Monday, March 31, 2008

Learn Me a Book

One of the things everyone constantly tells you to do once you’re a parent is read to your kids.

I can’t say I have a problem with that, as I’m a big reader myself. And Kara is also no slouch in that department.

But for the last several months I’ve felt somewhat bombarded by the constant signage. Every time I’m anywhere kids might be, like my day care the pediatrician’s office, there is some kind of sign on the wall saying that I should be reading to my kid.

So, yeah, okay.

You know what I’d really prefer, though? I need some more concrete instructions than “Read to your child.”

Like, say, “Try reading X type of book at this stage. And avoid books that are easily masticated.”

I love spending time with Mihret, and I love reading to her, I do, but frankly, she’s 14 months old. For the last few months, she was mostly into chewing, which means that I’ve spent more time preventing her from eating books than I have reading to her.

I think this is actually something of a plot on the part of bookmakers. Most books for little ones are made of a heavy cardboard, which is great, except kids Mihret’s age have teeth that can quickly tear through anything and everything from the realm of paper. And yet, these books say that they’re good for any child over 6 months.

Personally, I’m thinking pretty much any book that you’re going to offer a kid between the ages of 0-24 months needs to be made of either cloth or some sort of heavily, not-easily-destructible plastic.


When we first brought Mihret home, we decided that we would try reading to her every night at bedtime. This worked out pretty well for a month or two.

And then, suddenly, Mihret was having problems going to sleep.

It took us a couple of nights to work out that Mihret’s social-butterfly-ness was keeping her up at night. Bottle time, which usually lasts for five to ten minutes, was a good way to relax her and get her into sleep mode, but having another person in the room seemed to indicate to her that it was still time to party.

So with a little experimenting, we came to realize that the best way to get Mihret to sleep was to kill the lights, have prayer time, and let Mihret drift off to sleep while getting a bottle. This works, oh, 90% of the time, which is good odds when it comes to small children.

Kara and I were bothered, however, by the fact that we couldn’t really read to Mihret any more. As she became more active, she was a lot more interested in crawling around on the floor and practicing her dexterity with her toys.

(I suppose you could replace “practicing her dexterity” with “playing,” but if you’ve ever seen my daughter, you’d know that she’s got a very intense, “What is this and what does it DO?” look about her, when she’s playing. It’s a lot more like watching someone work out nuclear fusion than it is watching someone play.)

Kara and I persisted. Every once in a while, one of us would grab a book, stick Mihret in our lap, and try to read to her.

Sometimes she was cool with it. She would sit through three or four pages, listening and sucking her finger. Sometimes she would even help us turn the page.

And other times… she would just keep on flipping pages until she got to the end of the book, and then she’d try to get down.

There was also the issue of her room. When we arranged her bookshelves a lot of the books for slightly older kids ended up in easy reach. She’d pull them down, we’d try to read them to her, and usually by the end of the first page, Mihret would start squirming out of our grip.

In the last couple of weeks, we finally managed to work out how to make the whole “book” thing work for Mihret. Half of the credit goes to Kara, and half to me.

Mihret had gotten several books for Easter, and Kara and I discovered that Mihret was especially drawn to one with a bunch of fuzzy animals in it. She can touch it, and stroke it, and pat it, and point at it and say “Dat?” and we’ll say “Sheep,” or “Duck.” She thinks this book is swell.

So Kara sat down one evening, and she pulled all the toys that Mihret doesn’t really play with any more out of the container we’ve got sitting on the living room floor, and she replaced ‘em with books.

And then Mihret suddenly got more interested in her books. She pulled them out, and piled them on the floor, and started bringing them to Mommy and Daddy. Of course, when we would try to read them to her, the odds were about 25% that we’ll make it past the first page or two…

But we were getting somewhere.

And then there was upstairs, where Mihret kept grabbing books that could be destroyed FAR too easily, and pulling them off her shelf. Until this last weekend, when I said to Kara, “You know, why don’t we put all the books she can actually USE in reach?”

Kara put it into action – I took Mihret downstairs while Kara reshuffled all the necessary volumes. And so far it’s worked great. Mihret grabs a book, and we read a few pages to her. Then she gets up and gets another book.

The end result is a big pile of half-read books.


She’s getting it. The last weekend, we had a photo session with her, where we put her on the floor, alone, with a book. And by gum, she flipped it open and started looking at the pages like she was a tiny little reader.

Then she picked up the book and stuck it in her mouth.

Baby steps.

Friday, March 28, 2008

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Mihret is slowly learning about saying “Hi!” and saying “Bye!” but has not yet managed to figure out when they apply, exactly.

People think the “Hi!” thing is great, as it tends to be enthusiastic, is often accompanied by a wave, and sometimes she even says it when it’s appropriate.

A couple of stories.

Morning are often kinda hurried in the house o’ Patterson. Mihret is usually pretty well behaved, but she’s still young enough that she needs a bottle first thing in the morning to fill her ragingly empty tummy. Attempts to dress her or change her diaper before she gets her morning dose o’ soy milk will end only in tears and screaming.

Since I’m currently the one who takes the baby to day care, I’ve developed a pattern.

Waken the baby, give her a bottle, and let her down it while I do thing like get her clothing out.

Sometimes I’m ready before she’s done drinking, in which case I’ll pick her up out of her crib and have daddy-daughter bonding time.

Sometimes she’s done drinking first, in which case she’ll usually stand up in her crib and watch me while I look for a pair of shoes that match the outfit I’ve chosen.

Recently, she got done before I did, and stood up in her crib, watching me intently.

Mihret: Hi!

Me: Good morning, sweetie.

Mihret: Hi!

Me: Hi!

Mihret: Hi!

Me: I can’t find a onsie that matches this outfit, honey, just hang on a second…

Mihret: Hi!

Me: Hi, honey. I just need to get some socks for you, and we’ll be ready.

Mihret: Hi! (Waves)

Me: I love you, Mihret.

Mihret: Hi!

Me: Okay, I’ve got all your clothing out and your clean diaper prepped. Are you ready to get dressed?

Mihret: Hi!

Me: We’ve got to teach you another word, punks.

Mihret: Hi!

And so on.

On the other side of the greeting equation is “Bye-bye!” which she learned a little bit more recently. There is also a waving component .

We’ve been practicing “Bye-bye!” whenever someone heads out the door, whether it’s Kara in the morning, or friends of ours who are visiting. I’ve also tried it as we’re leaving the day care (“Say bye-bye to all your friends!”).

Results vary, and sometimes, they’re just sorta flat-out goofy.

As seen in the following example.

Since I do the dropping off in the morning, Kara generally picks Mihret up from day care. But if I had to guess, I’d say that at least once a week some assignment or another causes a backup, and I end up being the one to retrieve the kiddo.

On this particular day, nothing was really out of the ordinary. I showed up, most of the other kids were gone, and day care worker who hangs out waiting for the parents to show up was rocking one of the baby-babies.

Mihret gave me her usual smile when I got there, then ran over and grabbed my legs, which I guess is what you do when you want to hug someone and your head doesn’t reach very far above their knee.

I picked her up, and we got her paperwork and her coat. Once her coat was on, I did my usual monologue – “Are you ready to go home and have some dinner? Say bye-bye to your friends.”

Mihret looked around and did a kinda-sorta wave at the other two kids.

“Say bye-bye!” I repeated.

“You know,” said the day care worker. “Today, I got into the room, and the first thing she did was look at me and say, ‘Bye-bye!’ And I went, ‘Bye-bye? What happened to hello?’”

I’ve had a similar issue with her choice of bye-byes. Mihret’s favorite time to say bye-bye is when I’m strapping her into her car seat.

As I’m buckling her in, roughly a third of the time she’ll wave at me and say, “Bye-bye!” And then I’m forced to say, “Daddy isn’t going bye-bye, sweetie. He’s going to the front seat so that he can drive.”

Which is usually met with another “Bye-bye!”

Maybe she just can’t wait until it’s her turn to drive.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pattersons of Ethiopia?

I suppose it’s probably worth explaining.

Most of the visitors to this site (Hello! Leave a comment, if you are so inclined!) know myself, Kara or Mihret in some capacity. Some of you are friends, some are family, and many of you are folks who have either adopted from Ethiopia, or are looking into adopting from Ethiopia.

And then there are those of you who came to Blogger, typed in “Ethiopia” or “adoption” and found us.

For those that don’t know us, Kara and I are, yes, the parents of Mihret, who we adopted in July of 2007, from the amazing country of Ethiopia.

To date, Mihret is the only Patterson family member with a direct tie to Ethiopia. Though, if history is reasonably accurate, and Ethiopia is the country from which we all sprang, well…

But that’s a thought for another time.

When Kara and I visited Ethiopia to bring Mihret home (click on the 2007 entries to read our journal entries that cover the trip), we, along with the other families there for the same reason, got to attend a very special ceremony.

At the ceremony, one of the nannies gave a brief but lovely speech that made something perfectly clear: Since our children were from Ethiopia, we would always, in some way, be Ethiopian.

It’s been my experience that most international agencies in business today encourage this line of thinking, no matter where your child is from. Parents are asked to celebrate the home culture of their children, whether they’re from Ethiopia, or China, or Russia.

Kara and I did what we could – we bought Ethiopian clothing, and Ethiopian music, and an Ethiopian cookbook. We have Ethiopian artwork on our walls, and pictures of Ethiopia throughout the house.

Is it enough? I don’t know. But we’re trying, and we’ll do more once Mihret knows what Ethiopia is. Right now we’re just trying to keep her from chewing on our shoes.

I am, like a lot of Americans, something of a mutt. I’ve got a lot of German in me, but also some Irish, Scottish, and English.

I’ve never really felt the impact of those cultures – but I feel the impact of Ethiopia.

When Kara and I started looking into adoption, we were told, time and time again, to realize that this was going to change the face of the Patterson family for generations to come. And when we went to court, we were reminded that making Mihret a legal part of our family would, forever and ever, make her our daughter.

Our daughter is Ethiopian. Our family is Ethiopian.

And through the generations, part of it always will be.

We are the Pattersons of Ethiopia.

Monday, March 24, 2008

House of Bugs

One of the trickier aspects of being a parent to Mihret is that she’s not a terribly fussy baby.

I’m sure there are parents out there who are displeased at my choice of words – folks with colicky kids, or kids that scream at every little injury, or kids who just like to scream because it’s kinda fun. What can I say? I’m sorry your kid is a screamer. I have my own challenges.

The thing about being Mihret’s daddy is that if something is “wrong” with her, she’s not real big on providing clues as to just what the problem might be.

Case in point – since getting home, Mihret developed something of a perma-cold. She’d get over a cold that she got at day care, and then two days later her nose would be running again. This would not be so bothersome if, like every other toddler on the planet, she didn’t get mad when you tried to wipe her nose.

The problem with all these “colds” is this – after some of them, Mihret would suddenly have a new tooth.

So then we were stuck with the obvious question: Did Mihret new tooth cause the runny nose? Or was it a cold?

We still have no idea.

Last week, Mihret’s nose started to run a lot. She did some sneezing, and some coughing, and on a couple of nights woke up crabby and needing a bottle. So we started to suspect she was getting a cold.

Then came the drooling. The buckets and buckets of liquid running down her chin, the biting of everything in sight… so we thought, well, I guess she’s teething.

I like our day care a lot, and they, like most day cares, try to be pretty strict in the sickness area. If your kid has anything other than a mild cold, they don’t want them around, for obvious reasons.

So I tried to be honest. “I dunno what’s up,” I would say, as I dropped her off. “She might have a cold, or she might be teething. Call me if something is wrong, I guess…”

The all voted teething.

But there were outside elements this time. On Tuesday, Kara went to the doctor and found out she had a sinus infection. This marks the third time in three months that she’s on antibiotics. And I wasn’t feeling so good myself – my throat had a mild scratch to it that kept making me cough.

It didn’t really bother me as the day would go on. It was more of a mild annoyance. But I’ve had these symptoms before, and it was always a sinus infection.

Then came Saturday, the day where Mihret just decided that she was not happy, in general. She usually naps around noon or one, but she absolutely refused to go down for a nap until three.

And then there was the crying. She’d be going along, totally happy, and then there would be eye rubbing. This is baby for “I need a nap now,” but when Kara and I would try to put her down, she would scream and cry and in general accuse us of trying to put her down for a nap when she CLEARLY was not ready for a nap.

Kara was worried that Mihret was getting a sinus infection. And then there was the screaming.

Mihret woke up from the nap she finally took, and she was inconsolable. We had given her six ounces of milk only an hour earlier, so Kara thought there was no way she was hungry.

I figured I’d try giving her some water. So I put some in a bottle and offered it. She sucked for a second, then resumed screaming.

Now, I don’t like water, personally. I think it’s flavorless and bland and uninteresting as a beverage, and I will generally consume it if it is the only option given to me. And I guess the kiddo felt the same way, because when I replaced the water with milk, she calmed down.

Mihret drank all her milk and then went back to screaming.

If you’re a parent, you know that this is where all communication between parents breaks down. I figured she was hungry. Kara figured that something was seriously wrong.

So I opted to call Nurse Direct while Kara offered food.

It was apparently a busy day, as I was stuck on hold.

At the same time, Kara offered snacks to Mihret – who immediately calmed down. She was just REALLY hungry.

So despite the fact that it wasn’t even five, we opted to go ahead and give Mihret dinner while I sat on hold. And sat on hold, and sat on hold.

I was stuck in something of a trap. Mihret had been coughing and sneezing, yes. She had also been very upset , and she felt a little warm and had the mildest of mild temperatures. So, was I wasting my time on hold? Should I just leave a message? Or should I wait for however long for a nurse to come on the line and tell me what to try?

The sad truth about taking care of sick kids under two is that there is nothing you can do for them, really. Older kids can have chicken soup, maybe lie around watching TV or reading, and you can even give ‘em stuff to unclog their noses and get rid of their cough.

With kids under two, most of the things they have you do seem to sorta-kinda work, but not really.

Case in point – raise the mattress on one side. Okay, I get it. This will help the fluids drain. Unless your kid, like my kid, spends their sleep time in totally bizarre configurations that you didn’t leave them in when you lay them down and shut off the lights. I put Mihret down on her back, and then I get up in the morning and she’s crammed in a corner, asleep on her hands on knees.

Clearly, a raised mattress won’t help.

Plus, she can stand up now. So there’s the possibility of head injury when she discovers that one side of the crib is higher than the other. Pass.

So I sat on hold, waiting to hear the following: “Well, keep giving her fluids. Water-down juice, for example. And get her a humidifier. And some Baby Tylenol, but don’t overmedicate.”

And then I got off hold, and the nice nurse told me all the stuff I already knew.

In this case, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Kara. After an hour-long coughing jag running from two to three AM (while the baby, who had been cranky most of the afternoon, slept peacefully) she called Nurse Direct and was instructed to take her “emergency” inhaler for her asthma. Thus, she finally got to sleep.

And thus, we both got up on Sunday, totally exhausted.

I could feel that my sinuses were plugged.

Kara was worried that her illness had moved to her lungs.

And the baby had a mildly runny nose.

These three somewhat lame elements combined were just enough to make us all take a family trip to the doctor, on Easter Sunday.

At the end of the morning, it was determined that:

I had a sinus infection. Not a shock, really.

Kara’s infection hadn’t moved to her lungs – she was just having some asthma trouble, so she got some steroids to take. Apparently, they can cause “irritability.” Kara SMASH!

Mihret has… an ear infection. Which she didn’t get from us. And, because I am trying to be a good parent and this is her second ear infection since coming home, I asked if she was building up crud from not getting bathed well enough. Because I give the baths in this household.

And the doc said, “Nope. It comes from inside. Not your fault. Nothing you can do. Here’s some antibiotics and a syringe.”

So, we all journeyed home, and eventually we all got some medication for our various ailments.

But Kara and I learned a valuable lesson. In the event that our child is cranky, she may have an ear infection. Or a mild cold. Or a fever. Or it might be teething. Or she might be hungry. Or thirsty for something other than water, because water is boring and doesn’t taste very good. So I’m sure that will prove very helpful. Or not.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What’s In a Name?

One of the things I’ve come to notice as I’ve gotten older is how infrequently we use someone’s name to their face. If you’re married, I challenge you to remember the last time you actually said, “Hey, (Insert Spouse’s Name Here)” to your spouse. I know for a fact that the only time I do it is when I need to get in contact with her and she’s on the other side of a long, crowded hallway. (“Kara! Over here!”) The same thing applies to most people I’m in the direct vicinity of. I don’t start all my direct statements with a name. I’m generally not going to say, “(Friend’s name), how are you?” I’m going to say “How are you?” and leave it at that. More frequently, I’ll find myself using a term of endearment. With Kara it’s, you know, sweetie, or honey, or babe, or gorgeous, or whatever. With close friends it’s something like friend, dude, brother, sister, that kind of thing. And that brings me to Mihret. From the day we met her onward, I’ve discovered that Kara and I rarely use Mihret’s name to directly address her. I think this is partially because her name is so unusual – it’s difficult to even explain how to pronounce it in a written format. You can Americanize it, yes, and just pronounce it Mih (like million) and ret (like red, but with a t instead of a d). But in her native country of Ethiopia, the r gets a slight flip or trill, similar to a rolled Spanish r. Kara took the hard line and tried to pronounce it correctly from day one. But she’s better with languages than I am, and she seemed to take to the proper pronunciation like a duck to water. But for me it was tougher, and it took me a couple of months to stop randomly switching between the two different pronunciations. I’m fine now, thanks. What’s been interesting to me is watching the slow evolution of Mihret’s nicknames. Most of the books you’ll see on child-raising will point out that you should use the kid’s name as often as possible – “Mihret, I’m making your bottle now. Mihret, I dropped your bottle! Mihret, I’m cleaning up the formula that’s all over the floor!” etc. etc. etc. Kara and I tried hard to do that, but for the most part, I found it weirdly awkward – like when people who are standing in the same space with me address me by name. So, advertently or inadvertently, the wee one started to pick up nicknames. Here are the most common: Peanut – Mihret got this one almost immediately. She was a tiny, tiny little girl when we met her at six months old. Her weight was somewhere around 12 pounds, which is somewhere in the lower 5% of the weight chart at that age. This name stuck for a long time, and still gets used pretty often. What’s funny is how often people who met her during her first few weeks at home with us would use the nickname before Kara and I ever would. Apparently the smallest unit of child is “peanut.” A funny story, taking place after we’d been home with her for about two months. Mihret in on the floor, only semi-mobile at this point. Kara and I are sitting on the couch. Kara: You know what? I was just reading yesterday that we’re supposed to use the baby’s name as often as possible, so that she comes to associate it with herself. Me: Really? Huh. I think we use it pretty often. Kara: I don’t think we use it often enough, though. Me: Let’s try it. (Looking at the baby, who is sitting up on the floor holding a plastic spoon, not really paying attention to mommy and daddy.) Mihret? Mihret: (No response) Me: Mihret? Mihret: No response. Me: Peanut? Mihret: (Turns around at looks at me, as if to say, “What?”) Me and Kara: Uh-oh. Pumpkin (Punkin) Pie – Mihret fell into this one when October and November rolled around. I suppose we have probably called her Pumpkin without the “Pie” part of the name, but the yummy dessert portion of the name is almost always attached. Peanut Pie – Kara uses this one from time to time. I think I did once. It just sounds strange to me. Also, is it possible to make peanut pie? Google says yes. Bleah, I say to Google. Peanut Pumpkin Pie – If this is a real recipe, I don’t want to know. This one is Kara again. As you might have guessed, there are other variations on this theme, including Peanut Peanut Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie. Repetition is very important for kids, I suppose. Punks – Kara is of the opinion that this is another variation of Pumpkin Pie, but I was the first of us to use it and I say, nay! Not so! From some place or another, I picked up the word “punky” as a variation of “bad.” Meaning, say, if you have a cold, and you kinda ache and just generally don’t feel good, but it’s not, like, the flu, where you’re puking your guts out – that’s punky. For something like two months, it felt like Mihret was constantly getting a new cold. Her nose would clear up, and snot would finally stop running out of it… and then two days would pass, and she’d be sneezing and coughing again. Whenever this would happen, and Kara would ask me how the baby was doing, I would report that the baby was feeling “Kindy punky.” Subsequently, when the baby had woken up in the night, or was having a rough week, I’d say, “Hey, punky,” which was later changed to, “Hey, punks.” This is now the name I use most frequently when directly addressing the little one. Fussybutt – This one is more fun when the baby is cranky and you’re trying to soothe her. “Hey fussybutt. It’s okay. There is no need to have a butt that is fussy!”

Curly Girly – Because our wee one, when her hair has been washed and conditioned, has an adorable baby ‘fro.And then there are the other names which we use when talking about Mihret: The Baby, The Wee One, The Little One, The Toddler, The Little Girl, The Peanut, The Kiddo. Other parents may use nicknames for their kids, but ours have crazily linguistic reasons for them. That’s what makes us a family.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Schrödinger's Baby

One of the more frequent conversations Kara and I have revolve around what the baby can’t do, and what she can do.

I’ll give you an example:

About a week ago, Kara was upstairs playing with Mihret in Mihret’s room. Since Mihret became a full-on walker, we’ve spent more and more time there, as it provides the most stuff for the baby to do, play-wise, with fewer opportunities to break stuff or otherwise injure herself.

Not that we didn’t baby-proof the house. We did. It’s just that the baby doesn’t seem to realize this, and is possibly getting up in the night, escaping from her crib using a grappling hook she hid under her mattress, and then setting up bear traps downstairs. It’s the only plausible explanation.

Getting back to my point.

Kara was playing with the baby, and I was running up and down the stairs, taking the various loads of clean and dirty laundry to where they needed to go.

Once everything was separated and getting laundered, I went to check up on my wife and child.

Kara looked at me with excited eyes. “We just read some books together, and she said the word book! A bunch of times!”

If you’re a parent, you already know where this story is going.

Kara: “Say book, honey. Book. Book. What’s that over there? Is that your BOOK? That’s your BOOK!”

Mihret: “…”

Kara: “Book? Boook? Book?”

Mihret: “…”

Me: “Sure, Kara. I’m sure she said it.”

Kara: “She did! Say book, Mihret. Book! Is that your BOOK?”

There’s some scientific hoo-ha pulled together by a dude named Schrödinger that states, roughly, that a cat in a box is both dead and alive at the same time, right up until you open the box, and establish the current state of the cat.

I would offer something of a corollary to that – if a child can’t replicate a task, can they really perform it?

There are other examples of this phenomenon that I think are worth mentioning.

My own mother observed our daughter saying “Nana,” which was, in context, supposed to be a shortened version of “banana.” Despite our best efforts, the baby wouldn’t replicate this.

And then, one day, she said “Nana,” while looking at her sippy cup, and Kara and I determined that she wasn’t saying “Banana,” she was saying, “Want that!” In other words, not “Nah-nuh,” but “Nah-nah!”

When I told this to my mother, she insisted that her granddaughter had used the first pronunciation, and very clearly meant banana. It doesn’t much matter now, as Mihret doesn’t say either one of them anymore.

If I had to guess, I suppose the problem isn’t so much that the baby can’t or won’t do something, as it is that a baby’s memory is somewhat mercurial.

When you’re teaching a baby to sit up, you set them up again and again and again and again and once you think they’ve got it, you still stick a pillow behind them in case they topple over.

But we view words as things that the big people use, and we figure, once you’ve got one (particularly when that’s 1/10 of your vocabulary) you should be able to hold onto it.

Perhaps that’s not the case.

Or maybe Kara and my mother just hear what they want to hear.

Or, if you’re me, you state that the baby can ONLY do something when submitted to multiple tests in varying situations. Which makes Mihret sound like some sort of science experiment, but, well, you know. That’s parenting in a nutshell.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pointing It Out

Mihret has now taken to pointing at things. This is a normal developmental step that pretty much every book will tell you is exactly what she should be doing at this point.

The problem came when we tried to figure out what she wanted. “Da!” she would say. “Da! Da!”

The word “Da!” rhymes with cat, by the way.

For a long time, we thought she was saying some variation of “Daddy” or “Da-da,” but no, it seems she’s saying, “That!”

Or perhaps, “That?”

This is also a pretty common baby term, at least in my experience. A couple of years ago Kara and I offered to babysit for a friend of ours whose daughter was about two at the time.

Kara referred to it as practice, but I don’t really think of babysitting as practice. If you’re getting paid for it, it’s like any job. You take a certain amount of the good with the bad, and at the end of the day you collect a check.

If you’re doing it out of the kindness of your heart (as we were) you hope that the kid is reasonably well-behaved (she was great) and once the kid gets bored with you, you’re mostly stuck sitting around waiting for the parents to come back so you can go back to doing whatever you do with your free time.

As we all know, parenting isn’t like that at all. No one is coming to rescue you, and no one is going to give you money. Sounds like a horror movie, almost, only with baby cuteness thrown in.

Our friend’s daughter was (and still is) really into books, so we spent most of the time reading. We’d open a book, and look at something, and then it was a race of sorts.

Sometimes she would point at a picture, and say, “What’s dat?” And I would tell her that it was a doggy, or a kitty, or whatever it was.

Otherwise, I would turn the page, point, and say, “What’s that?” Then the onus would be on her to name the object in question.

Other times, I would turn it around on her. I’d get a “What’s dat?” And I would say, “That’s a doggy. What does a doggy say?”

Then it was her job to say, “Woof, woof.”

Returning to the subject of my own kiddo, I’m often a little perplexed as to what she’s pointing at. I get a pointer finger and an eager “Da!” and she could be pointing at just about anything in the general direction of “in front of her.”

So then I’m forced to walk her over to the area she’s looking at, point DIRECTLY at one of the objects, and say, “Coffee table.” Or, “Couch.” Or, “That’s your ball. Is that your ball? That’s your ball!”

Because parenting is all about confirmation and enthusiasm.

The “Is that your…?” variation of the game was introduced by Kara, for reasons I’m not certain of.

More recently, Mihret has added a new word that we’re only about 50% sure we understand.

A few weeks ago, my parents were watching Mihret when she said, clear as day, “Na-na.” Since my mother was giving her bananas at the time, she figured that her granddaughter had learned the word “Banana,” or at least the childhood variation of it.

Of course, Kara and I never heard her say it, ever. And we encouraged her, offering her bananas and treats made from bananas right and left. Never a “Na-na!” was heard.

Until the other night, when we were giving her foods that didn’t resemble bananas even in the slightest.

This puzzled us. There were no bananas anywhere. And yet, she was pointing and saying, “Na-na!” in a tone that indicated, roughly, that she was very displeased with our performance as parents, and for the love of all that is good can we not just give her what she wants?

After much head-scratching, we determined that what she wanted was her drink. “Na-na,” it seems, means some variation of, “Want that!”

We think. Or it could be, “I demand a beverage!” We may never know.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

First birthday can be a puzzler

As our daughter Mihret's first birthday approached earlier this year, we struggled with how best to mark the occasion.

Should we buy Mihret a cupcake — our daughter's first taste of a sweet dessert? We realized this would be more pie-in-the-sky than practical when we considered Mihret's current food quirk, a refusal to eat breads.

Could we follow my mom's advice — invite one playmate per year of her age to a small party? No, clearly that wouldn't work, as we thought about our friends and their expanding families.

We weren't looking for a big bash with presents or party favors. Mainly, we wanted to surround Mihret with love and fun without overwhelming her.

The greatest idea of all came from my husband Josh's extended family, who invited Mihret to share her great-grandma's 90th birthday party. The two have back-to-back birthdays at January's end.

At the Sunday buffet that's a favorite for the elder birthday girl, Mihret downed spoonfuls of sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows and apple crumble from the dessert section.
She tugged to her heart's content on a balloon a great-aunt had brought, and squirmed in the arms of older cousins who carried her through the party room.

After the meal, Mihret, Josh and I gave Great-Grandma a present — a framed, four-generations photograph from Christmas of her, Josh's mom, me, and Mihret, in footy pajamas and flashing a newly toothy grin.

Josh's dad photographed that moment and others at the restaurant, including the adults' silly grins over Mihret's funny mugging for the camera.

When she's older, Mihret won't remember her first birthday, at least not on her own. But we'll put the pictures in her photo album, and I hope someday she'll ask us, "Tell me again ..."

Kara Patterson: Post-Crescent staff writer