Toddler Envy: A Double Man-Date Teaches Me to be Content

I saw Mike more than my wife yesterday, but don’t tell her that. Boobaby and I took the train downtown to meet our friends at a museum. Boo loves streetcar rides, although I think she’s embarrassed that I insist on coming along. She must hold herself up — I’m not allowed to touch her at all — and she prefers to chat with the other riders than even to acknowledge my presence. If no one is conversational, Boo busies herself counting bolts on the chairs, peering at her reflection in the window, or double-checking that all new passengers get their proof of payment. “Transfer!” she’ll shout, startling every new rider as they board.

Mike had invited us to a super-cool modern art exhibit that was all lights and reflections and rainbows. He had taken Emme the day before, too, and as he wrote, they were both so enthralled by the orbs of color and light that they could have stayed the entire day.

Boobaby? Not so much. She did like the room where light played through mist to make rainbows: any excuse to get wet, right? But every other gallery was filled with intriguing objects she was not allowed to touch.

“You touch?” she would inquire. (She’s still using the second person to refer to herself, so by “you” she meant “me.” Well, not “me,” but “her.” I mean to say: “You” means “I” and “Me” means “You.” Got it?)

“No, we can’t touch these amazing reflective and refractive surfaces,” I would reply. “Look only.”

“Harumph,” she would reply, or at least the toddler equivalent.

Harumph indeed. Emme was mesmerized by the fascinating play of color and light. Boobaby seemed intent on disproving any inkling I might have that she’s blessed with an internal life. Light ain’t gonna interest this baby for a long time.

Boo’s about verbs, not adjectives. She wants to “dig” and “climb” and “swing” and “hold it!” Concepts like “pretty” and “red” don’t grab her. I felt a little guilty about dragging Emmeline out of the museum so quickly, but even more, I felt that vague discontent you get when your baby doesn’t seem up to quite grasp something that you really, really want her to. The happy ending, though, was to clamber over the rocks in the park across the street, an occupation that satisfied both girls.

*    *    *

Mike and I went out in the evening, too. We left the babies with our babes and hit San Francisco’s literary scene for a semi-comedic reading and far too much whisky. (I’m slowly corrupting the poor man.)

When at public events, I tend to write little plays in my head about all the people I see. Not to stereotype too much, but I wouldn’t imagine that many in the crowd would be excited about climbing rocks. In my imagination, at least, these were folks brimming with internal monologue, expressed only with self-deprecating meta-aware wry sarcasm.

So I scoffed a little, in my head. Then the readings, started, though, and they were really pretty good. Cerebral, yes, but funny and sometimes thought-provoking. Maybe the booze helped mellow me a little, but by the end of the night I felt that the literary scene folks were less fussy and erudite than I’d thought: they were simply facing the world through the lens of a literary magazine, and that can be actually quite charming.

*    *    *

Riding the train home by myself, I decided to cut myself some slack. Sure, I’ve emphasized Boobaby’s sense of adventure and physical confidence over intellectual development. But she’ll get what she needs when she needs it, and for now, she’s having plenty of enriching experiences that I I don’t even notice. She’ll be absorbed by museum exhibits when she’s ready, but for now, the world is her museum — even the streetcar that very morning, I recalled.

As a sort of mantra, just before we arrived at my stop, I counted the bolts on the chairs, peered at my reflection in the window, and, inside my head, anyway, shouted “Transfer!” at every new passenger.

That’ll do.