The Best Animals to Watch Your Baby, According to Hemingway

“There were no baby-sitters then and [our baby] Bumby would stay happy in his tall cage bed with his big, loving cat named F. Puss. . . . There was no need for baby-sitters. F. Puss was the baby-sitter.”
   —Ernest Hemingway, “A Moveable Feast

Bull: If you cannot find a babysitter in Spain, then look for a bull. Bring your baby to the Plaza de Toros on a night that the stadium is as empty as the whiskey bottle of a jealous lover. A bull will not attack a baby. Though the baby must be sure not to wear a cape.

Marlin: A marlin can take your baby to the sea. A marlin can teach your baby to swim in the calm, cold water. But, if your child can crawl, do not leave it with a marlin. Because a marlin is a disgraceful babysitter on the land.

Lion: I have met many lions in my travels across the vast plains of Africa. A man who captures a lion and brings it home to watch over a child is the bravest sort of man. Some people say a lion should not sleep next to a child—that all lions behave badly if given the chance. But those people are cowards.

Elephant: I do not know everything, but I do know this—an elephant can hold a baby’s bottle as well as it can hold a man’s secrets.

Parrot: There are birds that a man hunts and others that he takes home to live with him. A parrot is a good and true pet. If you need to go to the café to write, you can leave your child with this bird. A parrot can teach your baby to talk. A parrot can teach your baby to fly. But there is one thing a parrot cannot do—type for you when you’ve had too much absinthe.

Horse: Some say that it is pretty to think of a horse being the caregiver of a child. As a young man in Paris, I spent many days at the horse races. I learned that, just when I would come to trust one of these creatures, it would let me down. So I would never leave a baby with a horse.

Monkey: A monkey that howls makes an excellent babysitter. A child with colic will scream and the monkey will scream and then they will sleep.

Leopard: When I tell people that a leopard makes a good nanny, they say, “How could you leave a baby with a bloody leopard?” But an animal that stays awake during the night can watch a child who wakes throughout the night. And a leopard will make damn sure that no one disturbs you while you write.

Elk antlers mounted on the wall: If you need to go out at night, elk antlers will keep steady watch over a child. Many people say that a babysitter needs to be a living thing, but those people are fools. A baby left at night will sleep and if it awakens it will not be afraid because the antlers will hold a rattle and any baby shoes that have not yet been worn.

A six-toed cat: When F. Puss was not available to watch Bumby, I simply looked for a polydactyl cat. This cat’s large paws can soothe a crying child, so it is one of the best babysitters there is. I only wish that after a cat was done putting a baby to bed, he could mix an ice-cold Daiquiri. ♦

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