It’s been so long since babies were wandering around our house, pooping on the carpet, drooling on my Brooks Brothers suit and wailing through the night, that I forgot all about those good times … until I got a reminder recently while I was sitting on the train behind three little tykes and their parents.
There’s nothing more inspirational than listening to adults talk like babies. I don’t ever remember doing that. My wife and I were usually yelling at the kids, or each other. Even when I was a card-carrying member of the parents’ union, I had problems acting like Mr. Rogers, especially if it meant I had to wear cardigans.
“OOOHHH, AAAHHH, we’re on the train, Rodney!!!” Daddy said. “Isn’t this exciting!!! Do you know what ‘exciting’ means??? Do you know what a train is??? Do you know what the Securities and Exchange Commission is???”
Every sentence ended in three question marks or exclamation points, and every adult talked in a high-pitched tone that sounded like Frankie Valli singing falsetto.
When it was snack time, their father fed the little guys homemade granola. He wouldn’t let them have Pringles or Skittles like normal kids.
And after their snack, Mommy said, “Let’s play 20 questions!”
The little girl started whining because they weren’t playing the game she wanted to play, which required pointed objects, so to avoid a public confrontation, Mommy attempted a diversionary tactic and pulled out a children’s book and began to read aloud.
“Do you know what that little triangle is?” Mommy asked.
“What?” the little girl said.
“You tell me!”
“NOOOOOO!!! TELL ME, MOMMY!!! TELL ME NOW!!! WAAAAAA!!!” Then the little guy joined the chorus and emitted a piercing whine that seemed to say, “I’m gonna scream my head off until I get what I want!!! I did this last week on a crowded flight from New York to L.A. and people started stuffing pretzels in their ears.”
In a desperate attempt to quell the riot, Daddy found another book and started reading with the kind of emphasis and elocution you generally encounter during a performance of “Hamlet.” Spittle was flying out of his mouth and he gesticulated with great vigor.
The kids got bored quickly by the story about bears and blueberries because there wasn’t as much violence as they see on TV, so to remedy their boredom, they started looking over the seats and annoying other passengers while Daddy continued reading — and that’s when things got ugly because the passengers couldn’t handle all the whining, dramatic reading and growling sounds coming from a grown man.
The train was so crowded that people were standing in the aisles perspiring profusely while being forced to listen to the story about the bear that ate everybody’s blueberries. I was afraid someone was going to grab the book from Daddy and shove it … well never mind.
Suddenly, the little girl started sniffing the prevailing wind like a raccoon following the scent to the nearest garbage can and announced, “Mommy, Larry did poopy! He did poopy, Mommy!”
Pandemonium erupted. People who wouldn’t have given up their train seats in exchange for a suite at Yankee Stadium during playoffs started dashing for the doors. “Pleeease,” I prayed. “Don’t change that diaper here!”
Fortunately, Daddy grabbed little Larry and raced off to the toilet before he could do real damage.
It occurred to me I was like that once upon a time. What happened? Where did my paternal patience go? When did I lose my childlike wonder and my ability to talk baby talk? Did my kids squeeze every last ounce of daddyhood out of me?
I love little children and I hope someday to be a grandfather … many, many years from now. Yes, someday I hope to carry my own knapsack filled with granola, fruit roll-ups, juice boxes and diapers. I just don’t think I’m ready yet.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.