I took my daughter in her stroller for our regular walk through the neighborhood.
By the halfway point I could tell the temperature was dropping. Just as I was wondering if it was too cold to be out, another walker rounded the corner and started coming our way. From behind the stroller, I saw my daughter’s arm depart the warm cocoon. She started ferociously fanning the air to say hello.
The man, of age to be a grandpa and with enthusiasm to match, waved back. As he got close to us, he took a wide berth, as we all do these days. When he was just parallel to us but a few feet away he stopped walking and looked to my daughter.
“It’s chilly, isn’t it?” he asked her. She doesn’t talk much yet — pointing, grunting and throwing her whole body on the ground in protest are her main forms of communication. So I was surprised when, from the depths of that same cocoon, her little voice emerged.
“Chilly,” she repeated.
“Yes,” the man said. “Chilly!”
She seemed to take his response as a challenge and decided to step up the volume. “Chilly!” she yelled.
The man didn’t miss a beat. Loudly he said, “Chilly!”
And my daughter took it up a notch. “Chilly!”
Now the man and I were both laughing, and he hunched over so that he was on her level and — smiling — he yelled, “Chilly,” the loudest he had yet. I could see he was enjoying himself, and I was also caught up in the moment of being out in the world, having a spontaneous interaction with another human being. It’s easy to forget how good that can feel.
With a huge smile on her face, my daughter threw back her head. I could tell she was going to scream as loud as she could, and she did. She opened her mouth and belted out, “Tuna!”
We both paused for a moment. Then he said, half to me and half to himself, “Did she say … tuna?”
I tried to remember whether or not she had ever said the word “tuna” in her life. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had said it.
“Chilly, chilly tuna,” he said, shaking his head and chuckling as he stood. “I wouldn’t have thought of it.”
One look at my daughter immediately showed she was pleased with how the conversation had gone; she was rearranging her blanket and positioning her water cup just how she liked it.
The man and I waved goodbye, then we each continued in our opposite ways. As I walked home I watched the top of my daughter’s head turn, taking in the world around us, and I couldn’t help but think: How nice, how free, how wonderful to be so unaware of expectation. To not feel that you need to deliver what anyone else might be waiting to hear.
I’ve tried it a few times in conversation since then. “Chilly, chilly, tuna,” I’ll say, right in those moments when people are waiting for something adult and appropriate, maybe something that would shine up real nice for a PowerPoint presentation.
When they look at me like maybe I’ve lost a marble, I assure them all is well. “It’s just something people say in Icediego.” Then we go our separate ways, satisfied.