Last night, the Hatchling, Mr. Squab and I had to go to a men’s clothing chain store to get Mr. Squab a suit for my brother’s upcoming wedding. The Hatchling hadn’t taken her usual excess of naps and is generally going through a clingy/cranky phase, so I was not sanguine about her ability to wait patiently while Mr. Squab tried on his suit, got measured for alterations, and looked for a dress shirt. Initially, we were ok: one of the sales associates had left his measuring tape on the floor, and measuring tapes are one of the Hatchling’s favorite toys. She slung it around her neck and wandered the alterations area like a miniature tailor, exclaiming “HI!” in her usual pleased manner when she espied me, her father, or her aunt or uncle amongst the suit jackets. But these pleasures can sustain a toddler for only so long, and when the measuring tape had to be surrendered to its rightful owner, I braced myself for some righteous fussing/whinging/acts of vandalism.
But I was not reckoning with the guardian angel of beleaguered mothers, who appeared to us that night in the form of a sweet tweenaged boy with a shock of blond hair and a mouthful of braces. He was stuck there with his family and had taken refuge in one of the chairs over by the shoe section. Now, I don’t know how many tweenaged boys you know. I myself have only limited contact with them, but it’s enough to recognize that, in general, their tolerance for the toddler set is somewhat limited. Even the Hatchling’s much-beloved nine-year-old cousin, though very sweet, is liable to get a little fed up with his small relative when she throws his game controller to the floor for the fifth time, or interrupts his computer game by thrusting herself onto his lap and poking her finger in his eye. And really, who can blame him?
This kid, though, was different. I don’t know if it was merely circumstance (nothing else to do at the Mens Wearhouse at 7:30 on a Monday night), a preternatural affinity with 17-month-olds, or the Hatchling’s ability to seek out the most baby-friendly person in a three mile radius, but this kid had the right stuff. The Hatchling spied him from across the store and you could practically see the cogs turning in her wee baby brain. “KID! MUST GO SEE!” She marched right over to him, put both her chubby hands on his knees, and let loose with an absolute torrent of baby babble. And rather than looking slightly pained at this complete invasion of his personal space – you know, like a normal person would – this young man gazed right back into the Hatchling’s upturned face and said “Ohhhhh. Really?” just as if the Hatchling was the most fascinating conversationalist with whom he had ever had the good fortune to come into contact.
Well. This is this kind of response the Hatchling normally gets only from her besotted adult relations, and frankly that’s gotten a little boring by now. But THIS! A cool, older kid, giving her the full force of his attention? Really listening to her and talking back? OMG. She, like, could not even HANDLE it. She was so delighted with him that every time he said “Ohhhh” in response to her she let out a peal of infectious toddler laughter and then babbled some more. Then he would say “ohhhhh” again and that would set her off laughing even harder. Her squeals of rapture were so squeal-y and so rapturous that half the store came over to see what the heck was going on, and I had tears of laughter streaming down my face. The boy’s mom glanced over at us and said, “I don’t know what it is, but babies just love him.” And I said, “well, mine thinks he is her new best friend.” The Hatchling and her new idol “chatted” away while Mr. Squab finished getting measured and got back into his own clothes, and then it was time to go. “Can you say goodbye to your new friend?” I asked, and the Hatchling did the fist clenching and unclenching that passes for a wave in her book. “You’re really good with toddlers,” I said to the boy. “Thanks,” he replied a little awkwardly. “Have a good night.” “You, too,” we said, and went out into the dark to get in our car and drive home.
I tell you what, with kids like these, sometimes I think the future isn’t going to be half bad.