Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Get Her Words Out

One of my favorite quotes from the TV show Scrubs goes something like this:

“Doctor Cox says having a kid is a little like getting a dog that you eventually teach to talk.”

I thought that was pretty funny before I was a dad, and I think it’s even funnier now, as my kiddo nears her 14th month with something like nine words, only a few of which are consistent.

There are parents who will tell you that their babies have certain cries – one that says they’re hungry, another that says they’re wet, and one that says they need to be cuddled, or rocked, or held, or something like that.

Those people are dirty liars. Babies have two cries:

I am a little upset, and will scream to let you know this.

I am VERY upset, and will scream LOUDER to let you know this.

That’s it. That’s what babies give you. If you think babies are capable of making any other sounds outside of these during the first few months of life, you are insane.

Which explains why parents are so into the idea of baby sign language. The argument there is that a kid who can’t yet say certain words (like, for example, “eat,”) will be able to make cute little baby hand motions that stand in for words.

I’m not sure that I buy this either, and here is why.

Kids talk mush-mouthed. They do. They have no teeth, and language is a whole new concept to them, so a lot of the time, when they say a word, you’re not 100% sure what it is. Again, some parents will tell you that they totally recognize everything their child is saying to them, but those people are also insane or otherwise deluding themselves.

Honest parents will tell you the truth – they’re encouraging their kids to talk, but at least 50% of the time, it’s gibberish to them, too.

At the day care my kid attends – which is fantastic, for the most part – they teach the kids basic baby signs in hopes that the kids will be able to communicate their needs faster.

All this has done for me, however, is demonstrate how often the things a kid does look almost exactly the same.

For example: The word “More.”

To do the word more in sign language, you bring the fingers of your right hand into the palm of your left, with your hands directly in front of you. Unless you’re a baby. Then they just figure that any time you bring your hands together, that means more.

Only they might just be clapping.

Also, the sign for “shoes,” is banging your fists together twice. But a one-year-old doesn’t really get the concept of twice, so who knows what your kid is saying?

To say the word “milk,” you raise your hand in the air and squeeze it into a fist, as if you were milking a cow. Which seems great, until you realize that a lot of kids (including mine) also do this to say “bye-bye.”

Seriously, now. How is this helpful?

“What it is honey? Do you want your bottle? Or are you waving bye-bye? Do you want me to leave, or are you really thirsty?”

For the record, these are the words that my kid can do, and her level of consistency:

Can say perfectly:

Duh = duck.

Row-row = Row, Row, Row, Your Boat

Uh-oh = I have just dropped something, or have fallen down, or am about to throw something across the room and need some sort of cover so that you think it was an accident.

Here are the words she can do sometimes:

Mama = Mom

Dada = Dad

Mo-mo-mo-mo-mo = More.

Wave bye-bye, or hello = Hello, or possibly bye-bye, or possibly, “I want to slap you across the face but cannot reach you at this time.”

I don’t know why she keeps forgetting Mom and Dad. We do sometimes use the Ethiopian words when addressing ourselves, which might be confusing to her. Or perhaps she thinks of me as “That pudgy guy with the beard who won’t let me touch the shiny stuff I wanna touch,” and doesn’t have the words yet.

Here are the things that are totally inconsistent:

Baby sign for eat = This is one of those things that confuses me, because I’ll say, “Do you want to eat?” and then she’ll get upset and put her hand to her mouth if she’s hungry. Or she won’t do anything. Or sometimes she’ll just cry because she’s hungry, and not to the sign.

Baby sign for more = Same deal. Every once in a while.

Nanna = banana. My mom claims she heard it. And one time I thought I heard her say it (as did Kara), but never again.

Baby sign for bottle, or possibly bye-bye = She’ll just do this one sometimes. I have no idea what she wants. She’s either thirsty, or wants me to leave so that she can break things.

There are other things Mihret does that are somewhat perplexing. For a long time, we were working on “Give mommy (or daddy) kisses!” And she would do that freaky open-mouthed baby-slobber kiss, which is totally adorable if you’re related to a child, and probably a bit like being attacked by trout if you aren’t.

But she’s totally inconsistent about doing it now. Or perhaps she’s very stingy with her love.

When you pick her up off the floor and hold her, she will also frequently pat you on the back. We cannot figure out if this is because we sometimes do this to us, or because she is proud of us for recognizing her need to be lifted off the floor because she doesn’t feel like walking or crawling any more.

