We took our baby, Eddie, with us to happy hour last night, and he sat chatting gibberish quite happily in his carriage, sometimes to one of the four of us at the table and sometimes to his own fingers or his toy camel. I believe he was addressing the camel when he uttered his first real words, as clearly articulated as any words I’ve ever heard: “Blah, blah, blah.”
He apparently didn’t get the response he anticipated so he said it again. “Blah, blah, blah.”
“He said his first words!” said my friend, Kate. She took pride in Eddie’s achievement because it was she who apparently taught him this clever little phrase before we left the house to go out. Kate teaches essay writing at a local university. It didn’t surprise me that under her tutelage, our child’s first words would be so eloquent.
“I can’t believe it!” I said. “His first words! Our little baby’s growing up.”
Like Kate, I, too, helped teach a child to speak once. When my father was dying of cancer, I sat outside my parents’ screened in porch in which my father would lie day after day and taught my niece, Sarah, the words to “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” except I made up my own words:
“Old McFuck Fuck had a Fuck
Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck…”
At the time, I was mad my father was dying, and in my grieving, angry state, I thought it was funny. But more than that, I thought my father, who made a hobby of pushing people’s buttons, would get a kick out of it. I don’t think he even heard me.
After we finished our drinks at the bar, we went inside the restaurant and sat down at a table to have dinner. We ordered another round of cocktails, and when they came, we held up our glasses and made a toast.
“To friends,” I said.
“To Eddie’s first words,” said Kate, and then in unison, we all looked at Eddie and said, “Blah, blah, blah,” and then laughed. All of a sudden, Eddie looked up from his seat and shrieked, and then began to cry inconsolably. He heard us mock him and was humiliated and upset. I jumped out of my seat and threw off the straps holding him into his chair and grabbed him and pressed him to my chest, trying to squeeze out the pain of the indignity he felt.
As we walked home, we talked about his outburst and the depths of the mortification he felt to warrant such a shriek, and I remembered a story once told to me by my father, Eddie, after whom my son is named. When he was about seven, he asked my grandmother a question about sex. I couldn’t remember the question, but I do remember that later that night, he heard his mother tell her friends what he had asked, and they all laughed. He was humiliated, he said –enough to remember it decades later.
But more than my father, I thought of all the crimes I’d committed against my child every day while my husband was at work, all the times the baby screamed in anger because instead of feeding him immediately, I first went to the bathroom or got a glass of water or grabbed the TV remote. Or when he cried as I rushed through my shower and got dressed, because he was bored, and instead of comforting him I yelled, “Would you shut the fuck up for just one second?!?” Or the time I put him on the couch and turned my head for a moment, and when I turned back, he had rolled over and was poised to roll right off? Or just the other day when I put him in his rocking chair for a second without strapping him in, so that I could run upstairs, and when I returned, he was lying on the floor at the base of the chair. I thought about all these high crimes and how if he now knows how to speak, he can tell on me.