When we were kids living in New Jersey, my brother and I had a babysitter named Mrs. Ombach, who came over to watch us frequently on summer afternoons. She would look over her half-spectacles at us as she knit long afghans with zig-zags or stripes. At the exact same time each visit, she would instruct us to read or lie down on blankets on the floor nearby while she took a half-hour nap on our rust-colored couch. Because of her insistence that we be raised with an appreciation for classical music, our dad went out and bought a bunch of Tchaikovsky music on eight-track tapes. I knew The Nutcracker and Swan Lake by ear long before I ever saw a ballet.
Her efforts to keep us “civilized” didn’t end with music. Whenever she was over, there would be tea, cookies and conversation at 3 o’clock. On the few occasions we went to her house , it was full of tea sets and needlepoint pillows and dark curtains and cuckoo clocks. No matter where we were with her, she would always police our language for “yeahs” and “uh-huhs.”
“You mean yes,” she would correct us.
Ombach’s notions didn’t entirely disappear or stick. I like classical music, but am by no means an expert. I’ll have some nice herbal tea in the evening now and then, but I’m mainly a coffee drinker, and I don’t drink it ritually much these days – just in large quantities in the morning. I’m particular about language in writing, but often too lazy about my speech, especially around the house. Lazy enough that my mom will still sometimes correct with me with an “Ombach would be very upset with you.”
But Declan almost always says “yes,” with a clear and precise sss sound. He’s even taken to saying “thank you” and “please” quite often, unless you’re telling him to do it, in which case, he stares straight through you as if to say “do I look like I need your pedestrian coaching?”
The other afternoon, he woke up from a nap in the car. I had the classical station playing. He rubbed his eyes and looked around sweetly for few minutes. Then he cupped his ear and said, “do you hear that Mozart? It’s on the radio.”
This blew my mind because it was, in fact, a Mozart piano sonata playing.
He will be two and a half in 11 days. What’s next? Daily requests for a cup of Earl Grey? It’s not out of the question, since he thinks Jean-Luc Picard is a family member. But if he starts asking for tea-time, I’ll be scanning the room for signs of Mrs. Ombach’s spirit.