I had been looking forward to the quiet.
The house in which we raised six children was finally empty, save for a stray Millennial or two. The SpongeBob SquarePants toys had gone to charity, the Barbie Dream House was gathering dust in the attic and there was no longer a car seat permanently strapped into my backseat.
As the Mrs. and I pushed toward 60, the growing stillness felt like a reward for the decades we spent chasing toddlers and scolding teenagers.
And then came Maya.
At least, I think that’s her name. That’s what it says on her birth certificate.
But at least once a day she tells me I’m wrong. She flounces into my office clad only in her underwear, some blanket or sweater draped on her head to simulate flowing hair and, with arms akimbo, waits for me to make the mistake of saying, “Good morning, Maya.” Whereupon, she rolls her eyes, tosses her “hair” and informs me with pitying exasperation that I’ve made a mistake.
“I’m not Maya,” she says, “I’m Elastigirl” meaning the mother in “The Incredibles.”
Or, “I’m not Maya, I’m Elsa, the Snow Queen,” the heroine from “Frozen.”
Or, “I’m not Maya. My name is Rapunzel” as in the character from the fairytale.
You get the idea. I had been looking forward to the quiet – did I say that already? – but instead I got Maya. Rapunzel. Whatever.
She’s not the first grandchild. To the contrary, at 3 years old, she is the youngest of 13. But she is the first toddler to live in my house since the Clinton administration. Not that Mrs. Pitts or I had expected this. No, we had dutifully sent her mother out into the world. Then the world sent her back, plus one.
As a result, there are Barbie dolls in my shower and Vampirina on my television and my poor wife now knows the words to “Baby Shark.” For myself, I am rediscovering that there is no limit to how big a fool a man will make of himself to amuse a baby girl.
One day she walks in with this silly contraption in hand and asks me to put it on. Without a moment of hesitation or proper concern for my manly dignity, I do. I even take a selfie and tweet it out so that we are preserved for posterity, me grizzled, gray and grinning with a blinking, Minnie Mouse-type bow affixed to my bald pate, her laughing with childish glee.
Besides documenting my capacity for foolishness, that picture always reminds me that there’s nothing quite so pure as baby joy. Baby joy will take you out of yourself, take you out of this grim old world.
Maya doesn’t know who the president is, doesn’t know the name of the speaker of the House. She doesn’t know impeachment, doesn’t know climate change. She doesn’t know about active-shooter drills. And I swear, when she sashays into my office, her hands planted where her hips will someday be and declares herself a fairytale queen, when she sits in my lap as we read “Curious George,” when we sing together the chorus from “My Girl,” I don’t know those things, either.
Someday, the quiet will finally arrive. I imagine it feeling like a benediction, a respite in which grown-up people finally get to live grown-up lives in a grown-up house without fear of tripping on Barbie cars while crossing the bedroom floor in the middle of the night.
But in its way this, too, is a benediction and a respite, a place removed from a world grown bitter and mean. A baby barges into your life and changes it, changes you, changes what you thought you wanted or knew. I get fresh proof of this every week when Maya leaves to spend a couple days with her father.
The house is always too quiet when she’s gone.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald.