I’m in a cafe at Balboa and 35th watching somone else’s baby be a genius. Maybe 18 months. Newly walking and independent. So proud to take grapes out of a cup and eat them. Pointing at things and saying a gloobly, grape-spitty word. Looking at the grapes with deep concentration, maneuvering a hand into the mouth of the cup, nabbing a grape like one of those claw and stuffed animal games in a cheap restaurant, then hydraulically lifting the chubby-ass arm to stuff the grape into her mouth. Now she’s dancing and eating grapes at the same time like it’s an olympic sport. I realize she’s dancing to the sound of the espresso machine’s steam thingie, steaming some milk. She drops a grape. Halt! No dancing! Bend down! Emergency! Consternation! Very serious! Resigned, drained of all will, the dad watches her pick the grape up off the floor and eat it. The next one gets a listless chew, then she pulls it out of her mouth and offers it to a random person at another table… magnanimous. Babies, they’re weird little aliens.
Grapes, those notorious choking hazards, are treated by most yuppies like grenades, or like magic mythical creatures that must be chopped into several pieces to kill them, or at least pierced ritually with a grape-skin-puncturing fingernail before ingestion, but dad isn’t aware of that or else the soul-sucking monsters that drained him of all energy made it impossible for him to mutilate each grape. The other dad finally collects the child, which has become bored and exhausted, winding down, the excitement of an outing and running around the crowded cafe in a forest of blue-jeaned legs is now too much. Quick, take her home before meltdown. Now they’re gone. The cafe feels friendlier in their wake.
Maybe part of appreciating little kids is having spent a lot of time with tiny babies, and waiting waiting waiting for months for them to show any sign of humanity or conscious action, just to stick their tongue back out at you or raise an eyebrow is a total miracle.