ad some more niece-talk today. Grace's first Reconciliation is tomorrow, and I had heard from Leslie that she had seemed pretty nervous about it (although less so since hearing that it was not too difficult from some classmates who had already done it), and I thought I would do my Godfatherly duty to offer any reassurance or explanation I could about it, especially since I coincidentally also happen to be a theologian. When I called, however, desperate yelling broke out in the immediate background as I spoke to my sister, who laughingly informed me that Sophie was very anxious to speak to me first.
Sophie (2 3/4 old) picked up pretty much right where she had left off when I talked to her on Friday, segueing from telling me that she had had a cheeseburger for lunch to once again listing the three computers in the house. Her light and happy conversation continued as she mostly resorted to descriptions of various things that grabbed her attention while I concentrated mostly on just trying to understand what she was saying, asking at opportune times for additional information, such as the color of the object in question. She announced to me that they had a new dog, which was a momentary surprise, until I realized that she was talking about Lucky, who they had gotten months ago, and whose teeth marks I still notice most days on my shoes. Leslie and Jim, who Sophie told me, were highly interested in the Illinois basketball game then on the television, meanwhile laughed about how different this daughter of theirs was, as Grace only really started being willing to talk on the phone last year in the first grade, and kindergartener Haley still
won't speak to me over the phone other than ritual and coached birthday greetings and the like. Sophie was born social, as is probably less unusual in the "baby" of the family.
When she finally consented to surrender the phone to Grace (after a bit of prodding from her mother, I think), I had to disengage Grace from the computer game she had been playing, as she thought she was far more capable of splitting her attention than she really was. Once that was done, I began to hear the details of her news: Valentine's Day festivities at school; details of the latest Japanese erasers
, which are apparently all
the rage among the second-grade set; friends that had felt the earthquake the other night, which Grace and the rest of the nieces had slept through; and the like. She didn't seem too anxious anymore when we did talk about her upcoming Reconciliation, or, if she was, she was covering it with a feigned disinterest that seemed convincing over the phone. I shared a little bit with her about how I was still nervous when I did it, but that it also was one of those things like going to the doctor or dentist that felt really good once it was over, no matter how much you dreaded it beforehand. I told her about how cool I thought it was about how secret and private confession was, that priests would go to jail before they told anyone what they had been told, and then broke my own seal of confession by telling her about how nervous I was about my own first experience of the sacrament. She laughed to find out that I was (I think) a fourth grader when I did it (thus making her all the more cool for doing it for the first time as a second grader), and that, as I recall, most of my confession had a lot to do with not being very nice sometimes to my pesty little sister, who had grown up to be Grace's mother. She sympathized with the idea that little sister's could be pests, but wisely offered no comment as to whether my fourth-grade assessment of her Mum could possibly have any basis in fact.
Grace eventually surrendered the phone to Sophie, who had returned after a spell at a computer game with Haley (I heard a shriek or two of competitiveness in the background while talking with Grace), and Sophie got back to business. Unbeknownst to Leslie, who thought that after Grace had finished with me, the phone had been hung up, Sophie stole away with the phone and was soon upstairs, taking me on a tour of the house where she had many things she wanted to "show" me, no matter how many times I explained to her that I couldn't see over the phone, just as she couldn't see me. It was kind of hysterical the way she both seemed to understand and not understand this concept at the same time, being keenly interested to discover that I was seated on a white couch in front of a brown table ("We have a black
couch!"), and recognizing that she didn't see that couch of mine, while still somehow assuming that I could see everything she wanted to show me. So she wandered from room to room for at least ten minutes, keeping up a pretty running narrative on things she found interesting in Grace and Haley's room, setting the phone down at one point and continuing her narrative as she went from object to object. After that, we were then in the playroom, then briefly in Daddy and Mommy's room, then into her own room, where I had to try hard not to laugh as she began an interminable account of the things she found in her dresser drawers for me, listing off the colors of various shirts, underwear, "and here's my diapers," delivered in a slightly glum tone, as if even she realized that that was reaching a kind of conversational low point. At this point, with no end in sight, I began to ask if she might pass the phone on to Mommy. This was answered very matter-of-factly in the negative, as she explained that she wasn't done talking yet. After another minute or two, I said that I had something very important to say to Mommy – maybe I even used the tantalizing word "secret," the importance of which even a two year-old knows very well – and she agreed to give the phone to Mommy, provided that
I promised to keep talking with her once I was done talking to Mommy. Jim's a lawyer specializing in contract law; Sophia is Daddy's Little Girl.
She kept chatting with me as she went back downstairs, and I could hear Leslie in the background suddenly asking if Uncle Mike was still on the phone, and had Sophie been talking with (her voice conveying the worry that one should here read "at") him all this time. No, assured Sophie, this was not the case. "So is anyone on the phone?" "Yup. Uncle Mike." Leslie picked up the phone to hear me still laughing about all that, and I explained the tour I had been on. Then, admitting the promise to keep on talking that Sophie had wrangled out of me, asked her if she could intervene within another ten minutes and give me an exit strategy, because it seems that even I have nothing on Sophie when it comes to the Gift of the Gab. But it turned out that Sophie was starting to get seduced into some cartoon on the television which I think Leslie had cleverly begun right then so as to distract her. Sophie came back on just long enough to tell me that she loved me and say good-bye, and then, after the traditional abortive attempt to talk to Haley, I finished my Valentine's Day call to the nieces.