Babies barking, balking at borders

A half-price calendar with large photos of beagles catches her attention. There’s pointing and “Grrrff! Grrrff!” We stand in front of the discounted calendars at Borders and bark for a while. Then we move to the right and stand in front of the cat calendars.

“Mr-aw, mr-aw, mr-aw,” we tell the pictures of the cats. “Mr-aw, mr-aw, MR-AW!”

You can make animal noises in public if you’re carrying a 17-month-old grandchild with pudgy cheeks and a bright smile. No one calls the authorities.

I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life.

Back to the dogs: “Grrrff!”

Then the cats: “Mr-aw.”

“What’s this, a frog? Rrrrribbet.”

Some people walk by, smiling politely. Others give us space.

Life is such serious business. Really, who has time for animal noises anymore?

Perhaps I’m guilty of selective perception, but it’s possible my granddaughter Lilia prefers critters to people. And who could blame her?

When she comes to our house for a visit, she seems happy enough to see the grandpa, aunt and uncle. I like to think she looks forward to her visits to our newly child-proofed house. We play here. A few days ago, the teens and I were listening to some punk covers of pop songs by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. While bouncing around the living room to a rambunctious version of “Isn’t She Lovely” we began to teach the pink-fur-clad toddler to mosh. Gently, of course. Just some frenetic jumping, shoulder-nudging and light open-handed shoving. I’m sure her future kindergarten teacher will appreciate a girl who knows how to push back.

But the real attraction at our house is our two family mutts—that’s serious excitement. That’s what makes Lilia’s eyes light up when she comes through the door.

“Hi!” she yells over their barks of greeting. “Grrrff!”

I’m happy that Lilia is building her vocabulary with the help of domesticated charismatic mega-vertebrates. “Grrrff” beats the average toddler’s “NO!” any day.

We have two big dogs. One is a German shepherd-lab-akita mix with a birth defect that causes half his muzzle to droop freakishly. He looks either malevolent or dopey and sweet. Here’s where a name kicks in: If we called him “Cujo,” you’d expect the former. We call him “Crooked-Faced Floyd.”

Our older dog is a lab-wire terrier mix, Misty. The odd breed amalgam combines all the warmth and emotional neediness of a lab retriever with the neurotic, high-strung instincts of an intelligent dog bred to rid the world of rodents. Misty embodies the paradox of a compassionate conservative. She loves her own but loathes all filthy household invaders. She’s not sure how to categorize the baby yet.

Baby Lilia enjoys getting down on her hands and knees and crawling around with the dogs, both of them much bigger than she, for now. Lilia likes to play with Floyd’s big swishy tail. She’s already learned not to mess with Misty’s rat-like hindmost appendage.

“Be nice to the baby,” I warn the dogs. “She’ll be doing a lot of petting over the years and slipping you plenty of snacks when I’m not looking.”

Lilia crawls up to Floyd and nuzzles her face into the thick black fur of his back. He tolerates this, holding still. Misty doesn’t. She moves away and gives a quick, “Rrr.”

Lilia responds with her own “Rrr” back. She stands up, walks over to the dogs’ water bowl then drops to her knees again. She squats over the bowl, ready to put her face in the water.

I swoop in and pick her up.

“You’re not a dog,” I tell her. “You’re a girl.”

I try to sound convinced.