My old reasons for thinking certain people were cool were based on some criteria I formed in adolescence -- something to do with the way their coat flapped in the wind, good glasses, and a book/film/music vocabulary that nested just beyond my reach. Yes, my ideal was someone who resembled a flammulated owl. Ideal what I'm not sure -- friend? lover? dentist? It's all been distorted by the mists of time and bad nutrition, and it barely matters anyway because last time I checked I found that the people I appreciate most in this world are the ones who are good with children.

They don't necessarily have children of their own, but they're the kind of people who don't notice that the hem of their skirt's in the dirt while they squat down to help a little kid get the wood chips out of his shoe, or they automatically offer a sweatshirt sleeve to a small runny nose, or they ignore a few minutes of crying in a restaurant while mom and/or dad sort out the problem.

We have a friend I call Dahlia -- she's actually one of Jack's old girlfriends (I've written about her here and here) -- and even though I don't ever say much more than "Hello!" and "Great shoes!" to her, in my book she epitomizes the kind of grownup I adore. For a number of reasons. (1) She has the best shoes of anyone I know. (2) She's got Texas blood, which isn't always a plus, especially if, like me, you come from Colorado and are accustomed to having every snow-covered mountain in the state claimed by Texans sporting $4,000.00 ski boots and drunkenly shouting "YEEEE-HAAAWW!" every time they drop a mitten off the chair lift -- she's not that kind of Texas. She's Ann Richards Texas. Molly Ivins Texas. Texas that gives a donation in your name to for your Christmas present. And (3) she's the reason I was able to sit down and eat dinner for an uninterrupted twenty minutes last Thursday night.

Last Thursday night there was an impromptu dinner party at our neighbors' downstairs and Dahlia showed up. After four hours of fun, at about 11:00 p.m. I told Jackson it was time to go and this time I really, really, really meant it, and he turned around and said, "Dahlia, do you want to come upstairs and see my toys?" And she said, "YEAH!" like that was the best offer she'd had all night. So we all walked upstairs, and while I made a cup of tea and sorted bills at the table they sat on the floor and lined up every super hero toy in the place, amassing a cooperative army of Power Rangers, Teen Titans, Star Wars guys, and every member of the Justice League that still had his or her legs attached. They were so deeply in tune with their project and it knocked me out to realize how half-engaged I can be when I play with my own little boy sometimes. I usually have ten, maybe fifteen good minutes in me for Play-Do or watercolors or Let's Pretend All The Big Ponies Are Shy And Don't Want To Talk To The Little Pony before I start listening for my computer to ding! and tell me I have an e-mail, or start thinking about the dishes I haven't done yet, or the songs I want to download from iTunes, or the ten minutes I'll have to read my book before I fall asleep.

To sum up: It's been said before but I'll say it again: People who love kids are the best; it's hard to be a fully-engaged parent 24/7, but it's easier for people who drop in for dinner, especially if they like kids; the end.

COMING UP NEXT ON FUSSY: My son enjoys playing with tampons!