Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Kara has noted on multiple occasions that I seem to spend a lot of time bragging about our daughter in this space.

But honestly, I don’t think of it as bragging. It’s just that I find her development sort of fascinating. After months and months of being warned that she was going to be behind her peers, in size and possibly in smarts, to see her leapfrog past some of them sometimes seems like nothing short of a miracle.

And when you pause to think about how many changes happen in twelve months, or even in six, it can blow your mind a little bit. Less than a year ago, we were working on Mihret’s crawling. She could alllmost do it, though more often than not she would go backwards instead of forwards.

Which was sort of hilarious, because it was obvious she knew what she wanted to do, but couldn’t do it. She’d stare at an object, focused on getting to it – and then slowly creep away from it, all the while getting more cranky because she was going the wrong way and couldn’t figure out how to fix that.

So, yeah, Mihret is way smart, and the other night I sat down to try to
figure out just how smart.

So I pulled out the What to Expect: The Toddler Years book and figured I'd keep
flipping until I reached an age where she couldn't do the "basic" stuff
that age can do. (She'll be 22 months old on Friday, Nov. 28.)

I got to age three, which is where the book ends.

Among the milestones that Mihret passed a LONG while ago include:

Can say up to 50 words (Kara and I guess she can do somewhere between 150 and
200, and maybe more).

Can stand on one foot for a second. (This one I had to test, by standing on one
foot and saying, "Mihret do?" And then she did. Didn't lose her balance or

Can hold a two-to-three sentence conversation. (Granted, it's not often, but we've done it. Usually it's "What do you want for dinner?" "Cheese." "Anything else?" "Fruit." "Would you like some milk, too?" "Yes." "What do you say?" "Please!")

(Or, in the more hilarious version we had in the car recently: Mihret: Horsy! (There was no horse nearby. Me: What’s the horsy do? Mihret: Sleepin’! Me: Why is the horsy sleeping? Mihret: Jumpin’! Me: The horsy was jumping? Mihret: Yes!

We repeated this conversation three times in a row.)

Can jump. (Yup. In fact, she can stand in the middle of a room, not touching anything, and jump straight in the air, and both her feet leave the ground. This is a huge deal. Ask any doctor.)

Removes article of clothing. (Shoes and socks. A little more often than we'd like. Side note: She put a shoe back on the other day! Twice! Also, she's finally in size five shoes.)

Can identify one of her friends by name. (Um, she can identify the majority of the people who work in the building at her day care.)

Can point to four pictures and name what's/who's on them. (This was another one where I went, whoa, she's WAY past that. Based on people alone, she can do all the parents and grandparents (though not the greats), and her uncles. She also knows birth mama and birth grandpa, and Angel, my parent’s dog. Animal-wise, she can now do the majority of the animals, though a cow is still a "Moo" about 95% of the time.)

Can follow two consecutive directions without hand signals. (I had no idea this was different from using hand signals, but, yeah, she can do this too. Of course, most of the directions are "go to X, get Y, and bring it to me.)

Other interesting developments:

She's WAY into being a daddy's girl right now. I thought the last go-round of this phase was bad, but it's gotten a LOT stronger over the last few weeks.

It seems that at day care she's developed a daily pattern - she plays with the dolls, kitchen and other toys in the morning, and then goes to the book corner and looks at books in the afternoon.

Most bedtimes now, after she gets a book read to her, she wants to take the book away and "read" it again herself. Of course, she hasn't really expressed interest in letters yet, so we're not giving a lot of thought to the early reader stuff just yet.

And the most recent of interesting stuff she does is related to discipline. Most likely because her very last tooth is pushing on her gums in a truly awful way, she’s turned into a bit of a biter recently.

Kara and I don’t punish her much. Usually a stern “No,” will make her stop doing something she shouldn’t. But on the rare occasions that she keeps repeating bad behavior, she gets a Time In. Which is pretty much us holding her in our lap and counting to sixty.

This works pretty well, but has taken an odd turn, because a good 95% of when she gets a time in are related to biting. So now, the minute we have her in our lap and go, “One…” she immediately says, “No biting, no biting, no hitting.”

I’m sure at some point in the near future I’ll have something wonderful and profound to share about the nature of fatherhood. But for now it’s mostly about being amazed about development.

Trust me, if she was your kid, you’d think it was fascinating.


Monday, November 24, 2008

The Dance of Daily Life

Mihret and her Emaye play before church on a recent Sunday

Continuing my career as a full-time journalist while raising Mihret together with my hubby Josh, who works a full-time day job as a communications specialist while pursuing screenwriting and novel-writing, means that Mihret spends almost 10 hours per day at day care.

