It's happened to all of us.
A friend pops in front of us unexpectedly, gripping a bundle containing her offspring. She gazes eagerly directly into our faces, anticipating an answering spark of joy and affection as we cast our eyes on the thing in her arms. Sometimes the best we can muster upon spying this remarkably frog-like creature is not to leap back in genuine alarm.
It's not that I'm opposed to babies. At least, not in theory. As a matter of fact, I happen to believe that the tops of their heads smell divine. But the tops of their heads aren't the problem -- it's what appears directly beneath the tops of their heads that I frequently find alarming.
That's right. I'm talking about their faces.
The sad truth is that barring few exceptions, newborn babies are often very ugly indeed, with their mewling little scrunched up features reddened from crying and dusted with flakes of cradle cap.
Not that we can ever admit this out loud. If we were to say what pops into our minds immediately upon spying a newborn, noting that our friend's spawn bears a remarkable resemblance to a cross between Winston Churchill and Smeagol, we'd probably have decidedly fewer friends. This is because admitting that a baby's appearance falls anywhere short of perfection is on par with snatching the baby out of his mother's arms in a misguided attempt to punt him over the moon.
So learning how to compliment an ugly baby really is in your best interests.
How to Compliment an Ugly Baby:
1. Invest in a good thesaurus. Study synonyms for all baby-related words, ensuring that positively-connotative phrases such as "precious little sugar lump!" and "dear drop of darling delight!" spring smoothly and involuntarily from your lips. Rather than being left to grope about mentally for suitable, non-offensive adjectives, your mouth will take over, delivering beautifully-crafted, pre-prepared compliments that will leave tears in your friend's eyes. Meanwhile, this leaves your mind free to grapple with the internal horror of processing the sheer ugliness of your friend's offspring.
2. Be purposefully obtuse. Even when sporting onesies emblazoned with the legend "IT'S A GIRL!" the general gender ambiguity of most newborns gives you leeway for some seeming confusion. Use this to your advantage, thus:
FRIEND: (beaming at you) Well?!? What do you think??
YOU: Oh! He's--she's?--just.... I mean, wait. Is this a boy or a girl?
FRIEND: She's a girl, silly! See? (points to slogan on onesie)
YOU: (doofily) Ah, I see. You really should pierce her ears! I had a friend who--
And there you go, launching into a litany of ear-piercing foibles, leaving the conversational track of the child's questionable adorableness in the rearview. Well done, you.
3. Create a diversion. When all else fails, it's time to cut and run. Based on your friends' respective gullibility levels, a simple pointing ruse ("Look over THERE! What could THAT BE!") may ensure you enough time to dip around the corner and run for your life. Avoiding more keen-witted parents may require the sacrifice of your earthly possessions such as your house or your car for the cause; therefore planting some small explosives in unobtrusive places wired to remote detonators may not go amiss. To some people, such actions may sound extreme, but no sacrifice is to great to keep you from the greatest of all sacrifices--that of the companionship of your friend if you were to admit just how hideous you find his progeny.
In the end, perhaps we can all be grateful for the tale of the Ugly Duckling, which assures us that no matter how ugly your child may be when he enters the world, there's always the possibility that it may turn out that you've actually birthed a swan instead of a human child. Which might, if you think about it, explain everything.
But that's not actually the point.
The point is that nobody really cares whether or not you think his baby conforms to traditional expectations of beauty. Your friend just wants you to recognize, as he has, that a miracle has taken place, and that he's been allowed to be part of it.
Because regardless of wrinkled faces, jowly cheeks, asymmetrical nostrils, and flaky skin, each baby encases a soul made in the image of God.
And that's the real beauty of babies.