I don’t know what it is about babies that turn me into an absolute, charm-curdled, gooey, mushmouth. A scant 10 years ago, I would have slit my wrists before saying something as sickeningly sweet as “Ooooh, aren’t you a tweet wittle girl?” or “Gigi loves you. Can you say Gigi? Gigi? No? Say Gigi!!” or “Look at those toes! Who painted those itty-bitty wittle toes?”
My grandbaby, Sophia, reduces me to mono-syllabic, unintelligible wads of baby language that I did not even know I could pull out of my brain. One look at those sweet blue eyes fringed with golden lashes, carrot-colored curls and chubby fingers pointing at everything in sight, and my hard-earned vocabulary stalks right out the front door as I cheerfully identify stuff in terms a baby can mimic. After all, an 18-month old child cannot say things like “butterfly,” but she can say “bu.” So, in an entranced attempt to communicate, I found myself forming entire sentences like this: “Dog foot hat.” “Tree leaf green.” “Bug tomato – oops, she cannot say tomato, ummm…bug RED BALL.” With sentences like these, I am consistently rewarded with toddler smiles and giggles and adorable baby expressions.
Man. Talk about leaving one’s rapier-sharp wit shredded to bits on the floor of the Pack ‘n Play.
Not only that, but I have entered the time warp between adult children flying the coop and grandbabies flapping around the empty nest. It is surreal, somehow. Reminiscent of my agonizing, sleep-deprived, young-motherhood days; but lacking the youth and energy I remember during those midnight feedings and poop patrol (diaper changing, for those of you uninitiated in baby-care terminology).
I had four of the little rascals, (translation: exhausted); so when they flew the coop, I waved a vigorous good-bye with nary a thought to the baby boomerang that was sure to come.
It has come.
Not only have the progeny of the rascals begun to return, one of my daughters is marrying a man with a built-in three-year old; so my grandchildren are MULTIPLYING by virtue of cultural exponentials; a fearful development.
What if I end up with something like 24 grandchildren??? How will I find the time to coo and heave mono-syllabic conversations at them all? How will I remember their birthdays? What if my adult kids (heaven forbid) divorce, and re-marry, thus dragging entire new throngs of step-grandchildren along with them? What if I forget their names or get them mixed up?
But I am getting ahead of myself.
I have found thus far that I am really, really good with one infant in the house. I am moderately cool with one older grandchild and one infant. I am really, really stressed out and witchy with two infants in the house, and let’s not think about what would happen to my attitude (not to mention my verbiage) if I had three infants in the house. Or even two infants and a toddler. Or, horror of horrors, two toddlers, two infants and a newborn. The possibilities for self-implosion are infinite.
I do not even want to consider it.
The past three days, I had one adult child and one toddler, less one husband who was working out of town. A groovy combination. I felt no pressure to be attentive to the husband, or keep the house quiet, peaceful and orderly. I had loads of time to heap sweet and sappy phraseology upon the 18-month old, and was sufficiently energized to sneakily teach the toddler rather lamentable words, which alternately horrified and delighted her mother, my oldest daughter.
When my daughter arrived, her precious Sophia in tow, I was thrilled to discover she now is somewhat able to communicate. For instance, “flower” is “flou,” diaper is “di,” “ball” is “bo,” “Gigi” is “Eeee,” “Mama” is “Ma-mo.” The language of toddlers delights me. I could listen to it for hours. The cat is “Maow.” It isn’t, “Where is the kitty, Gigi?”; it is scrunched-up-face, perplexed eyes and a one-word question: “Maow?” I understood her completely, which rather distressed me, but I believe my brain will rebound in a few days.
It was with this fond and grandmotherly mindset that I proceeded to add to her verbal repertoire. Overcome with an inexplicable evil desire to hasten the inevitable march toward the “terrible two’s,” I grabbed one of her stuffed, talking animals, clutched it to my chest, gazed deeply into her sea-blue eyes rimmed with the lightest gold eyelashes; and said “My.”
Her eyes flashed with understanding. Immediately. It was remarkable. She quickly snatched the animal from my hands, clutched it to her tiny chest, and intoned “MY.”
I had never seen my daughter’s head snap around so quickly. “MOM!” I blinked my eyes rapidly at her, forced my lips from a smile into a straight line, and replied innocently, “What?”
“You know what!! We hoped it would be a while before she got that concept! What are you doing??”
I considered this and slanted my eyes at her. Grandmothers should be allowed a bit of payback at their adult children’s expense, shouldn’t they?
Well, shouldn’t they?
Of course they should.
So, after my daughter settled down a bit, and behind her back, I reinforced the “my” concept a few more times. I soon tired of this, as Sophia caught on so quickly it was unnecessary to drill her. I then decided that any self-respecting baby should at least be taught a few creative ways to let her parents know her diaper needs changing.
I tucked my little Sophia in my lap and whispered gently in her ear a universally acknowledged two-syllable word: “poo-poo.”
And just like that, Sophia picked it up. Her brilliance is amazing. “Poo-poo!” she yelled proudly. I was not sure she grasped the concept that this word might be used to indicate a dirty diaper, but nonetheless, she appeared delighted that she could repeat these sounds perfectly with little effort.
Her mother’s mouth dropped open in unbelief. This time it took a few seconds for her to get anything out. “Seriously? Seriously, Mom? Are you kidding me? Poo-poo? Oh my gosh.” She grabbed Sophia in disgust. “Do you know how hard we have worked for her NOT to say that?
I am temporarily disheartened. Then I look at the baby and whisper “poo-poo.” She grins wickedly and shrieks, “Poo! POO!” Her mother’s shoulders slump. She slices her eyes toward me and risks a smile. Then a laugh. Then a belly laugh.
Soon, we are cackling like two hens in a cage full of roosters. Our sides are heaving, and tears are rolling from our eyes; breathless with hilarity. Sophia, who loves laughter, mocks us with baby-cackling sounds which try, but fail, to actually sound like laughter, which causes us to crack up even more. The more we laugh, the more she imitates us, her eyes crinkled in amusement; her tiny, perfect, white teeth gleaming from the smile splitting her chubby pink cheeks.
The funny episode dropped from our minds later that evening as we fixed a great dinner, watched movies, played with the baby and talked. I decided not to push my daughter over the edge, and backed off on teaching Sophia brat-worthy responses. It was just a bit of fun, and I didn’t really think Sophia would sustain lasting impressions.
The morning my daughter was getting ready to leave, I was given the task of entertaining Sophia while she packed to leave. I walked the baby around the yard, showed her birds, pointed out butterflies, picked up the beleaguered cat and sat it on my lap so she could kiss it good-bye (“Bye, maow.” Pat, pat, Grip. Squeeze. “Bye, maow.” Cat makes frantic dash off my lap to hide.) When everything was packed, I plopped Sophia in her car seat and her mom and I buckled her up. I kissed her all over her face and told her bye-bye.
She gazed at me with earnest blue eyes and solemnly whispered, “Poo. Poo.”