I had been just a normal adult male, a grandpa, going about a normal life, until one recent day I learned that I had become, “Baba.”
My grandson didn’t call me anything for more than a year after he was born. He may have been sizing me up, considering other possible names like, “Shorty” or, “Scruffy” or just, “Hey You” before he settled on “Baba.” When I first heard it, I thought he was talking about something else, maybe one of those animals in his picture books, like a sheep – Ba ba black sheep, have you any wool? No, that wasn’t it. Nor was it his take on an elephant, which he already imitated with a “Ffffffffffffffffffffffff,” spitting “F” sound similar to the way a trumpeter blows into his horn. Nor should it be confused with his name for his grandmother – “Nanny.”
When he was asked, “Who is Baba?” he pointed at me.
In fact, becoming Baba has not been quite as easy as it might seem. It’s more than just waking up one day with a new name. That’s the process of becoming a grandpa. But as Baba, there are special things you have to do, including some things you may have learned to do about 70 years ago and then either forgot or stopped doing when they became too difficult to do. For example, as Baba, you have to be able to scoot across the floor on your butt. That looks easy for a pre-toddler wearing a cushy diaper, but it’s not so easy for a 70-year old butt on a back pocket wallet. I must admit that I failed at butt cruising and reverted to the much easier forward crawl on hands and knees. Even with some difficulty, I found that moving on hands and knees beats butt cruising hands down for going through boxboard tunnels on the floor and under tables, and I also found it better for chasing balls across the floor. However, unlike my grandson, Baba did not master the technique of walking upright under a table.
As Baba, you also have to relearn how to do simple things like switching a light on and off, at first hesitantly, trying to figure out how to hold your hand and fingers to switch it off after you switch it on, then more regularly – on off on off – as you master the technique, and then rapidly – onoffonoffonoffonoffonoffonoffonoffonoffonoffonoffonoffonoff, laughing – as you demonstrate your newfound expertise and ability to entertain yourself and those around you. Finally, ooooon, oooooff, oooon, oooff, with only occasional shrieks of joy, as nap time approaches.
Food, too, has become more fun for Baba than it usually is for a grandpa. I have learned to set aside the long practiced rules of food management and to discover entirely new or forgotten ways to manipulate food.
I have learned how to use a spoon upside down to eat yogurt and also how to fling yogurt and other food and utensils away from the table.
I used to follow a prescribed, if informal, etiquette, carrying my plate with any remaining food to dispose of it in the appropriate compost or trash container. Now, if I don’t want something I’ve been given, I just push it away – off my dish, off my tray, off my table, back at the person who gave it to me, or straight to the floor where the dog is waiting. And, if I want to know what’s inside a bottle, I just turn it upside down and see what comes out; then, if I don’t want it, I simply push it away or drop it to the floor. I also like those pouches that you can squeeze to launch a gooey rope of slush toward the nearest person or down inside your shirt.
It has taken a little longer to learn how to stack things that were not designed to be stacked, but practice makes near perfect. We can, in fact, stack big things on top of small things, and they will not always fall down. If they do, we can just cry and swing our arms back and forth to make sure nothing remains standing.
If you’re Baba, you also have to know a thing or two about diapers, and I do. I mentioned the butt cruise – scooting across the floor on cushy diapers. I’m sure I don’t need to describe in detail the more common uses of diapers – filling them with things we don’t want to see or manage outside of diapers; everyone knows about that, and I’m not talking in this instance about putting snacks into diapers. However, not everyone knows that you can wear a diaper as a hat, and colorful diapers with designs on them can be quite attractive as hats – in the privacy of your own home.
Finally, after decades of putting my left shoe on my left foot and my right shoe on my right foot, I have learned as Baba that there are many other ways of putting on shoes, and they are not limited to putting the right shoe on the right foot. The shoe doesn’t have to fit. They don’t have to match, and they don’t have to be all the way on. They can also be on your hands and sometimes held up to your ears. No one would dare argue with a grandpa, and no one wants to argue with Baba.
Guest Blogger: Al Russell (AKA Baba)
Baba (Al) was born and raised on the West Coast but has lived here in Vermont since the late 80s. He and his wife Jenny live in Milton, where they raised their two kids, Dan and Kat. Al enjoys fishing, working from his home-based consulting business, playing with his labradoodle Poppy, and of course, spending time with his new grandson, Dade.