Politics & Policy

Name That Baby

It seemed like a clever idea at the time: Sign all four children up for four weeks of daily swimming lessons at a pool a 20-minute drive from our house. Cleverer still was signing Molly and Paris up for tennis lessons two afternoons a week right beside the pool. This cunning plan would get us all out bright and early each day; the children would develop life-enhancing new skills, and, greatest miracle of all, with no one around to trash the place, our house would still be tidy when we got home! Fresh air! Self-improvement! Hearty appetites! Deep, restorative sleep!

Alas, man’s cleverness gang oft agley, and so it has proved in this case for me–and for the phalanx of other mothers who do the drive every morning and arrive groaning under gigantic swim bags and herding vast numbers of querulous children. We urban escapees each stake out a couple of chaise lounges or one of the few tables, unfurling beach towels the way actual refugees spread out those blue U.N. tarpaulins, and settle in for another grueling day in the broiling sun. True, there are no dust storms, no IEDs, and the greatest effort most of us must expend has to do with finding goggles for our dripping charges, but still…

Getting up to frisking in the chlorine means actually getting up: I’ve have to roust my protesting children all summer at almost as unnatural hours as I did all winter, pour breakfast into them just as assiduously, and force-march them into the car even more quickly, as we now have farther to drive. And though no one is around to trash the house, it is also true that no one is around to stock the larder, which is why I am now on a first-name basis with the employees at the Subway near the pool. The outside world has receded, replaced by a tiring but not unpleasant daily grind–and a daily grinder.

It is mid-afternoon, the pool is mostly deserted, and I am, in fact, unpacking those daily grinders when the talk turns to the children’s current favorite competition: Name That Baby.

“Jaffie!” Paris yells.

“Not so loud,” I tell him, one eye on the elderly woman performing a dignified breaststroke in the lane nearest to us. “Anyway, what kind of name is that?”

“A good one!” he yells again. I hand him a sandwich and clip him amiably on the head.

“Ow,” he grins. “Salami and spinach. Yum.”

“Jaffie,” Violet reminds him, and the chant goes up: “Jaa-fie, jaa-fie!”

“How about Penelope?” Molly interrupts. She at least takes our need to call the baby something more than “the baby” or, for variety, “the new baby.”

If you are a regular reader of this column and you are thinking, “Aha! So it’s a girl!” you are correct. For despite our best efforts to spot manly bits during the ultrasound, the technician kept clucking affectionately, “Oh my, madam, here is a girl. You see? Oh my, yes, madam, here is not a boy. Here is a girl.” It all looked like Hurricane Dennis to me, but she is paid to recognize the distinguishing characteristics, and so reluctantly I was forced to renounce my fantasy of twin boys who would restore the balance of the sexes in our household and give us a nice even number of children. (Our pediatrician believes that large, round-numbered families produce the least neurotic children. I wonder: Is this true?)

“It’s a girllllll!” the girls shrieked when we told them, and sprinted off to find their brother. He took the news as well as an only brother who will soon have four sisters, could. “D’oh!” he yelped good-naturedly, biffing himself in the head, and made everyone laugh.

“… Jaa-fie!” the girls are still chanting, when Paris’s face lights up: “How about we call her Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?”

“That’s catchy,” I say mildly, spiking straws into juice boxes and handing them around. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Gurdon. Hard to fit on a passport, though.” The younger children fall about hilariously. “Can you imagine the first day of school? Good morning Molly, Paris, Violet, and Phoebe, and, why, this must be little Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” They laugh even harder, and I am reminded again how the normal requirements of “humor” really do not apply to the younger set. There’s no need for surprise or even incongruity. If once you strike their funny bone, you can say the same thing over and over and they will think you unfailingly riotous, and then they will repeat the unbelievably witty thing you said, over and over, and if the laughter at any point grows hollow some grownup will have to put a stop to it, for children will never concede that a well-chewed joke has lost its savor.

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Gurdon!” Violet sniggers originally, pretending to fall off her chair towards her brother.

“How about Sleeping Beauty?” Phoebe asks with radiant guilelessness.

No, Supercalif–!”

Molly, meanwhile, is keeping up an earnest effort: “Marcia?”

I shake my head no.

“Penelope?”

“Nice classical name, but I don’t really like Penny.”

Paris and Violet exchange smirks. “Penny–?”

“We can call her nickel! Nickel! Get it? Penny? Nickel?”

“Dime! Quarter!”

“How about Fifi Trixibelle?” I suggest with studied blandness, pouring myself a cup of water. “Or perhaps Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily?” The children squint into the distance, considering these names. They have heard neither of Bob Geldof nor of Michael Hutchence, and merely shake their heads.

Molly is still at it: “Eileen?”

“Ewww…” yells Paris.

“Eewww…” yells Violet.

“Ewww…” yells Phoebe.

“Samantha?”

“Ewwww…” the peanut gallery shrieks in an uproar.

“Isabella?”

Eeeee–owww!”

In the extremity of his repugnance, Paris has flipped off his chair, hit the floor, and had the pool chair bang against his head. He wails dramatically, something about it “really hurting.” Phoebe climbs down and goes around to cuddle him and I struggle womanfully to suppress anything along the lines of “if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a hundred times don’t lean back in your chair and now look what’s happened” and other such tedious reproaches. But I am thinking it. Jaffie, indeed.

Families are trickling back to the pool for the afternoon rush. A shout comes across the water: “Hey, Paris, watch this!”

We all turn to see Jason, the human tsunami, launch himself into the water. There is a tremendous splash, at which Paris, electrified, jumps up from where he has crashed, crams the rest of his sandwich into his mouth, and gestures at me.

I look at him, amused. “Yes?”

“Myggygyss!” he seems to say through the salami, pointing urgently at his face, then at the pool.

“He wants his goggles,” says Violet. I hand them over, and he runs off towards his friend.

“No running at the pool,” Phoebe remarks to no one in particular, and finishes her ham and cheese.

Molly stands up and brushes the crumbs off her bathing suit. “Ok, how about Angelica?”

Violet and Phoebe and I look at each other, and say, all together: “Ewwww!”

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