HERE'S one difference between men and women that few would deny: Women are captivated by babies, and men are not.
Before I go any further, let me quickly acknowledge that there are some men who adore infants, and some women who are indifferent to them, but as a generalization, I believe my statement to be true.
Women of every age -- in supermarkets, on airplanes, in doctors' offices -- melt in the presence of an infant, their faces softening instantly to beaming.
Men, by contrast, will tend to treat a woman carrying a baby with special care, but it is the mother who gets the attention, not the baby. A woman who is a stranger will count it a great honor to be permitted to hold the baby. A man would most likely never ask.
This is no criticism of men. In fact, the extra solicitude they offer during pregnancy and in the presence of a newborn is welcome. But it is interesting. The two sexes seem to be programmed toward different goals. (Charen's Law states that men and women both like sex and babies. But men like babies as much as women like sex, and women like babies as much as men like sex.)
I find infants irresistible even before they begin to smile. That velvet skin, those perfect little hands clenched into fists, those luminous eyes -- all of it is delicious. My husband is not similarly moved.
He is completely in thrall to our 2-year-old (as am I), but baby David, 4 months old, is only just beginning to seem like a person to him. Bob explained this to David recently. Holding the baby at arm's length in front of his face, he pronounced with surprised delight, "David, you are a person." David confirmed this by crinkling his face into a crescendo of half moons and dimples.
A woman in the first flush of baby love sounds even less interesting, I will admit, than a star-struck teen-ager. My conversation about the baby often sounds like this: "Oh, he burped. It was a good burp. Look, he's smiling. He rolled over! Isn't he sweet?"
On the other hand, there are days when I wonder why I was ever so hot for this assignment. Having two babies crying simultaneously is one of the more stressful situations of daily life. You take a deep breath and then do the only thing you can do -- let one continue to cry as you settle the other.
It is more than just physically taxing to have two small children instead of one. It is also the most emotionally and intellectually challenging task I face. Every day, every hour, there are decisions to be made that could result in a) an immediate temper tantrum; b) insomnia for Jonathan; c) insomnia for me; d) Jonathan becoming a spoiled, self-centered person; e) David crying.
Jonathan, a basically buoyant and resilient child, has conceived a fear of shadows. Bob has tried to explain that shadows are part of us. I've urged Jonathan to touch the shadows and see that they have no substance. He listens. He touches. But he continued, for several nights running, to cry piteously when he was put in bed.
Seeing him by day, you'd never guess that Jonathan struggles with demons in his room at night. He takes a long wooden cooking spoon in his hand, waves it with a flourish and shouts, "Marching band!" This is Mommy's cue to set the videotape to his favorite part.
A modern problem: Jonathan is convinced, because I can rewind videotapes, that I should be able to do the same for over-the-air broadcasts. When a program he enjoyed is over, he will imperiously demand to see it again. When I protest my powerlessness over the PBS schedule, he knows that I am merely being intransigent.
What I'm trying to say is this: I regard people who work but do not have small children as . . . vacationers.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.