Her curious case began last Wednesday night when I was assembling our new kitchen island, an intricate little number that, early on, frustrated me no end. (Frustration at the end, too, when one part didn't work properly, but that's a boring story for another time.) To give you an idea: It took five minutes short of a solid hour just to unpack the thing from its box. Once that was done, there was some shaky assembly time (it called for two people); The Wife was busy with dinner and couldn't hold things upright so screws could be inserted and fastened. I fumed and steamed over this while NJ sat in her high chair watching. Suddenly, over the sound of the iPod buds in my ears, I heard her exclaim "Oh!" and laugh. Then she laughed again, longer and louder. And again. Waving arms, too. I pulled the earbuds out and she did it again -- it was fake laughter. "She's trying to cheer you up!" The Wife said. I smiled weakly at the kid and replied, "It's not working." The Wife chastised me for being a grouch and took NJ out of her chair. The girl immediately toddled over to me, beaming a smile, and latched tight onto my leg with a hug for the ages. Even a practiced sullen dork like me couldn't fight that. I didn't curse or grouse until NJ was fast asleep and we turned our attention back to the kitchen furniture.
Fast-forward to yesterday: NJ grabbed her ridiculously wide-brimmed Worcester Nor'easter rain hat and marched around the house putting it on and pulling it off her head, babbling her babble. Then, the booming, fake laughter again -- I don't know if other young children do this, but I've never seen it before. It's really something -- she does it and looks at you with a grin, and if you laugh back she breaks into the real thing. It looks like this:
Then, it was on to the Seattle Aquarium. She's been there before, but yesterday she was ready to make the place her own. Once she got over an initial awe-struck phase, NJ was jabbering and pointing and staggering around, pointing at fish and watching enraptured as a diver fed them. We rounded the corner to an exhibit that features a wave simulator (and the requisite explosions of bubbles) and a lot of fish at her eye level. This one we couldn't get her away from for a long time. Finally we were able to convince her to move on, although we stopped there on the way out and she forced her way to the front (right) with the confident aplomb of a groupie at a rock concert (which I hope never, ever, never, never, ever, never ever comes to pass). Lots of other fish exhibits captured her attention, and the high point of the trip for me was when The Wife put her on the floor and she immediately and swiftly toddled toward an aquarium waving her arms and shouting "Ah-pee ah-pee ah-pee" to no one in particular. I think she learned "happy" at day care -- she certainly didn't learn it from me on kitchen island assembly night.*
Batten down the hatches, matey!
*UPDATE: I'm reliably informed by The Wife that she taught NJ "happy."
Last night came the clincher. At our New Year's Eve dinner table, I noticed NJ looking at me and squinting her eyes, with her mouth in a weird half-open position. I dimmed the lights a bit, but she did it again and I thought maybe she got a bit of food in her eye or something. "Is she making fun of me?" I asked The Wife, getting a little defensive about my own squinty-eyed visage (although, as the man said, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes). "Maybe so!" she replied, so I made the face back at NJ -- who gave me an approving arm-wave and laughed heartily (not that Ed McMahon overdone stuff, either). We made faces at each other for a little while longer, before I resorted to my usual dinner-is-over routine of juggling three clementine oranges for her before clearing the table.
NJ's always been a charmer, but it's fun to see her kick it up a notch or two. She's also won over Zeus, the timid dog who's scared of his own shadow. She's upstairs with her mom right now, but if she was here she'd want me to wish all of you a Ah-pee New Year!