I am not saying it happens a lot. Or that I come through every time it does. But it’s happened more than once. So I say, write it down.
The first time it happened was a few years ago in Toronto, when I was visiting my family. There was a gathering in my nephew’s backyard and, among other family members, was an infant who was not yet speaking but was nevertheless making a tremendous amount of noise.
Sometimes, that’s how it is with babies. They’ve been fed, their diaper’s been changed, they should, in theory, have nothing to cry about. But they’re screeching their heads off. And nobody knows what to do.
They simply can not be calmed down. Not with kisses, not with quiet reassurances, not with gentle rocking – nothing’s working. If anything, it’s getting worse. The kid’s bellowing’s getting picked up on “Sonar” in the Southern Hemisphere.
You feel bad, watching this. The baby is definitely distressed, and you don’t like to see that. Also – and this is secondary, though that may not be the case for everyone – they are incredibly annoying. How much caterwauling can you put up with, before seriously considering foster care?
I decide to take action, if by “deciding” you mean I just did it.
Before I am consciously aware of my actions, I am standing in front of this blubbering infant, opening my mouth, and letting out a series of loud, high pitched whoops. One after another, each whoop spaced a second or two from its resounding predecessor.
Like that. I had never done this before, and had no idea why I was doing it now. It just came to me. And I whooped.
And it worked!
The kid stopped crying. He relaxed in his mother’s arms and stared at me. While I’m whooping away. Afraid that if I stop stopped, he would immediately start crying again.
Finally, I run out of steam and the “Whoop Machine” shuts down. The kid? He was totally back in the game – comfortable, smiling, done with the five-alarm cacophony that had recently monopolized the proceedings.
The relatives looked relieved and impressed, but more than both of those, they looked curious.
“Where did that come from?”
I had to be honest with them.
“I have no idea.”
FLASH FORWARD: (AND THE REASON THIS MEMORY CAME TO MIND)
We are in Hawaii, April, 2012. My wife and myself, our two daughters and their husbands, and baby Milo, age six months. A non-speaking infant.
We are driving back from Roy’s, a well-known eatery, a twenty-minute drive up the coast from our hotel. Milo had behaved impeccably at the restaurant. The other guests could easily have been unaware there was a baby in the house. He was as silent as the napkins.
But it is now past his bedtime, and our luck, in appears, has run out. Milo starts to cry, a continuous wail complete with little “baby tears” that can shatter your heart, especially if you’re family. Milo is required to remain in his car seat, so Rachel’s removing him to nurse in not an option. “Plan B”, his bottle of expressed milk is now empty. The child is blubbering away. Nothing, it seems, can mollify his discomfort.
“Cryomania” is in full swing. Dr. M, our driver, is breaking the speed limit. We need to get back to the hotel. For all our sakes. I mean, we love Milo dearly, but we – some of us, at least – are this close to shot-putting the kid out the window.
Everything has been tried. Nothing has succeeded.
Suddenly, without thought…
I begin singing him Jolson songs. Starting with “Swanee.” Followed by “April Showers”, “California Here I Come”, and then “Liza”, which I don’t even know. And I am not just singing these songs, mind you,
I am singing like Al Jolson.
The baby immediately stops crying. And for the next ten minutes, he sits mesmerized in his car seat, staring at me with these big, saucer, blue eyes. For the next ten minutes, I “Mammied” our party back to the hotel, with no further unpleasantness. Except for the singing.
A Jolson medley to quiet a baby. Where did that come from?
Recently, a commenter named Dave complimented me on a line I wrote in my posting about the Dalai Lama? I went back and looked at it. And, though I had written it just the day before, I had absolutely no recollection of making it up. That line came from the same special place the decision came from to sing Jolson tunes to an inconsolable infant. (And to whoop in Toronto.)
Meaning, nowhere I can put my finger on.
I remember the Dalai Lama line was written during my second pass through the material. It had not occurred to me my first time around. And then, there it was.
It’s funny, “funny” in the sense of “odd” mixed with “embarrassing.” I had no control over these things. Yet I still take pride in having done them.
Does that make any sense at all?