Grandkids leave us powerless to resist baby banter.
Babies aren't irritating, though some people expect them to be. You know this by the way strangers exchange glances when you appear with a stroller. “Oh no, here we go,” the looks say.
On airplanes, you can almost hear passengers thinking, “Keep going, keep going,” as you pass, a little baby's bottom perched on your forearm. These people turn their heads, as if looking away will magically change your seat assignment to one far from theirs, preferably in another plane.
Not all people, of course. Some people adore babies—all babies—happy babies and babies who are projectile-vomiting alike. A woman in a restaurant recently spent 10 minutes entertaining my 17-month-old grandson, who laughed and carried on like someone watching Amy Schumer after drinking several glasses of wine. Others, however, think a baby is like a funnel cloud: a signal to flee. Their dread is palpable, even when the infant is sleeping on someone's shoulder like a sedated cat.
I recently spent a few days with my grandson in Washington, D.C., and I saw that dread several times. Those people assumed the baby would be irritating, and they were wrong. The baby never was irritating. The irritating people were my husband and me.
Not that I blame us. You'd think we were doing it on purpose, the way people act, but in fact irritating behavior comes naturally to grandparents, like a bee's instinct to pollinate flowers. We vow to change our ways, and then someone holding a leash appears and the baby says, “Doggy!”
“Doggy!” we echo joyously. “Yes, doggy!” “You're right, doggy!”
We hear ourselves, in case you're wondering. Our inane comments hang in the air, and my husband and I look at them, appalled. “Who are we?” we ask, but it's a rhetorical question. We know who we are: We're love-besotted idiots.
“From now on, we'll talk naturally,” we say, and then a little pointing finger appears from under the stroller's canopy. “Truck!” the baby says.
“Truck!” we warble. “That is a truck! I see the truck!” Passersby give us pitying glances: “Cute kid; too bad about his grandparents.”
“Milk!” makes us fall all over ourselves. “Milk!” we say, like cheerleaders about to ask for an M. We do a call-and-response—“Milk!” “Milk!” “Milk!”—until a cup is poured, then watch reverently as he drinks. He could be the Sun King at the Grand Levee.
And so on: “Mama,” “Dada,” “up” and “cwackas,” meaning the plastic container in which his mother had packed emergency carbs. “Cwackas! Cwackas!” we'd say. Our shame had no shame.
His parents taught him American Sign Language for “more”—touching the tips of one's fingers together—and when he signs, I cringe for the bystanders within earshot. “Look, he's saying, ‘more'!” and “You're so good at ‘more'!” we exclaim, until people all around are puking from saccharine overload.
We couldn't even push the stroller without one of us jumping in front of it every two seconds to see what he was up to. Usually, he'd be gazing at the world, sometimes with one foot in his mouth, and he'd give us a, “What now?” look over his sneaker. That's if his sneakers were still on. He's capable of removing his shoes and flinging them down a sewer while we aren't looking. “No shoe!” we'd say if he did, waggling our fingers.
In short, Damma and Dampa had a glorious time, though we no doubt drove everyone else cwackas.
Margo Bartlett and her husband have two daughters, two sons-in-law, three grandchildren and two car seats. She also writes the Just Thinking column for ThisWeek Community News. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.