Halfway between our house and my parents house, we discovered that our daughter didn’t particularly enjoy long car rides. This might not have been a problem if my parents lived down the block or on the other side of town. Instead they lived about twenty hours away, only a few hours short of being a full day away, like “tomorrow” in the song from Annie. Here’s what I learned from the experience: discovering the personality of my daughter is more enjoyable when I do it from my couch. Nobody enjoyed the following six hundred miles, although due to the intervention of my wife, my daughter probably minded the time less than the rest of us.
One part of my daughter’s personality that we had discovered early is that she’s a sucker for music. Maybe that’s common to all babies, but I don’t have a convenient way of testing that. With my own daughter, the discovery happened like this: I took her to the doctor and she didn’t like it. Singing was just about the only thing I had with which to soothe her. I suspect that other people won’t let me upset their children at the doctor’s office as part of a vast scientific experiment, so I can’t make any generalizations. Frankly, I would think less of them if they did, though.
Regardless, my daughter has always liked songs. She probably gets this from me, because I sing pretty much everything I do. I would make an amusing character in a sitcom, as long as I was one of those characters that only showed up for one or two jokes. People who spend a lot of time around me tend to go insane. My wife for example. She and I used to hang out all the time, and eventually she could no longer think of a reason not to marry me.
Unfortunately, I also tend to become animated when I sing. I dance like one of those somewhat disturbing Santa Clause statues that every store sells around Christmas, the ones who jerkily accompany music-box carols with hip-hop moves as performed by Frankenstein’s monster. It’s not the sort of thing for which there exists a most appropriate time, but “while driving” is pretty close to the least appropriate.
Thus the singing fell to my wife, whom I love and adore, but who sings like a cow with laryngitis. (One that’s being beaten up by bullies swinging startled cats.) To be fair to her though, she teaches very young children, who also mostly sing like abused farm animals. She probably makes them feel really good about themselves. Children love to imitate adults.
Also, as an effect of her most frequent audience, my wife’s repertoire of songs is almost exclusively the sort appreciated by children too young to pay attention to lyrics. She knows a lot of songs about children falling and dying. She also knows a few about children dying because of wild animals. And there are some about wild animals dying. Maybe she doesn’t pay attention to the lyrics either.
I suppose I should be thankful that her first song of the trip didn’t involve death, just nightmarish creatures acting stupidly: she started singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” My complaints are numerous, but I’ve already addressed most of them before. Right now I just want to put forward the following question: what could possibly be at the top of that waterspout that’s so ridiculously important to the spider?
It climbs; it gets washed away; it climbs again. I figure that it has to be either stupid or particularly well motivated. I had four hours to think about it too, because my daughter would only stop crying while my wife kept singing it.
Eventually though, we had to find a new song. Our fallback, for reasons that still aren’t clear, was a song we had invented ourselves: the Llama Lot song.
I burst into song the way that children eat candy; I don’t need to be convinced, I just need an excuse. Well, on one of our pre-baby long drives, my excuse was a strange advertisement that we saw along side the road. We might have misread it, because it’s otherwise entirely unique among the signs of my considerable experience. It was a sign for a place called “Llama Lot.” We know nothing else about it, but facts aren’t really necessary when one’s name has such playful rhythm. In fact, it fits nicely to the song “Lollipop.” Sing it with me, wont you?
Llama Lot, Llama Lot
O Llama Llama Llama
Llama Lot Llama Lot
O Llama Llama Llama
We had to improvise the verses entirely, because the original verses don’t make sense about llamas, but the bizarre llama activities we devised were pretty amusing. The song became a staple of our long drives, and turned into a game. We’d both sing the chorus, but then we’d take turns having to make up verses quickly. We never managed much of a coherent narrative, but we did laugh a lot.
As it turned out, our daughter also liked that song. Not surprisingly, a lot of our verses involved repeating the rhymes “I don’t know why” and “so you won’t cry,” but this filled another few hours.
Then, exhausted from singing but still desperate to keep the peace, my wife introduced our daughter to one of her first essential social skills: peek-a-boo. You might wonder why we didn’t try this earlier, but I’m glad we saved it to the end. Babies might think the game is hilarious for an endless amount of time, but I do not. In fact, after about forty five minutes, “peek-a-boo” became the most annoying word in the English language to me.
If you say any word enough times it will start to sound odd. I’ll admit that sometimes I’ll push that envelope for the mind-bending fun of it because I’m a special sort of person, but always with real and meaningful words: banister, egregious, halibut, that sort of thing. With words that are made-up and goofy, the envelope is there for my protection. Pretty quickly the nonsense words start seeming like personal insults, as though language has created a word just to spite me.
If I lived in an old Hollywood western, a cowboy might come up to me in a bar and say, in his grizzled surly voice, “Peek-a-boo.” Everyone in the bar would gasp; women would hurry their small children outside. I would put down my drink slowly but not face the man. (In the old west, avoiding eye contact was apparently a sign of being a tremendously talented gunfighter. Being as shy as I am, people in the old west would probably have thought I was terrifying.) After a second of tense silence, I would mutter in return, “Them there’s fightin’ words.” (Also in the old west, people only respected you if you had embarrassingly poor grammar.)
I don’t know why my wife wanted to have a gunfight with me in the car on our trip to my parents house, but she just kept saying “them fightin’ words.”
Either way, nowadays we fly when we visit relatives. People have always told me that planes are the safest way to travel. I didn’t know how right they were.