Uncle What’s-His-Name

My fat brother Jeff and his wife, non-fat Beth, are teaching my 2-year-old niece sign language. I think this shows remarkable foresight on their part, because you never know when you’re going to be deaf. You think Helen Keller saw it coming? I doubt it.

The teaching of sign language has become a popular trend among parents of young children, up there with naming them Madison and buying them DVD players. The idea is that before kids learn to talk, all they can do when they need something is cry. But if you teach them the signs for certain common feelings — “hungry,” “thirsty,” “pensive,” “wistful,” etc. — then they can express themselves without turning on the waterworks.

Young Lindsay learned all that before she could talk. Now she talks quite a bit, and while it’s often indecipherable, it’s at least recognizably English, putting her ahead of Bernie Mac. Still, Jeff and Beth continue to teach her sign language to use in addition to spoken English.

I should also point out that while she is only 2 years old, Lindsay is already being cute at a 7-year-old level. I mean it: You take the cutest 7-year-old you can find, and he or she will look monstrous and deformed next to Lindsay. You would light him or her on fire before being subjected to another moment of gazing at its ugliness. Lindsay is the most adorable creature on the face of the earth. In fact, she is probably more adorable than any creature dwelling not just on the earth’s face but in its core or caverns, too. She’s so cute I just want to chop her up and eat her, one piece every day, like an Advent calendar. Is that wrong? I cannot see how.

We were all at my parents’ house for Christmas Week, so I got to see Lindsay’s cuteness in action for extended periods of time. She loves all her uncles and aunts, though sometimes she gets us mixed up. About half the time, she called me Chris (“Tris”), which is the name of one of my brothers. And sometimes she called him Eric (“Ewic”). Chris and I look nothing alike, as demonstrated by these photos:

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From left: me, Chris.

Nevertheless, it’s always cute, no matter what she calls us. (She calls herself “Zee Zee.”) By the end of the week she was getting it right about 90 percent of the time, which is better than many of my high school teachers, who pronounced my last name “Schneider” for four years.

One day around Christmas I was working at my computer when Lindsay toddled up and said, “Whassat?,” pointing to the mouse. I said, “It’s a mouse,” momentarily forgetting that Lindsay was probably already familiar with a creature by that name and might now become confused. I showed her the cursor on the screen and showed her how when I moved the mouse, the little arrow moved, too.

“Is there mouse in there?” she asked. Evidently she thought the cursor on the computer was a mouse, living inside the monitor. How delightfully stupid! Kids are so dumb. So I googled a picture of a mouse (the furry, living kind) and showed her. She was aglow with satisfaction. Then she demanded to see more animals.

“Birdies in there?”

“Ducks in there?”

“Horsey in there?”

Each time I googled the requested image and showed Lindsay an entire page of search results.

“Chicks in there?” She meant baby chickens. I googled the word “chicks” in Google’s image search and 1.3 seconds later learned something important: DO NOT GOOGLE THE WORD “CHICKS” IN GOOGLE’S IMAGE SEARCH.

“Towels in there?”

“Towels?” I said.

“Towes!” she said. I still didn’t know what she meant. Towels? Towers? What? So she made a sign involving her hand and her forehead, having been taught that if she wanted to make herself clear, all she had to do was use sign language. She’d always been able to depend on it when she was hungry or thirsty. She’d make the sign, and Mommy or Daddy would know what to do. Now here she was, desperately needing to see pictures of townhouses (???), and Uncle Eric was clueless. I was failing to understand her in two languages.

Luckily, Beth was nearby. “What does this mean?” I asked breathlessly, reproducing what Lindsay had done. “Cow” was the reply.

Cow! Of course! She wants to see cows. I googled her up some cows right quick, and she was duly pleased.

As adorable and precious and magical as the whole experience was, just me and my niece, enjoying some googling time together, what I have learned about 2-year-olds is that their attention span for certain activities is far longer than you would like it to be. The cuteness of it all wore off after a while; I wanted to get back to work, or at the very least to stop looking for pictures of animals on the Internet.

But how do you tell an adorable 2-year-old who wants to look at pictures of owls and penguins and tigers and monkeys and bears that you’ve grown weary of her and want her to go away? Because it’s not that you’ve grown tired of her, per se; it’s that you have work to do. A world where everyone caters endlessly to the whim of 2-year-olds is a world where nothing is accomplished and where the Wiggles are the president of the United States. We can’t have that, people. We must eventually put a stop to animal-googling and other such nonsense and get back to work. We must also see to it that the Wiggles are dealt with appropriately, not elected to the presidency but executed in the town square, their heads displayed on pikes outside the city walls as a warning to others.

So I told Lindsay that we had exhausted the Internet’s supply of animal photos, a rank and filthy lie. “No more animals,” I said. “They went bye-bye.” She got a pouty look on her face and stalked away, and I was sad. Luckily, one of the other things I’ve learned about 2-year-olds is that they don’t hold grudges. A couple hours later, she came toddling into view again, smiling like always. “Birdies in there?” she asked. I hoisted her up on to my lap, and we looked, and sure enough, there were birdies.

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It had been about 22 years since I'd lived in the same house as a 2-year-old, so I'd forgotten how delightful they are. Such affection and energy and silliness! Lindsay brought joy to the household, even if she did watch "Aladdin" 43 times over the course of the week.

At right is a picture snapped by some paparazzo as Lindsay and I were enjoying some googling. Note that Lindsay, already attuned to the ways of celebrity life, instinctively looks at the camera when her photo is being taken, no matter how fascinating the birdies and ducks on the computer are. (Curiously, I'm wearing the same shirt in this photo as I was when I took the headshot in the column, even though the photos were taken several months apart. I do own other shirts, I promise.)

I was unable to do a podcast recording of this column for the same reason I couldn't do one for "In the Dark" a few days earlier: My voice was shot. I never actually got sick or anything; my voice just sounded like Patty & Selma for a few days. It returned to normal eventually, though, I recorded this podcast for posterity's sake.

P.S. It's Nipsey Russell, chosen purely at random.