I steered my children away from saying Momma or Daddy as their first spoken word, opting for something a little more sinister.
When we started having children we were fortunate enough to move to a neighborhood that was swollen with new parents. But it only took a short time to realize that all of our new neighbors seemed to live in a constant state of subtle competition over their children, constantly trying to outdo each other for the purposes of establishing who actually had the smartest child.
The competition was everywhere, sustaining and feeding itself as the undercurrent of almost every conversation, constantly bringing friendly but smugly nuanced debate with no rest for anyone…ever. And although I had small children, once I identified what was going on, I made herculean efforts to avoid the fray.
But a guy can only take so much.
So after one particularly thick year, five babies later, I made a decision to slay this dragon once and for all. I constructed a plan so brilliant it would make all my neighbors rethink their parenting skills and possibly consider doing the right thing…which as I saw it, was to give their children up for adoption.
Phase One: “C’mon Hopey, say it for daddy…say seven-thirty…you can do it baby…seven-thirty.” This went for three solid weeks.
I didn’t read many of the generally prescribed baby books before my children were born. Partly because I thought I wouldn’t be much of a father if I was inclined to depend on an “instruction manual” and partly because I’d feel pushed into it after another argument in which I would be accused of not participating well in the pregnancy or something related.
In my defense I could only make Dr. Spock look like Mr. Spock in my head and I routinely ended the title of the “What to expect when you’re expecting” with additional words describing all the things I identified as pregnancy negatives. “What to expect when you’re expecting…sex, expecting compassion, expecting a pleasant conversation after work” and so on…clearly falling prey to the wounded narcissism many new fathers exhibit as they recount their own pregnancy victimhood’s…idiots.
In truth I’m not sure I WAS a great pregnancy partner, so I made damn sure I was a superhero in the “daddy” department; and with my Hopey girl it would be documented and proven, me against all the other dads; starting with the bigger implications surrounding her very first words.
On the Monday of the fourth week she finally brought it out; “You got this Hopey…watch Daddy… say sseevveenn—tthhiirrttyy, C’mon baby girl I know it’s in there.”
When she finally relented, her smile made her look like Cindyloo-whoo. “Tebin taughty” she said.
”YES BABY, THAT’S IT! SAY IT AGAIN FOR DADDY!”
”Tebin Taughty—Tebin Taughty”, and then it began to pour out of her “Tebin Taughty!”
I couldn’t have been happier, the first phase of my plan had been executed; my daughter could say “seven thirty” audibly enough to sound like seven thirty; phase two to commence.
The pool party was great, lots of noodle salad and haughty parents. The entire cast of neighborhood babies was present and one “my baby is the smartest kid on the planet” story after another flowed while the diaper clad droolers stood by in case proof became necessary.
“Petey is so smart… he actually said ‘woof’ while he was looking straight at the dog; it was so stinkin’ precious that we bought him a car…wanna see the video?”
“Oh, I know what you mean about smart, Caitlynn smeared poop on the wall yesterday and it looked just like the Mona Lisa; she’s so gifted. We’re having that particular poop bronzed…wanna see the video?”
Now all babies are wonderful, and I’m sure both Petey and Caitlynne are no exception, but I’m Hope’s father, and I knew without hesitation that she actually WAS the smartest child on the planet and instead of talking about it I was just going to prove it – take the trophy – and never have to participate in this conversation again.
The party started to wind down at approximately seven twenty eight. I made sure all my guests and their Mensa candidate progeny were gathered in the kitchen by the clock. My wife, who was not complicit in my plan, walked into the middle of the group and said “It’s time for Hope to go to bed. Can you get her ready?”
“Sure can” I smiled, but before I do, can I show you guys’ something?”
At exactly seven thirty I scooped my daughter up, held her next to the clock and asked her, “Hopey…what time is it?”
Hope, happy to hold up her end of the conversation, said the only two words she knew…”Tebin Taughty!”
“That’s right baby, it’s seven thirty, very good, time for bed right?” and we proceeded to walk up stairs, daddy’s gloat firmly affixed to his face which was turned away from the group; all neighbors severely crushed under obvious, toddler, cerebral dominance.
I held my lovely daughter in my arms as snug as a proud father who just gammed the system could, without bruising baby fat. I had just beaten the dog whisperer and the Da Vinci poop artist in one shot, leaving no doubt; my kid can tell time…in your chubby, little, angelic faces Petey and Caitlynne!
I got Hope ready for bed, bubble bath, pink pajamas, curious George and the man in the yellow hat. She knelt beside me as we prayed. “God bless Mommy, Ally, Shawn, Aaron, Andrew and Hope” I said. I looked down at her beautiful smile and asked “did I miss anyone.”
She piously looked down toward her own clasped, prayerful hands and offered her prayer to the Lord…“Tebin Taughty,” to which I responded ….
“Let the smart people say Amen.”