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Our Baby, The Social Butterfly

When we were first married, my husband, Jeff, and I felt like a country unto ourselves. We both loved being at home, emerging for fixes of bookstores, movie marathons, and restaurants, coming back for long talks late into the night. We were private people, and our lives felt so full and complete that when we did manage to see our friends, it was usually one at a time, not very often, and in a quiet setting.

Then our son, Max, was born, and we happily became a trio. At first, Max was a boon to our antisociability. "We can't leave our baby," we told friends who invited us out when all we wanted to do was stay home and play with him. "Max is cranky," we told relatives who planned to stop by when we craved a quiet walk in the park. Dipped in our gene pools, Max seemed a small version of us, loving prenap time alone with his soft books, and the sole pleasures of our company.

But one day, when Max was 6 months old, it all began to change.

We were taking a family stroll in the neighborhood. Barely at the end of our block, we heard someone speaking loud enough to shatter glass. Annoyed, we turned to see who was disturbing our peace. Max turned too, following the voice to a young woman with a ponytail calling goodbye to her friend. Max squealed so boisterously, she stopped speaking. "Well, aren't you the sweetheart!" she said, approaching us. Max beamed a megawatt grin, and with a small shriek of pleasure, offered her his soggy pacifier. As the woman playfully took it, he latched onto her, refusing to let go. "Max is flirting!" I said in astonishment.

By the time the woman left, she was Max's friend. "Bye-bye, see you soon!" She waved and Max glowed, craning his head around to follow her disappearing form.

We got home late that day. Every person Max saw seemed to be a present just for him. He blew raspberries giddily, and waved and bounced until he was noticed and feted. He seemed to sparkle more with each interaction, and when we finally got him home he seemed, well, forlorn. "Are you sure he's our son?" Jeff asked me. If Jeff and I were Greta Garbos, then Max was a Will Rogers. He'd never meet a man, woman, or baby he didn't like.

Reluctantly, we sought compromise. Max loved crowds and we loved museums, so we headed for the busy Museum of Natural History. We pointed out the dinosaurs to Max; he pointed and laughed at the funny faces a man in a baseball cap was making. When Max's mouth dropped open in awe, it wasn't at the T-rex but at a girl who was waving her pigtails at him.

For Max, we hit the fairs, the noisy streets, the shopping malls, where he initiated joyful peekaboos with everyone. Life for Max was a party, and he issued invitations to everybody he saw with grand tosses of his pacifier. We finally bought a clip to keep it in place.

When Max was 11 months old, our presence was requested at Jeff's cousin's wedding. I had a headache before we even entered the room, which pulsed with glittery lights and pounded with disco. Two hundred people milled around. While Jeff and I waited for a barrage of relatives, Max swiveled in his stroller, excitedly looking from the lights to the dance floor to his doting Aunt Jean, descending quickly upon us. "Oh, let me hold you!" she exclaimed, and as she hoisted him up, Max reached up his two baby hands and held onto her face, as blissful as if he had achieved nirvana.

Jean didn't even seem to see us. She set Max down and he stood unsteadily. Suddenly, he was riveted by another baby, proudly toddling around. Max's mouth dropped open and his eyes grew wide. He tottered, stumbled, straightened himself. He shifted from one small chubby leg to the other. Then, with deep concentration, he took his first step.

"Way to go!" Jean clapped, and when two other relatives boisterously joined in, Max pivoted to look at all of us, his face a mix of astonishment, pride, and absolute delight. Primed by his audience, hands spreading like small lovely wings in the air, he took another step.

Jean swooped him up into a celebratory circle. I turned to my husband. "That was amazing," I said.

By the time Max was 13 months old, we wanted him to have some real friends, so we went regularly to the same park. Max lit up when he spotted another regular  -- Wyatt, a redheaded toddler in blue overalls  -- and pealed a welcome shriek. "Wy! Wy!" Max shouted. Out of his stroller, he tumbled Wyatt onto the soft grass, and the two of them batted happily at a ball and at each other. Max's delight fueled our own. I took Jeff's hand, glad to be in his company, and suddenly glad, too, to see Wyatt's parents walking toward us.

At first, all four of us simply talked about our children, about how Wyatt had had his first nightmare, about the new tooth Max was cutting. Then I noticed an astronomy book Wyatt's mother had tucked under her arm. "I love astronomy," I said, and soon she and I were discussing space travel. Slowly and seamlessly, we moved on to our work, our lives, discovering similarities that went beyond our babies.

"We should share a sitter one night and go to the movies," I suggested. By the time we were ready to leave the playground, Max wasn't the only one with a playdate. Max touched Wyatt's sleeve in delight. Jeff and I clasped Wyatt's parents' hands. "I can't wait for our movie," I told her, and I meant it.

Max is 2 years old now. He's still the friendliest kid on the block. Maybe this is just a phase he'll grow out of, but Jeff and I hope not. We like how his passion for people is helping him develop. And we like how it's changing us.

Last night we former recluses spent an evening with a couple down the block whose large dog and small girl Max loves. We were all sitting on the floor, watching our children exuberantly hurl toys into a playpen. I happened to glance up at the mirror opposite us, noticing my face and Jeff's  -- and I realized that Max wasn't the small version of us that we'd imagined he might be. Rather, we had become a larger version of him. Sociable, full of delight, basking in the pleasures of company.

Caroline Leavitt is the author of six novels. She lives in New Jersey.

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