Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where's The Baby?: Champaign 1992

This was at the Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana. Urbana is the cooler town of the twin cities of Champaign and--you guessed it--Urbana. Anyway, we were at the mall because they had an exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs, that is, electric giant-sized robotic-moving dinosaur statues. And First Daughter, my darling little daughter, was crazy for dinosaurs. (Dinosaurs are always a big thing with kids, but in the 90's they were especially huge.) This possibly could have been in 1991, as Fru was not pregnant with Second Daughter yet and First Daughter didn't talk that well at the time, though I'm sure she was walking--so it must have been '92 . . . Anyway, her favorite toys were smallish plastic animals and of those she loved her dinosaurs (she loved the movie Land Before Time--but also had this thing for The Brave Little Toaster, ahem) and we used to travel with what we called the Cup-O-Toys, which was simply a big plastic drinking cup filled with her favorite plastic animals. So, Fru and I saw they were having this exhibit at the mall in Urbana and took First Daughter there, who was just barely a toddler.
But what I remember was, after we saw the dinosaurs with their noises and their stiff repetitive electronic movements, which was inside an empty "store" space, we went back out to the mall and sat along one of the fountains there.
I don't know where Fru went--shopping, no doubt; at Art Mart no doubt--but First Daughter and I sat there, quietly, doing not much of anything. Then she looks at me--she was the most beautiful little girl with yellow-blond hair and big blue eyes, and she was the sweetest, had the most calm and happy disposition--and she goes: "Where's the baby?"
Now, she didn't say it like that, more like, "Whey de bebe" or some version of such because she couldn't quite pronounce her words yet, but it was cute (believe me, it was). At first I didn't know what she was saying, but she repeated herself a few times and then I understood.
"Where's the baby?"
And what she wanted was to play a game. See, Where's The Baby? was a game we played at home where I'd hold her and we'd look in the big round wall mirror and I'd go, "Where's the baby?" and pretend I couldn't find her--my baby--even though she was right there in my arms and in front of the mirror (yes, I built up a sense of absurd irony in her at a very young age). I'd keep saying "Where's the baby?" and look everywhere but at her or in my arms and she would find this very funny and then I'd finally see her in the mirror and say, "Ohhh, there's the baby!"
So, this was what she wanted, to play this game.
But we were at the mall. People were walking around. This was a private game, played at home when it was only the two of us. I was a new father, I was--essentially--a stay-at-home father and was sometimes embarrassed to be so. So. So, I tried to talk her out of it. I said something like, "Oh, you don't want to play that here." But I was smiling. I was laughing a bit because she wanted to play that game and because of the way she went about asking me. But, she kept saying: "Whey de bebe?"
She was such a sweet girl. I loved her more than I knew I could love someone or something. And she was so funny in asking. What was I going to do: deny her because I was embarrassed to play the game in public, or go ahead and look foolish to please my little girl?
Of course I opted for foolishness.
And so we played Where's The Baby? at the Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana while Fru was at Art Mart, just First Daughter and me. And, it was fun. I maybe didn't do all of my exaggerated voice and facial expressions, but we went through the routine of me looking for her and asking where the baby was and then, finally, discovering that she was right there, next to me and how delighted I was to find her. And, she was happy, laughed.
Ah. There is no such thing as foolishness when it comes to making your children happy. Or when it comes to just caring for or teaching your children. And I would prove that to be a fact many many times from that moment on.

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