It’s a very perfunctory, “Good work, good work, now get back to the coal mines,” pat.

And I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what dooga-dooga-dooga or lah-dl-lahd-dl-lah-dl mean, either.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Car Seat Dilemma

A friend of mine recently remarked that he suspects that as our kids get older, we mentally erase all the things about them that drive us a little crazy.

He was speaking, at the time, about the fact that his kids now do things like sleep through the night. Whereas only three or four months previous, he and his wife were up every three hours to feed, change, or otherwise tend to them.

He was pretty happy to be out of that phase, though he could barely recall it. And at the same time, he was feeling nostalgic for a time, not too long ago, when his kids couldn’t move.

That seems like a strange thing to look back on with fondness – one would think that most parents can’t wait to see their kids learn to walk, talk, feed themselves, etc.

And we do. But there’s a trade-off. A horrible trade-off and no one talks about.

It all starts with a car seat.

There are three main types of car seat – one for infants, one for toddlers, and one for kids over forty pounds but under 100 pounds. Which is strange to think about, since I spent most of high school dating a girl who fluctuated between 106 and 97 pounds. Seriously. What are they feeding these 100 pound kids?

This is me digressing.

Most infant seats are good up to 20 or 22 pounds, and some height or another. I’ll make up a number and say 29 inches. Regardless, my kid was finally outgrowing her infant seat, so I set out in search of a replacement.

I hunted through The Baby Bargains Book, which we got less than a year ago and found that a) it didn’t cover a lot of seats, because b) it was out of date, and c) they wanted me to buy The Toddler Bargains book, of course.

So I hit up the Consumer Reports web site, thanks to my parents, who are avid Consumer Reports readers.

Their site presented me with a couple of lists of highly-rated seats, which I printed out and took to the store with me… only to discover that most stores don’t carry these seats any more. They’ve been replaced with newer, untested models of the same seats.


After staring at the car seats for twenty minutes, and comparing them to my list, I finally gave up and bought the new model of one of the seats that came highly recommended.

Here I need to talk about my cunning plan.

When Kara and I announced to people that our adoption was, at long last, entering its final stages, people were amazingly generous. We got gifts of toys, books, clothing, and the one million bits of baby flotsam that you don’t even know you need when you become a parent.

Among those many gifts were gift cards – and even after being parents for six months, we still had a few cards left.

One gift card was for Baby’s R Us, where I found the first car seat. The second card was for Wal-Mart.

At this point, I had a seat, and I was ready to buy it. So I picked up a massive, massive box and dragged it to the front of the store. While the nice lady at the counter rang it up, I handed her the Baby’s R Us gift card.

Then I pulled out one of those one-use credit cards you can get these days. The kind where you can put, say, twenty-five bucks on ‘em, and they can be used anywhere? One of those.

Then I realize I hadn’t activated it. So I whipped out my cell phone, grateful that no one was in line behind me, and activated it.

I bought the seat. I carried the seat out to my car.

And then I realized I couldn’t get the thing INTO my car.

I have a two-door Nissan 200SX. It’s a little small and sporty, but the trunk is nicely sized, and I can get just about anything into it.

Unless it’s an infant car seat.

So I stood out in the parking lot for twenty minutes trying to figure out what to do. I could get the box into the passenger seat, but I had to buy two of these things, so that didn’t do any good.

Finally, I shoved the driver’s seat all the way forward, crammed the passenger seat all the way down into “bed” mode, and slid the box behind the driver’s seat.

This was not an awesome solution. My seat was now so close to the steering wheel I had to fold my knees up a bit to even get into the car. But I figured Wal-Mart was nearby and the drive wouldn’t be TOO awful.

So I went to Wal-Mart. I got into their baby department. I found a sign that indicated it was the EXACT match of the seat I had just bought – but the floor model was NOT the same seat. Nor was the seat in the very beat-up box under the sign.

My seat was an Advance. This seat was not.

I called over a Wal-Mart employee, who scanned the sign, which said there were two “Advance” versions in the store. She went to check in the back. I sat and waited, and waited, and waited… and she finally returned, and said she couldn’t find the seat, but there was another seat nearby that was probably pretty good, and it was on sale…

I thanked her for her time, and went back to Baby’s R Us. Where I bought a second seat from the exact same cashier, who, to her credit, didn’t ask why I was back so soon.

The second seat did, indeed, fit into the passenger seat, and I made my very cramped way home.

Once home, I discovered that, due to huge piles of snow covering up parts of my driveway, it was just about impossible to get the seats out. But I did it, after fifteen minutes of struggle.

On the bright side, installing the seats was a snap. They work great with seatbelts, and I managed to get them into both cars without injuring myself.

Mihret went into the seats nicely as well, as they adjust in a simple and easy manner.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realized what I had just given up.

Our infant seat.

And here’s where having a rapidly aging kid came back to bite me.

Don’t get me wrong – infant seats are the very definition of not fun. Most of them weigh a little less than ten pounds, and once you throw a twenty-pound child into the mix, the seats become heavy and awkward to carry.

A bit like throwing a couple of good-sized watermelons into a picnic basket and lugging them around.

But here’s the trade-off.

Babies sleep a lot, and those just moving into toddlerhood sleep only a little less.

With the infant seat, we’ve always got a way to “control” the baby. Kiddo is getting tired? Put her into her seat, rock her back and forth for a minute, and she drops off.

Still asleep when you get to your destination? Let her sit in the seat and sleep until she wakes up. It’s like a little thirty-minute vacation from parenting.

Often, when I got Mihret back from day care, she was asleep in her seat. So I’d bring her into the house and leave her, safe and sound, while I shoveled some snow off the driveway. Or put a load of laundry in. Or washed a couple of dishes.

But now, of course, if the baby is with us when we go somewhere… we’ve gotta pop her out of the seat. She doesn’t get to sleep. So, we’re expecting some SERIOUS crabbiness in the upcoming weeks, as she learns that sometimes nap time has to come later.

Plus, she’s still small enough that, even though she can walk now, she’s still not ready to cross a parking lot. So now we have to carry her, which requires both arms, even if we have something else we need to carry.

The whole process is dubious at best.

I suspect that if someone could create something like a papoose, which allowed you to pull the toddler in and out of the car, and then strap him or her directly to your back with the minimum of fuss, it would quickly become a huge seller.


Monday, February 18, 2008

But What Can She Do?

One of the more fascinating aspects of being a parent is the accomplishments of your kid. They are, ultimately, the thing that you get asked about most frequently as he or she ages.

Can she roll over? Can she pull herself to standing? Is she crawling? Is she cruising? How many teeth does she have?

And on and on and on.

I have difficulty with these questions, because I prefer to be specific and accurate rather than speculative.

I was not this way at first. When Kara and I first met Mihret, one of the first thing we found ourselves doing was checking for teeth. We’d jam our fingers into her mouth pretty much unprovoked, searching for the little bumps that everyone told us would be “so obvious” when we saw them.

Consequently, we felt bumps all the time – in the front of her mouth. In the back of her mouth. Her mouth appeared to be filled with just-about-to-bloom teeth… right up until a pediatrician told us that kids just have really hard gums.

And that the first teeth usually appear in the front of the mouth, and not in the back.

We became even more vigilant. We knew that her teeth would appear at ANY MINUTE. We swore up and down we could see them just under the surface of the gums, ready to burst forth like little bursty-forthy things.

When suddenly… nothing happened. There just weren’t any teeth in there, and I finally gave up looking for them, adopting my new mantra: “Nothing is in there until I can actually see this.”

Later, I discovered that my daughter had her first tooth when she bit me. I was in a bookstore, with Mihret strapped to my chest, and I gave her my finger to gum. She chomped down, and it actively hurt. I had just experienced tooth-to-skin contact, and it was not pleasant.

Hence my new saying: It isn’t a tooth until it bites me.

This served me very well, as person after person eyed my little one’s gum line and swore up and down that another tooth was just about to burst out… only to have nothing happen. My rule of thumb (or tooth, if you will) has served me well.

The problem has been in measuring her other accomplishments.

Here’s a question: When can someone “do” something?

If I change a tire once, and am successful in my task, can I change a tire? How about if I do it once, but then fail the second time I attempt to change a tire? Can I “not” change a tire?

You see my dilemma. The thing about babies/and or toddlers is, they will do something once, and sometimes twice, and then never do it again.

Take Mihret’s first word. It seemed to be some variation of “Mama.” Only, she would usually say, “Mamama,” which would indicate to me that she didn’t get the concept of “this word is the female person who takes care of me.”

It was also unrepeatable. One day, while Kara was changing Mihret’s diaper, Mihret looked right up at Kara and said, “Mama,” clear as day. Then she did it again.

So Kara tried to get her to do it again at the next diaper change – and Mihret wouldn’t say Mama. It didn’t matter how many times Kara repeated the word, or I repeated the word.

My thinking was – okay, Mama doesn’t count. If Mihret’s not repeating it, then it is not the official first word, and we move on.

She did the same thing with Dada – sometimes she would say it, and sometimes she wouldn’t, and at the end of the day it’s pretty clear to me that while she knows who I am, she does not know that I am “Dada.”

Her first word was, ultimately, “Duck.” And as I write this, it is the one word that I can always, always, always get her to repeat, either by handing her a toy duck, or showing her a duck.

She will also say, “Row, row,” as in Row, Row, Row Your Boat. She does this to request that Kara or I (or anyone, really) sing the song to her and play the game she learned at day care.

Sometimes she will use other words, and sometimes she will do baby signs, but those are the only two words she does consistently.

The other big thing people kept asking about was walking. The thing is, when is a kid walking? How many steps does she have to take for it to count? If she just does five steps one time, is that enough? What if she does it two times?

What if she does it six times in one day, but when I try to show other people that she can walk, she stands there for almost a minute, then flops down and starts crawling?

As of February 12th, the kiddo demonstrated, on camera, that she can get up from a sitting position into a standing position and then walk upwards of twenty steps without falling down or otherwise grabbing onto something to steady herself.

She’s a walker.

Most of the time. Sometimes she gets down and crawls, probably because that’s still a little easier for her, even on our hardwood floors. And sometimes she uses people to get up to standing, because it’s easier.

And the last couple of days, she mostly wants to hang out with mommy and daddy and be carried around.

Even if she doesn’t seem to know what to call us, it’s pretty obvious that she likes us a whole lot. Which is great, because walking or non-walking, talking or non-talking, she’s still an incredible, incredible kid.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Finger as Pacifier

One of the many ways we’re truly blessed having Mihret as a daughter is that she slept through the night pretty much from the day we brought her home.

This completely blows a lot of new parental topics of discussion for us, because a lot of people who know we have a kid and want to engage us on the topic of childrearing use, “So, is she sleeping through the night, yet?” as their opening gambit.

Then we say, “Yes, and they say, “Oh, “ and that’s pretty much it for that conversation.

Unfortunately, this causes another problem that most would define as silly. Like most babies/toddlers, there are times when Mihret doesn’t sleep through the night. When this “insomnia” happens, it generally only lasts for a day or two. And Mihret doesn’t get up every hour on the hour, or anything. She usually wakes up at 11 (when we’re usually still up, anyway) and then again at maybe three or four in the morning.

Consequently, Kara and I will get, say, six or seven hours of sleep, instead of eight.

This impresses no one, but parents of kids who had colic, and who spent many days and/or weeks and/or months nearly sleepless, wandering dark halls, are particularly unimpressed. It’s not unlike telling someone who lost an arm that you once had a really painful hangnail.

Last night was not the best for our wee one, as she woke up three or four times before midnight, once just before 5 AM and once just before 6 AM.

Mihret has never used a pacifier. It isn’t that we didn’t want her to do so (in fact, I think the current school of thought is that it can help prevent SIDS), it’s just that she didn’t want one. She always seemed to feel the rubber in her mouth, try sucking on it, realize there’s no food coming, and spit it out.

Instead, since the day we met her, she has usually fallen asleep while sucking on her left pointer finger. It’s a great paci, generally, as it’s with her wherever she goes.

Last night, she popped awake screaming at around 11 PM, just as I was heading to bed. So I picked her up and held her in the large rocking chair in her room.

Her finger went right to her mouth.

The trick to knowing that Mihret is asleep is to watch that finger. If you read the parenting books, they tell you that the secret to knowing that your kid is really asleep is to lift one of their arms and drop it.

In Mihret’s case, when the finger comes out of the mouth – she’s out.

So I sat, and watched, and got to observe the following hilarity. It seems that the kiddo was tired, but not “knocked out” tired, as she put her finger in the mouth and started sucking. Then, slowly, it started to slip out. Only she wasn’t ready for that, so she actually jolted a little bit, made a noise that said, “No! Want paci!” and stuck her finger back into her mouth, sucking on it with renewed vigor.

She did this six or seven times, until finally her sucking motion proved to be no match for the heaviness of her limbs, and her arm dropped to her side.

It’s moments like this that make the “just sleeep – you’re so sleepy and you just need to sleeep” moments worth all the trouble.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Post the First - Court Day

Kara and I (Josh) have been wanting to get this blog up and running roughly since the day that we returned home from Ethiopia with our baby girl.

But, if there's one thing I've learned about doing anything when you have a child, it's this - you gotta just sit down one day and start it, or you never will.

This week seemed like a good time to start - Mihret turned 1 on January 28th, and on February 4th, we completed our in-country adoption (as seen above).

It was a good day, and in a lot of ways not unlike the day that we met Mihret.

On that day, it was somewhat cold and rainy.

On the day we completed her adoption, it was cold and snowy (and later, rainy).

We were supposed to be at the courthouse and in our courtroom at 11:00 AM. We had planned to leave the house around 10:20, just to make sure that we weren't late. We wanted to make a good, punctual impression on the judge.

But, of course, when you have a toddler with you, everything takes longer. So we got out the door at 10:30.

Then my car wouldn't start. For no reason. It was fine the night before, the gas tank was almost full, and while it was cold, it wasn't "car-won't-start-cold." Finally, after five or six or seven tries, it fired up and stayed running.

So we were running even more late.

Then, when we got to the courthouse, we were supposed to go through security. Only, of course, I had brought my keychain Swiss Army Knife with me, because I wasn't thinking. So I had to run back to the car and put the knife in my glove compartment.

Despite all this, we still got into the courtroom with about ten minutes to spare. We were promptly kicked back out for a divorce proceeding.

Then we went back into the courtroom, and sat and waited, and waited, and waited, for about ten minutes, for everyone to show up. It made me incredibly nervous, as I had this feeling we were in the wrong place, and I would have to reschedule, and I was totally running out of personal days at work.

And then the judge showed up.

The court proceedings were short and sweet and a little hilarious. The judge went through the papers submitted by ourselves and our local agency, noting that he couldn't read the untranslated parts of Mihret's Ethiopian birth certificate.

Kara and I were called up to the witness stand separately, and asked the same questions. We had brought the video camera with, but the questions and answers were pretty anti-climactic, after all the nervousness we felt about the process.

And I forgot to videotape, anyway.

Ultimately, the most memorable moments were when the judge asked, first:

"Do you feel you have bonded with this child?"

And, second:

"Do you feel that this child has bonded with you?"

I can't say that I know what Kara felt when she answered (she said, "Yes, your honor," to both questions, while I just said, "Yes.") but as I sat up there, watching my daughter and wife playing and waiting for daddy to get done answering the nice judge's questions, I could feel my heart swelling up and the tears starting to flow.

I was looking at my very own family - my wife and my little girl. I was only seconds away from getting to signature that said, "These three people will be as close as blood from this day forward."

I tried to hold the tears back, and sorta-kinda failed. The witness stand had a box of tissues on it, and I grabbed the last one and dabbed my eyes.

The judge asked, "Do you have anything more to add?"

In a way, I wanted to give a speech of some kind, talking about how happy I was. But my throat was closing off, the way it always does when I start to cry, so I said, "No."

The judge smiled. "I think you've probably given us the best answer you could give."

And then it was over. The judge signed the papers, the stenographer took pictures of both our family and our family with the judge, and after that it was legal fees and paperwork.

Then we headed off for lunch, which brought the second bit of symmetry to the first time we met Mihret.

On the day we met her, we arrived just as it was time to feed her. They handed Kara and I a bowl of porridge and asked if we wanted to feed our daughter.

At the time, it didn't really work out. Mihret wasn't much for solid foods, even mooshy ones, and the adult-sized spoon we were using was just a little to large for her to get a good scoop of it.

Kara and I ordered breakfast, even though it was noon, while Mihret, who had already had a long morning, napped in her car seat.

As we reached the end of our meal, Mihret woke up, looked around, and whimpered a bit. She was clearly hungry.

The day we met her, one of us held her, because she couldn't sit up yet, and the other tried to feed her. The spoon didn't fit right, and most of the porridge ran down her chin.
The day the adoption was finished, she sat in my lap, with no bib on (we forgot to bring one), while I adult-spoon-fed her oatmeal with brown sugar in it. She ate it like a little girl, without getting a single bit of it on her dress.

She also ate some American fries, with her eight teeth that she's grown since coming to live with us.

When we met her, she wouldn't even lower her legs in an attempt to hold herself up.
On our court day, she walked a few steps without help.

She's our little girl - Mihret Aida Mirjam Demesse Patterson - and she always will be, forever and ever.