A lot of people dread the sight of me. I’m not a violent fugitive or anything like that, I just travel with a small child. I try not to take people’s response personally. I’m sure that nearly everyone has experienced the sort of disruption that a small child can cause–crying on an airplane, running wildly through a store, climbing random strangers and calling them daddy before dissolving into hysterics as they realize they’ve climbed the wrong man –so they have a certain reputation.
My daughter has usually been a pleasant surprise, though. In fact, the first time we flew after she was born, people liked us better because of her. (More on that another time.) She was always a happy baby, and at least in public, she was shy, even demure. As a toddler, when she wasn’t merrily urging people to die (more on that another time too), the only trouble she generally caused was when she multiplied our phone bill or tried to take my credit cards. (She learned early.)
However, one night we warranted the dread that usually greets small children.
It started out reasonably enough. For my birthday we went to dinner at my favorite restaurant. Our daughter didn’t really enjoy the chicken we bought for her, but the worst thing she did was chew it a bit and then try to feed it to my wife. I had been a stay-at-home dad for a while by that point, so I knew the game. I sat far enough away to be out of her reach; my delicious birthday burger didn’t need slobbery chicken as a chaser.
Then I got up to use the restroom. (Don’t worry, this story isn’t gross.)
Using the restroom in a restaurant is always an adventure, even discounting issues of space and cleanliness. Because restrooms are tucked away from the dining room and hidden behind a few shielding doors, they’re the only place where I can clearly hear what music is playing. I’m always a bit alarmed and disappointed. No matter what restaurant I’m in, the song playing when I use the restroom is some new, twangy, lovesick ballad written by a person who has serious issues with crafting a meaningful metaphor.
Imagine something like this:
“You’re my moon,
And I love you like the stars.
When you shine into my heart,
You make me glow just like the sun.
You are the one:
You’re my moon.”
I was standing in the restroom, both confused by the lyrics and frustrated that the song was going to be stuck in my head, when I suddenly heard my daughter crying out for me. I had two thoughts in response.
The first was about seals, because that’s just the sort of person I am. About a decade ago I saw a documentary which mentioned an interesting fact. It showed a thousand seals on a beach with each practically lying on its neighbor, but mentioned how mother seals can recognize the cry of their own cubs in spite of how many other cubs might be around. As soon as I heard my daughter crying–I knew it was her as surely as if I were standing next to her–I thought, “I’m like a seal. That’s neat.” And yes, in my head I frequently talk like a character from a 1950′s sitcom.
Also, before people start thinking that I’m a monster for not being more concerned about the cause of my daughter’s plight, let me explain that I not only recognized my daughter’s voice, I recognized her inflection. She has three basic sorts of cry: unhappy, scared, and hurt. Had I heard the “I’m hurt” cry, I would have burst out of the bathroom without pants if necessary. I don’t do anything halfway when my daughter is in danger. I heard the “I’m unhappy” cry though, which is most often reserved for tantrums. When my daughter is throwing a tantrum, I finish using the restroom; that’s just good parenting.
Then, as I processed the situation a little bit more, I realized that I could hear her clearly in spite of the same obstacles that were blocking the other noises from the restaurant. Not only was I behind a pair of heavy fire doors, the restroom and our table were at opposite corners of the building. Literally, they were as far apart as it was possible for them to be while remaining in the same structure. Nevertheless, I could hear my daughter clearly. My 1950′s brain exclaimed, “Golly, she’s loud!”
One of the first things doctors worry about with newborns is lung function. Being born involves an awkward transition to breathing air, so a baby’s lungs have to start pulling their weight rather suddenly. Our daughter made the switch without issue–her lungs were equal to the challenge–and she only improved with age. Considering the decibels she can manage, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that she’s entirely lung. She was less like a baby and more like a set of bagpipes.
When I heard my daughter crying, I didn’t recognize it, but she was signaling the end of everyone’s peaceful evening.
In part 2, I make a spectacle of myself for no reason, my wife reproduces a scene from Star Wars, and our daughter makes Hitchcock proud.