We call it "school" to help ourselves feel better about sending her.

We're lucky she's in a good, Christian environment, with loving teachers who read with her, teach her about God and Jesus and the Bible, help her complete take-home art projects, let her get her energies out in exercise and games, prompt her to explore with all her senses what we call "baby science" (Water flows down, not up! Sand feels gritty and leaves are crunchy!) and introduce her to friends her age who are also learning how to get along with others. (No biting, no hitting, no hair-pulling!)

Because I only get to spend up to a half-hour with her in the morning (unless she wakes up super-early) and up to two, two-and-a-half hours with her every night, that time I do have is all the more precious.

I have two self-imposed rules that I do my best not to break. I will be home in the morning to help get Mihret ready for school, and I will be home in the evening to help put her to bed.

The morning is easier - I can file stories from home via e-mail to meet an early morning deadline, and then be there to give Mihret her first snuggles of the day.
The evening is trickier, as I've usually got late work or outside volunteer commitments several days a week. When I do have to come home after she's in bed, I always come up with a reason to open her door a crack - her clean laundry is happier in her room, I say, so I slip in and slide it into her basket.

I watch my little one in Mihret sleep mode - on tummy in her footy PJs with bottom in air, sucking her finger, surrounded by Cabbage Patch Baby, Beegabug (her stuffed ladybug), Grover and Elmo and the three blankets she always kicks off.

I breathe in the scent of her room's air freshener. I check to make sure her baby monitor light shines green. Then I tiptoe out, almost hoping that she'll stir so I can go back in and pick her up.

As a family, we make the most of "Patterson family" moments.

When Mihret wakes up in the mornings, grumpy, Josh and I go into her room and turn on her CD player. Josh picks her up and she wraps her legs around his waist, while I hold and hug her from the back.

We three sway and bounce to whatever in our eclectic collection happens to be in the player - early Michael Jackson, Prince, the African Children's Choir, Ethiopian pop - and Mihret is content. She pats Josh's chest, while I lean over and kiss her cheeks.

For two minutes, or three, or sometimes even five, time stands still while we move and groove together.

She'll even ask to do "the family dance" during the daytime, on weekends, when we're all downstairs.

"Mama back?" she'll ask, meaning she wants me to hold her from the back while she's facing her daddy.

I'm thankful for these precious, precious "Patterson family" moments at home.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dear Mr. Obama

By the time this publishes, you will have been elected the next President of the United States of America.

As the parent of an African-American child, I have only one request:

Be someone my daughter can look up to.



P.S. If you could also do something about the war and my 401k, that would be nice, too.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bringing heritage to child easier with help

Umoja 2008 - A black heritage experience
Green Lake, Wisconsin: Oct. 24-26

Kara Patterson column: Bringing heritage to child easier with help
November 3, 2008
It takes a whole village to raise a child. I've heard the African Children's Choir sing that phrase, and I've read it as an African proverb.
Recently, when my husband Josh and I took our Ethiopian-American toddler, Mihret, to our family's first Umoja, a weekend retreat celebrating black heritage and culture in Green Lake, I felt that phrase come to life through the actions of others.
As a transracial family, formed in 2007 when we brought our now 21-month-old daughter home from Africa, we take pride in our place in the black community. Umoja was an affirmation of that place.
Black leaders, college students and participating families from Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota came together for discussions, activities and events that helped us understand more about what it means to be black in America, and appreciate the rich diversity in the African Diaspora.
Our daughter marked a cultural milestone at Umoja by getting her hair braided for the first time. Over the past several months, we'd watched Mihret's springy curls grow and waited with anticipation to see if they'd be long enough for the hairstyle.
A black college student who had volunteered her time in Umoja's makeshift salon from morning until evening on Saturday reassured us that she could work with her, saying she had just the hairstyle in mind.
We knew it would be a challenge for Mihret to sit for her braids. They're pulled tight so they can stay in for a week or two, and we had seen older children that day bear the strain with some tears.
As Mihret squirmed and screamed in Josh's lap, the student deftly coaxed out a row of sleek braids that twisted back from her forehead and ended in little puffs.
One of the event's volunteers came over when she heard Mihret's wails. She tried to soothe her by playing an African drum she'd brought over because she'd spent time with Mihret earlier that afternoon, the two of them tapping on it and dancing.
Other children with newly braided hair encircled Mihret, telling her how pretty she looked. They made silly faces to take her mind off the hair "owies."
Mihret calmed down, and we wiped her face as she played with a spray bottle of water the student had handed her.
What we couldn't do for our daughter alone, we could do with the help of our weekend "village."
-By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer