Tan I Help You?

By Bob
June 5, 1998

For more than six years, Bonnie and I helped a single mother raise her two daughters, Sabrina from age 7 on, and Ana from birth on. Starting when Ana was only 4 months old, our goddaughters stayed overnight with us every Friday night, and whenever they were sick or their mom needed a break. We also took care of them for several days at a time whenever their mom went out of town, as well as the many times that I took them out camping or on other trips. I also took the two of them out for dinner every Tuesday night. That pattern went on for over six years. Also, when she was about 3 years old, I watched my little Ana-nah all day, two or three times a week, for a little over a year, while her mother was at work. It's easy to see that we spent a lot of time together. In fact, I once calculated that Ana and Sabrina spent more than a year and a half of Ana's first six years with Bonnie and me.

The first word Ana ever said was "Bob." I suspect that was partly because the word "Bob" is a relatively easy word for a baby to say, partly because Ana spent much of her first several years with me, partly because of the incredible bond that had developed between us, but mostly because I taught her how to say it, a few weeks after I taught her to make the stick-your-tongue-out-and-blow, "raspberry" sound ("plplplplplplplp!")

I don't remember what Ana's second word was, but I know that, as soon as she was able to, she began to ask, "Bob, tan I help you?" No matter what I was doing, Ana was always eager to be my helper. She helped me bake a cake. She helped me fix a leaky drain pipe. She helped me change the oil in the car. She helped me put a new light switch in the bathroom. She helped me find the groceries that we wanted at the store. She helped me change the strings on my guitar. No job was too big or too small for Ana to help with. Of course, I was always happy to nurture her helpful heart, and I took every opportunity to teach her how things work. She was more than happy to learn things like how an electric shaver can cut a beard without cutting any skin; how a guitar turns a vibrating metal string into music; how a car goes and stops; how a computer printer puts letters and pictures on a page; and how a loaf of bread rises when you bake it. I was her devoted teacher and she was my eager student. And I loved and cherished every single minute of it.

One time, when she was 3 years old, Ana was helping me work on the car. I was having an incredibly hard time, trying to loosen one of its rusted-on bolts. As I struggled and strained, pulling on my socket wrench with no apparent result, I suddenly heard Ana ask, "Bob -- why you doe like DISS?" I turned to see her baring her teeth, her eyes pinched shut and her chubby little cheeks pulled tightly up into an exaggerated grin. I burst out laughing, which caused her to burst out laughing. I swooped her up and gave her a big hug. Then I explained to her, with a straight face, that doing THAT helped me pull harder on the wrench. The twinkle in her eye made it clear that she didn't believe me, and a second later, we both burst out laughing again at my little joke. Ever since that incident, I've been VERY self-conscious about whether or not I'm wincing whenever I have to strain to do anything, even when I'm alone.

When she was 4, I bought Ana her own little tool kit of real hand tools, and showed her how to use each one. She was very happy and proud to have earned her own set of tools, and started using them every time she came over. Bonnie and I still laugh out loud every time we think about our little Ana methodically going from room to room, all over our apartment, her little screwdriver in her hand, finding screws to loosen and re-tighten, then wanting to go outside in the driveway to pound little nails into scraps of wood "to make things."

Now, every time I work on anything around the house, and every time I see a child doing anything one-on-one with an adult, whether it's on TV, in a movie, in a book or magazine, or in a neighbor's yard, I think of 2-year-old Ana asking me, "Bob, tan I help you?", and it's suddenly like she's right here with me again, helping me through the day.

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