“Give a little smile! Yeah, you’re so yummy, smile for your Mommy!”

I was holding my sweet seven-week-old baby and trying to coax out that first smile. He seemed so alert and attentive, I figured any day now he’d break out in a smile that would melt my heart. I sat with a huge grin plastered to my face until my cheeks hurt. I tried cooing, smiling and tickling his chin without any success. Better luck next time …

The next day found me in the same position. “Yes, you’re so delicious. Come on, smile for your Mama!” His huge gray eyes stared at me as he contemplated the idea. He was born healthy, thank G‑d, but tiny; maybe he wasn’t ready yet. Just as I was about to give up, his face lit up with a fleeting smile. It passed before I knew it, leaving me wondering if I had just imagined it. But again two minutes later, there it was. My mini six-pounder was finally smiling!

Those first few smiles—there’s nothing quite like them. It makes the cranky evenings, sleepless nights and even nine months of pregnancy all worth it.

That was months ago, but more than the grateful, joyous feeling that spread through me, those precious smiles got me thinking. Crying is something a baby does automatically, literally from the moment after birth.

Baby’s hungry for a meal? The wailing starts and won’t let down until he’s happily sucking.

He’s up for too long and ready for a nap? Startled by a loud noise? Needs a diaper change? Wants a change of position or human interaction? The little guy’s cries are an automatic reaction to any discomfort or disturbance.

And yet, what an effort it is to get out a two-second smile! But in a way, aren’t I the same?

It’s so easy to get me “crying.” Well, not literally crying, but griping, complaining or kvetching. In short, focusing on all the unfavorable parts of my life. And it can take so much effort to bring out that grin in me, too.

Recently, my baby, at just four months old, was hospitalized for more than a week with a respiratory infection. My off-the-cuff reaction was to focus on everything that was going wrong:

Doesn’t anyone in this emergency room even care that I’m here?! Why can’t they be more attentive?

He’s so little! How’s he going to fight this off?

All he’s doing is sleeping the whole day. Is that even normal?

Who knows how long we’ll have to be here? How will everyone manage at home?

But when I looked deeper, there was plenty of good to smile about.

The endless stream of volunteers offering everything from fresh sandwiches to cute little toys and homemade cookies for the kids back home.

Devoted friends who sent delicious food, reading material and touching little notes to keep me going.

A special friend and a few caring single girls who took shifts with my baby, giving me much-needed practical and emotional relief.

The hope a dear friend gave me when she recounted how her grandson had been in the hospital with the same diagnosis. The first few days, he was really not doing well, and then one day he just turned a corner. “You’ll see things can start looking up any day now!” Her encouraging words uplifted me.

Dedicated nurses who genuinely worried for my little boy and me. One particularly kind nurse knew exactly what to say during those first few turbulent days when my baby was not doing well. “Now your baby is so sick. But you’ll see—when I come back in a few days, you’ll tell me how much better he’s doing.” And she was 100 percent right.

The incredible change for the better over those few days was another heartwarming point. A few staff members who saw him when we first came and then again later in the week said he looked like a different person. Only the Master Healer can arrange such a transformation!

Being in the hospital made me realize that not everyone there will “turn a corner” any day now, and I felt a deep appreciation for the temporary nature of my baby’s illness. Not every parent is hearing from the nurse how in a few days, things will look so much better. How lucky I am that all I’m here for is a temporary infection!

Upon further introspection, even being ignored in the emergency room was a good thing. When I first came to the emergency room, the doctors were quite concerned as they all busied themselves around my little baby. Once things calmed down, thank G‑d, and he was settled on oxygen, we were on our own.

As much as it was unsettling, when no one cares that you’re in the emergency room, it’s actually a wonderful thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I was really stressed out when my baby’s monitors kept beeping every time he shifted positions or the wires got pulled. I didn’t appreciate having to call a nurse three times to get Tylenol for my baby when his fever went up. There were times I felt like crying from nerves, exhaustion or the practical task of caring for a sick baby who had wires coming out from all over him.

When I was in a good place though, I was able to step back and think: Despite all the frustration and emotional difficulties, I have so much to be thankful for—the most basic of which was a newfound appreciation for a healthy body, and specifically, for our incredible respiratory system.

The last chapter of Psalms ends with the verse: Kol haneshama tehalel kah halelukah—“Every soul should give praise to G‑d.” Since the word for soul, neshamah, is closely related to the word for a breath of air, neshima, the Midrash (Breishit Rabbah, Chapter 14) offers a play on words here: We need to thank G‑d for every neshimah, every breath we take.

Watching my tiny baby receive high doses of oxygen just to keep him breathing definitely gave me a true appreciation for every breath.

You may have to pull a smile out of a seven-week-old.

But me? I have so much to smile about!