My son is a little over six months old. Over the last month he's become terrific at sitting up. He'll sit up and play with his toys for a long time, sometimes chattering or grunting or squealing to them, and always looking over every now and then at my wife or me, to make sure we're paying attention to him.

To be always learning like that! Last week he figured out how to clap -- whisper-soft, his gentle, tiny baby hands clapping -- and we praised him, "Good boy! Look at you! You're clapping!" He loved the praise. He was smiling and you could tell he knew he was doing something pretty neat.

Now he'll start clapping any time, when he's sitting in his high chair, when he's in his Exersaucer, when someone is standing him on their knee, and we clap along and praise him some more, "Wow! That's very smart! Clap-clap-clap!"

It's as if in his swirl of thoughts he thinks, I have to work on my balance when I stand up . . . Mom and Dad seem to repeating those M and D consonant sounds a lot . . . I wonder what the pictures on these blocks mean . . . Oh yes, I know how to clap! Look at me!

Yesterday he began clapping when my wife sang the verse in the Raffi song:

I'm going to clap, clap, clap my crazies out,
Clap, clap, clap my crazies out,
Clap, clap, clap my crazies out,
And wiggle my waggles away.

It was very sweet.

A question a new parent sure gets asked a lot is "Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?" As the baby gets negligibly older it's modified to "Is he walking yet?" I expect sometime in the next year or two to be asked whether he can play all of the Goldberg Variations, and then in his pre-teen years whether he's completed his Ph.D. Sarcasm aside, these are cruel questions for a new parent. They're tough because if you're concerned your baby is developing too slowly, these questions are fuel for your anxiety, which is in abundant supply anyway. And if you're not worried about how your baby is developing, you don't want it to happen any faster -- he's growing up too fast as it is. You haven't taken nearly enough pictures. Oh, and there's probably something else you're worried plenty about instead.

But my son does sleep through the night. Bedtime tends to start between 7:30 and 8:30 in the evening and he wakes up between 5:30 and 6:30 the next morning. Nine to eleven hours, every night. Naps during the day are a different story. There is no schedule for naps during the day. My son might want to have a three-hour sleep after nursing in the morning, or a fifteen-minute nap might be fine. He might sleep for five or six hours over the course of the day, or one hour might be enough.

Yesterday was a one hour of sleep day, and my wife wasn't faring well. She was anxious. I don't think it's easy to be a new mom. Your thoughts are constantly crashing and breaking in your head. On days like these, it's easier to be the dad -- if things are going poorly with the baby I get to go to work and think about something else. (But this is the downside too, when things are going well.) She put the baby down for a nap, and after fifteen minutes, the baby started to fuss. Sometimes he will quiet himself and fall asleep, but this time his fussing became more and more fervent, and he started to cry. Usually at this point my wife will tend to him, but yesterday she was a little overwhelmed and decided that as long as he wasn't panicking, she would finish what she was doing first.

Finally she poked her head into his room. There he was, lying in his crib, eyes closed, whimpering -- and clapping.

It broke her heart. It broke mine when she told me about it. What do you do with that? There's no mention of the depths of pity and compassion that are required in any whimsical parenthood readiness test. You only hope that your baby was trying to comfort himself with his new skill instead of figuring, this is what I've been doing that gets me such praise; why isn't anybody coming to see me?

My wife told me about the apology she lavished on my son. As for me, I don't know. I've been thinking about love lately, about how, man, this kid needs me to love him, to love him extravagantly and always, to not back down in loving him, to not give up, to not relent. Because he's just little, because he won't always be, and because I'm his dad.