by Simon Hodgson
Being a dad at Monday library rhyme-time is hard. Not because of the evil looks I get on days when I haven’t shaved. Nor because I’m unable to sit with my legs underneath me in spaces designed for a pygmy contortionist. It’s because I can’t do “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
Now, “The Wheels on the Bus,” that’s fine. I’m as happy as Larry on buses. I know my MUNI map backwards, I know all the choruses, all the hand signals. “Pat-a-cake pat-a-cake?” Please. Baked goods, no worries. But give me the spider song and I’m in trouble from the start.
“Now it’s time…” says the librarian, “…for ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider!’”
She always throws me. No matter how ready I am, how primed for Monday’s manual dexterity, I’m always unprepared when she announces it. Everyone always whips out their fingers and starts grinning at their kids. I get all nervous and my hands start doing the St. Vitus Dance. Is it the thumb first? The middle finger? Where do my other fingers go? What on earth is my toddler Sam thinking?
“Itsy Bitsy Spider climbs up the water spout.”
With 10 fingers, there are limited possible combinations for Itsy Bitsy Spider to climb up the water spout. And as far as I can tell, most people only use four of their 10 fingers. You’d have thought a guy with a Master’s could figure it out. What makes things worse is that Sam loves spiders.
“Pider! Pider!” he said last Friday, ambushing me as we passed a stunted tree on Bay Street.
I whirled round in case there was a tarantula and saw the remains of a web on the grubby branches. My hands went into tiny spasms, as though I’d been caught pinching the last cookie. And then I realized that we weren’t in the library, we were on the way to Safeway, and I wasn’t expected to be Yo-Yo Ma with the spider song.
“Down comes the rain to wash the spider out.”
What usually happens at Monday rhyme-time is that I fudge it. My starting position is all wrong, and it goes from bad to worse, but I shift my hands up the imaginary water spout anyway and try to keep up. All around me, the communal swiveling of fingers looks vicious and complicated. To a guy who tried and failed at multiple musical instruments, this level of digital agility is like calculus. Sometimes, I just give up and watch all the other parents spinning their rising helixes in the air, while I worry about what my DNA means for old Sam.
“Out comes the sun and dries up all the rain.”
“It’s a disease,” I tell myself very quietly while two dozen suns evaporate the rain. A straightforward case of arachnafingerphobia. I should just come right out and admit it. And there is a solution—to copy other parents, even other kids!
But somehow, that wouldn’t be right. The Marina library is a communal, neighborly kind of place. But there’s also an unspoken air of competition—the whispered Darwinism you get when you bring together high socio-economic parents with too much education and not enough intellectual diversion. You can tell that everyone’s thinking—“Hmm, that kid’s barely walking and they’ve been showing up for six months. That’s one for the military.” Copying someone else’s spider technique would be like cheating.
And cheating’s out. If Sam would ever learn of my treachery, he’d be doomed. Imagine the lesson he’d take from it. Goodbye A, B, C—Hello, Benedict Arnold.
“And Itsy Bitsy Spider climbs up the spout again.”
The only way forward, I have realized, is to practice on my own.
And so while other 30y-something San Franciscans train for triathlons, or launch start-ups, or stand in left field cheering for the Giants, this grown-up sits at home working out that the right index finger starts on the left thumb. It really does.
Now it’s all about practice. Repeat the itsy bitsy ladder enough times and it’ll stick. No matter if Sam wakes up at 3 a.m. yelling “Pider,” my hands will spring into Pavlovian action. As any Major League shortstop will tell you, it’s all about the muscle memory.
I’m ready. Roll on Monday!
Simon Hodgson is a reader, writer, editor, and dad. Born in Scotland, he now lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.