Part I

A friend’s teaching had gone badly on a day when his second child was only a few months old. After finishing some necessary work, he fell into bed, exhausted, at midnight. Then the baby started crying. Stan is not an evil or sick man. But he imagined storming into the baby’s room, ripping him from his crib, and slamming him against the wall.

What Stan actually did was get out of bed, go to the baby, and gently lift it from the crib. He carried the baby to the living room and sat down in a rocker. The baby was teething and was hurting, Stan knew, but he was still smoldering. He restrained himself and steadily rocked the child. After several moments, the baby was still awake and still hurting. Only now he was looking up at Stan. And he was not crying.

“My anger just melted away,” says Stan. He explains this carefully, because he knows I am not a father. “None of his pain had gone, but he trusted me. He looked up with those big eyes, settled heavier into my arms, and burrowed into my chest. I couldn’t stay mad.” I see what Stan means—I don’t think I could stay mad either—but his reaction is by no means a universal one.

Last September, in Dallas, a four-week-old girl was dragged from her crib and killed by the family dog. It was a 100-pound Rottweiler named Byron. The hitch came when authorities asked the mother’s permission to destroy the dog. She refused, volunteering this logic: “I can always have another baby, but I can’t replace Byron.”

More recently, a Knoxville couple was arrested after swapping their baby for a 25-inch color television set. A few years earlier, a New Jersey couple was unsuccessful at trading away 14-month-old Jimmy. But then, they were going for a Corvette.

Men and women who trade babies for TVs or ...

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