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Mr. Dad: Don’t fear the light of your life

Dear Mr. Dad: I was up changing my baby’s diaper last night and saw green sparks shooting out of it. I called my wife in to show her, but it didn’t happen again. She thinks I’m nuts, but I’m quite sure I saw something. Could I have?

A: You’re not crazy at all. What you saw was triboluminsescence, which is relatively ordinary – and completely harmless. In your case, triboluminescence (“tribo” comes from the Greek “to rub,” and “luminescence” has to do with light), may have been a buildup of energy caused by the friction of your baby’s bottom rubbing against the inside of the diaper, or from pulling on the tape.

It’s the same chemical reaction that produces the sparks you see when you bite down on a Wint-O-Green LifeSaver in a dark room. You can replicate the phenomenon if you go into a very dark place, wait for your eyes to get used to your surroundings, and then strike two sugar cubes together as if lighting a match, pull apart the flap on a seal-sealing envelope, or quickly yank a piece of tape off a roll.

Unlike static electricity, triboluminescence doesn’t generate any heat. It happens a lot, and to my knowledge, no one has ever been hurt.

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is pregnant with our first child, and complete strangers keep coming up to rub her belly. She seems pretty OK with it, but it’s driving me nuts. What can I do?

A: As intensely private as pregnancy is, it is also inescapably public. And your partner’s growing belly can bring out the best – and the worst – in people. Perfect strangers will open doors for her, offer to help her carry things, give up their seats in crowded subway cars and buses. In some ways, people’s interest in pregnant women and in the process of creating life is heartwarming. But it’s possible to go overboard.

When my wife was pregnant with our first, people would often come up to her when she was standing in the checkout line at the grocery and start chatting. Sometimes they’d ask simple questions like, “So, when are you due?” or make pronouncements about the baby’s sex.

But some would break out the horror stories – tales of debilitating morning sickness, 10-month pregnancies, 30-hour labors, emergency C-sections, anesthesia that didn’t work.

And then there were the people who would, without even asking, start rubbing her belly as if she was a Buddha statue or a magic lantern. I kept waiting for her to bite some belly-rubber’s hand off, but she never did. Plenty aren’t as tolerant, though.

For men, this touching business can bring out feelings of anger and protectiveness: “Nobody touches my woman!” If this happens to you, it’s best to take your cues from your partner. If she doesn’t mind, try to relax.

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