we are only supposed to be your tour guides and not your “owners” or anything like that, but the government wanted something for record-keeping purposes and we were forced to improvise. (More on governments later.) We do think it’s a lovely name and it means [If name has a meaning, insert it here. If not, make something up]. It will cease to seem strange after a few thousand repetitions, as will all words. (However: as you become accustomed to things, try to avoid concluding that they are normal and okay just because we are used to them.) 

Now, on the subject of you being a creature: if you would care to look down, you will see a soft, oddly shaped entity called a “body.” You will be living in the body. As far as we know, it is not possible to leave or exchange it, and we wouldn’t recommend trying. 

We apologize if it makes you feel trapped. Unfortunately, it’s not
the most dependable device in the world and it does have a tendency to go wrong and malfunction. Do watch out and tell us if bits start falling off it or anything of that nature. There will be some rather unpleasant stuff that starts flowing out of it. Do not worry about that, it is expected. We will come and clear it up for you until you’ve sorted out how to do it yourself, which is really not difficult. 

Before we move on from the body, I suppose I should mention that the face has a “brain” under it. The brain is a lumpy gob of something that does the thinking. You will need to think from time to time, so it’s best you know it’s there. Elsewhere, beneath the body’s surface, you will find organs and bones—in fact you have this rather unsettling-looking contraption called a skeleton rattling around under there, but there will come time to contemplate that later.

For more, check out the full book!

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