Cheerios have fallen on the kitchen floor, with a flash of color provided by smashed raspberries. Expert ninjas couldn’t invade the house without crunching or squishing their way to premature discovery.
Articles of small clothing litter the hallways, as if a party of miniature nudists had suddenly upped and left the house to walk down the street altogether in their altogether.
Small plastic bugs, grinning monkeys, crocodiles with wheels and other strange creatures born of overheated imaginations sit randomly in various rooms. If you walk by with heavy feet, these toy creatures suddenly emit bells and whistles or break into song, usually “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” a tune popular today with only two tearful constituencies: babies and drunks.
Speaking of babies: The perpetrator of this disturbance is one Matilda Grace Gilpin, my granddaughter, who is the baby equivalent of the meteorological microburst, as babies are wont to be.
When last I wrote about “Tillie,” she was newly born in Australia. Now, at age 9 months, she has waltzed over from Sydney with her mother, my daughter, Allison, on her first visit to America, to bring happiness and domestic riot to all she encounters.
Well, who needs a spotless house anyway, if it’s a cute little baby making the spots? As I have always observed, it’s easy to be cute if you are a baby; the trick is to do it when you are 64 (wrinkled adults are invited to substitute their own ages in this theorem).
As a father of two grown-up children, I haven’t hung out with a baby for a long time. As the years go by, the old memory tends to skip over the high maintenance of bathing and changing, the cries in the night and the one-baby food fights that pass for meals. It is easy to forget how humorous babies are. They are one-tiny-person-family-entertainment centers.
Tillie can now recognize people. When she is put on the bed in the morning between Papa and Mama Cilla, she looks from one to the other and you can see her thinking unformed thoughts: Who are these friendly people? They look somehow familiar.
When she reaches over with a tiny hand to touch my mustache, she seems to be thinking: What’s up with this? This man has an extra eyebrow. Or maybe it’s one that came down for a drink.
In the evening, when she sees me coming in the door, announcing that Papa is here, she smiles a little toothy grin, curls up self-consciously and then excitedly works her arms and legs.
It has been a very long time since young girls became excited at my arrival. Come to think of it, they weren’t much excited even when I was a fine figure of a lad, but Tillie makes up for all that.
The other day was perfect. In the morning, I had breakfast alone with Tillie, which consisted of me putting cereal in my mouth and she throwing cereal on the kitchen floor.
All the while she was giving a running commentary from the high chair in her special language, which involved no known words and resembled the script to a Three Stooges skit starring Curly and Curly, in the person of bald buddies Papa and Tillie.
After work, I arrived home in time to read her a bedtime story. That is the thing I cherished the most with my own kids. It’s so important to read to children, because if you don’t, they won’t read newspapers when they grow up, and well-meaning Papas will be put out in the street and civilization will end.
I read “The Foolish Tortoise” and the classic favorite “Goodnight Moon.” Unfortunately, Tillie was tired and got fussy, so I had to hurry up, for it was clearly the “good night scream, hello dream” hour. What memorable moments, though! What will we do when her brief trip to America ends? She and her mom will go back to Australia, where the kangaroos carry boxes of Kleenex in their pouches for the convenience of visiting, emotionally overwrought grandparents.
Our house will be spotless and toyless, full of order and empty of joy. I think I may become a professional drunk and tearfully sing: “Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, little Tillie, thou art lost and gone forever ....”
Wait; thou won’t be lost and gone forever, not while there is Skype. Phew, as they say in baby talk.
Reg Henry is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist.