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Child’s Play

Thanks to the power of the Internet, I received some amazing news I just have to share.  You may or may not be aware that I once claimed the title “Friend of the Developers’ Children” for myself.  This was a play on Jeffrey Zeldman‘s “Friend of the Japanese Children,” which I always found kind of amusing and cool all at once, just like the Toho movies that I presume inspired it.  Well, I have an even better title to claim now: “Namesake of the Japanese Children.”  Congratulations to the Sasano family on their new arrival!

Speaking of children, Kat and I had our own experience with a small one recently:  we played host to the four-and-a-half year old daughter of some friends while they went out of town for a weekend.  We all had a pretty grand time, what with taking her to see Brother Bear, but I discovered something about myself that I’d long suspected.  I have not only The Voice of Authority, but also The Look.

Here’s what happened.  We were all having dinner together and Emma was sitting next to me.  She was swinging her legs back and forth and giggling and generally acting her age.  It was really kind of cute.  But then she rotated in her chair to face me, paused a few seconds, and, giggling, kicked me in the leg.  Not hard, but still kicked, which is something her parents don’t tolerate any more than I do.

My head snapped around to stare her in the eyes, but I didn’t say a single word.  I just… looked at her.  The effect was in some sense astounding; Kat told me later that she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  Emma’s broad, slightly mischievous smile very slowly faded into a concerned expression, then a pout, and then a hangdog expression.  I think she glanced over at Kat, who wasn’t saying a word either.

“What do you say, Emma?” I asked her in a quiet, level tone.  She didn’t say anything, but looked almost hurt and turned away to face the other direction, head hung low.  I asked her again if she knew what she’d done, and what she should say.  In a voice so small it could have been eclipsed by a proton, she said, “M’sorry.”  Then she went around the table to crawl into Kat’s lap.  I found out later that she whispered to Kat, “Uncle Eric is a scary man.”  (“Uncle” is an honorary term in this case.)  Kat laughed and agreed with her that I can be a scary man when I get angry.  Kat reminded me that I needed to tell Emma I still loved her, which I did and she accepted.

Here’s the slightly strange part: I knew, as I stared at Emma, what I was doing.  I could feel the blaze in my eyes, the set in my face, the rebuke in my stance.  I knew I was admonishing her without words.  I was just as confident that it would have the intended effect.  I’d been on the receiving end of similar rebukes when I was a child, and had learned my lessons well.

Later that night, I called my sister Julie to relate the story, which she found very funny.  We’d been talking about Mom in recent weeks, and Julie had told me that she felt closest to Mom when riding a motorcycle.  I found this to be very odd, because I was unaware that Mom loved motorcycles.  Apparently she’d planned to ride one before she died but never got around to it.  Anyway, I told Julie that I’d discovered I feel closest to Mom when disciplining a small child.

It was, mostly, a joke.

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November 2003
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