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August 11, 2002

Jooohn Hennrrrrry!

It’s another Norman Rockwell moment. The soft glow of the nightlight illumines two figures. One is myself, sitting beside my daughter in her toddler bed, chanting out the words to her new favorite book, Jazz Baby;

Jaaaazz, baby, Jaaaaazz baby
Blow that horn.
You’ve got rhythm
sure as you’re born.

Jaaaazz, baby, Jaaaaazz baby
Tap your feet.
Snap your fingers,
happy beat.

She leans into me, head against my chest, one hand twisting a golden tress around her fingers, the other one jammed down the front of her diaper, busy doing God knows what down there.

My daughter plays with her crotch more than an entire team of baseball players with prickly heat. It’s not even shocking to us anymore. We’ll be sitting on the couch watching Elmo and the next thing you know she’s digging for diaper gold. Sometimes she finds some.

“Daddy, look!” as she holds up some speck or other.

“That’s very nice dear. Don’t put your hand in your crotch”


And the hand goes down by her side, where it stays for all of 10 seconds before it heads back to the mines. Sometimes it comes out a ghostly white, covered in Desitin put there to ward off a visit from the diaper rash fairy. Maybe she likes the taste, because her thumb tends to head right for her mouth and I’ve got to intercept it and clean off the goo before it completes its journey. I have a number of shirt corners that will not be suffering from inflammation any time soon.

We don’t make a big deal over it. What am I supposed to do, go all Saudi on my kid because she’s exploring her body? That’s how she learned to clap. She does that all day long too. Clap clap clap. Look what I can do! Clap clap clap. Now daddy clap! Now mommy clap! Clap clap clap. O wondrous world, that has such things in it!

“I make noise,” she says, and claps some more, and giggles. Then she bangs on the table. It makes a hollow sound “Like drum.” Then run, run to the door and give it a couple of good smacks. “Knock knock!”

Then we shriek at her to stop, and to go sit in front of the TV and be quiet while we nurse our hangovers. No, not really.

She grabbed my hands in a bear hug as we lay in her bed tonight, and turned her head so that her ear was pressed up again them.

“Clap, daddy, clap.”

I put the heels of my palms together and clapped my fingers together, so I wouldn’t dislodge her ear. She laughs at the sound.

“Daddy make noise. More?”

Clap. Clap. Clap. Clapclapclapclapclap Clap! CLAP!


Clap and a clapclap, clap clap!

“I do now.” And she claps and sings a song, not one I know, one she must have gotten from daycare. She laughs and collapses down on top of me to hug as tightly as she can.

Right now she’s free, to clap or to scratch herself, to frenziedly wave at the shadow she casts on the wall or to her reflection in the mirror. Everything she does now, every thing she learns brings with it an apparently infinite amount of delight. That must be why children learn so quickly, as if they are taking in a deep, deep breath, inhaling in as much of the world as they can. How much could you learn if every new thing brought with it a tiny orgasm of joy?

She is totally unselfconscious. It’s the purest form of happiness I have ever known or seen. The best I can do now is to occasionally fake that feeling, to pretend to the world outside that I don’t notice it, that I really am caught up in the moment, rapt. But I remember what it feels like.

No one keeps that feeling forever. Do you remember the times when you were self-conscious—at a dance when you were the only one sitting alone, or when you walked into a crowded room, a sudden hush fell, and the gimlet eyes considered and dismissed you? It's hot flashes, nausea and a tiny voice in your soul begging for mercy. My daughter will feel that way one day, and she’ll feel the nausea, and the heat of embarrassment, and the knots of shame in her stomach. That’s why I don’t freak when she starts picking the Pampers banjo. Why would I want her first taste of it to come from me?

Posted by Bigwig at August 11, 2002 11:04 PM | TrackBack
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