A couple of years ago, I went with one of my best friends to visit her brother's new baby. The first thing she did was grab the squirmy little bean, and nuzzle her nose in the crook of its cute little neck. Inhaling deeply she said to me, "Ahhh! Sniffing babies is so good for you...here, smell his head!" Turns out, my friend is not only kind and beautiful, but smart, too, as extensive research shows.
Bonding experts say that babies’ heads give off pheromones, and when we inhale them, we feel protective, with our “urge to love” measurably increased. Oxytocin -- the “feel good” chemical, works as part of the neuronal network to reduce anxiety, boost well being and lower blood pressure. And scientist are now clear that oxytocin also plays a role in the cardiovascular system, reducing free radicals, inflammation and the arterial plaque that can result in a heart attack. Wow! So much for the cliché that if it feels good it must be bad for you…
My point is, oxytocin is pretty rad. Like its comrade in pleasure serotonin, oxy-T (ok, I just made that moniker up ‘cause it was starting to feel like a science class) is activated through touch, and also doles out its yummy goodness during labor, orgasm and breastfeeding. I don’t see any more childbirth in my future, and as for orgasms…well, let’s just say my honey and I have the best of intentions, but share quarters with the boy we lovingly refer to as “the ruin-er,” as he likes to wake up and scream at the most inopportune of times. But breastfeeding? Despite his current love of chicken and collard greens (Run DMC in da house!), my little milk lover and I still nurse about 5 times a day. With so much fact-based evidence regarding nutritional benefits and accelerated cognitive achievement in breast-fed babies, the decision to continue to breastfeed Ravi past the 12 month mark was a no-brainer for me. We are unapologetically addicted to the calmness, connection and benefits it fosters, and in terms of oxytocin, let’s just say that here on the banks of the Hudson River, I’ve got my own pheromone emanating wonder-machine in the form of a curly-haired little boy. And we all benefit from this: Nanny, Poppy, Me-Mom, Daddy, Maya -- the whole family!
My Dad, who for 89 years never had an illness of any consequence, suddenly found himself at a point last April when, as my Mother says, “the shit hit the fan.” Since that time, one thing after another has tested my father’s physical and mental limits. And not little things, either – big, serious health issues that men half his age might not come through. There were more difficult days than good ones these past 10 months, and throughout the spring, summer and fall, it was clear to anyone with a set of eyes that despite struggling, his happiest and most peaceful times were with Ravi. Still, each time a new setback came up, the bounce back was infinitely harder. We spent Christmas (and New Year’s) at his bedside in ICU. He was intubated and hooked up to many monitors and medication lines while he recovered from emergency gall bladder surgery that his doctors hoped he’d wake up from. A few days later, once the tube came out and he was able to talk, he spoke mostly of “checking out,” “being done,” and “never being able to make it at home.” It was a very, very dark time. My mother was with him round the clock, and I was at the hospital at least twice a day. She’d meet me in the lobby to look after the baby while I went upstairs. But after a few days of this arrangement, I finally said “f this,” (as I am occasionally known to do), sneaked the kid past the “no children under 12 sign” and did the only thing a daughter who was now a mother could do – give my dad and my son an opportunity to have as much time together as they could get.
It’s now February, and the breathing tube is gone along with the talk of death. He’s chatting with friends, eating peanuts by the handful, and picked up the trumpet he hadn’t touched in a year. Naturally, the heart medication, ongoing physical therapy, my Mom’s unyielding efforts and the Zoloft prescription certainly have something to do with this. But do the many pills he swallows and the strengthening exercises he’s (supposed to be) doing each day tell the whole story? No way, Jose. Not a day passes that doesn’t find Ravi hangin’ with his Poppy. The kid just adores time spent with his grandparents, and my Dad is absolutely in love with this little boy. He watches him throw around his blocks, and sits him on his lap while he plants a kiss on his forehead. Dad’s newest thing is to sing a lyric from the blues song “Caldonia” to him: “Caldonia, Caldonia, what makes your big head so hard?” The kid does have a large head.
So yes, 8 weeks post-surgery, the nearly-91- year-old Joe Cabot is alive, at home and thriving. His visiting nurse is on top of things , my Mom is a caretaker par excellence, and things continue to move along in the right direction. It is so wonderful to see! And I'm quite certain that that there’s a (very) big head in all its oxytocin emitting splendor that most definitely has something to do with it.