Thursday, December 31, 2009

New memories made with toddler-proof tree

Post-Crescent column: Dec. 19, 2009

For the past couple of winters, my husband, Josh, and I have been trying to embrace a more child-friendly way of putting up and decorating a Christmas tree.

Our toddler daughter Mihret has had no problem getting her arms around what to us is a major change in tradition.

When we first got married about 10 years ago, we delighted in heading to Wal-Mart and picking out our first boxed evergreen. We'd each brought ornaments to our new home and couldn't wait to see them up on the tree.

Every Christmas after that, when the tree was twined with tinsel and lights, we'd turn back the years with our decorating. Each trip around the tree with a carefully chosen ornament in hand was like another step down memory lane.

We good-naturedly bickered over where to display the toilet-paper-tube-and-glitter cylinder that Josh crafted as a preschooler. We hooked and hung the glass balls that are heirloom ornaments from his family.

From my box, I pulled out a unicorn, a praying girl and others I'd received as gifts while growing up.

The bookworm that reads nestled inside a hollowed-out plastic apple ... the USS Enterprise that perches on a branch ... the theater masks ... the pianos. The tree practically shouts out "Patterson." One by one, the ornaments reveal the days of our lives, first apart and then together.

Because Mihret, who's very curious, still puts lots of little things in her mouth that aren't food, our tree won't see the light of day until next year.

Our replacement is a plush tree with oversized, colorful buttons. Recently, we helped Mihret loop plush nativity and winter-themed figures around the buttons.

I miss curling up on our couch and staring into the Christmas lights. But I have to say it warms my heart to watch Mihret hugging her very own little tree.

By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer/

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Santa Thoughts, of the Mama Variety

This year Mihret is starting to really get into VeggieTales.

She loves to watch Larry the Cucumber, Bob the Tomato and all their talking and singing veggie pals tell Bible stories and other great stories with lessons behind them, and sing "Silly Songs."

One of her favorite VeggieTales DVDs, from Nona and Papa in Indiana (Thank you again!), is about the legend of St. Nicholas, VeggieTale-ized. Mihret asked for it again and again in the days leading up to Christmas.

Josh and I both like the research, detail, clever dialogue and song lyrics by the VeggieTales creators and staff. Mihret is mesmerized by the animation and music and can explain parts of the story in her own way.

We purposefully didn't focus on Santa this year, and we're purposefully considering _not_ bringing Santa home, in the conventional sense.

But for me, what it will be important to tell Mihret is the story of St. Nick - the generous man of long ago who is the inspiration for the Santa story.

We'll tell her that St. Nicholas was inspired by the words and teachings of our greatest Teacher ever, the one whose birthday we symbolically celebrate on December 25, Christmas day. Because of this, St. Nicholas (before he became "St." Nicholas) thought about those in need and gave to them despite hardship for himself.

Mihret needs to know that we give out of the love that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have placed in our hearts. That's why we open gifts (like VeggieTales DVDs :) ) from loved ones on Christmas.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Happens

This year, due to the fact that Kara and I now have a daughter capable of understanding basic concepts, we had to deal with the question of whether or not Santa exists.

Believe it or not, this is something we started struggling with before we even had a child. We'd put up the tree, and lay the gifts underneath it, and more often than not the gifts contained few surprises.

In fact, one year, we stuffed the majority of the gits into one large gift bag, and pulled them all out on the correct day.

I suppose this kills some of the "magic" of Christmas, but it worked for us. We lived in an apartment for the first six years of our marriage, and frankly, trying to buy and/or order gifts, and then find a place to hide them for days, weeks, or months was far more work than the "moment of surprise" was worth. It also led to a couple of mix-ups, like the year I got her the same book for Christmas twice.

But I was talking about Santa.

For the last three years, we've done gift-opening at our house with the small child present. The first year, she was more interested in playing with the paper. Especially the whole putting-it-in-her-mouth kind of playing.

Last year, she didn't quite get the idea of unwrapping gifts, so she opened two or three and then wandered off. A month later, on her birthday, she seemed to get it a little more, and opened all the gifts. She played with them for a few minutes, and then wandered off to do other things.

She was, after all, a new two, and they aren't exactly known for intense periods of concentration.

Since Mihret barely got the idea of presents, Kara and I opted out of emphasizing, or de-emphasizing, Santa. Not that we had a problem with the guy, but it struck us that telling our daughter a story about a guy that doesn't exist when she barely gets the idea that a book has to be read in a certain order was probably not going to accomplish much.

Then we got to this year.

It's clear, at this point, that Mihret gets the iconography aspect of Santa. She can point him out to you in a store.

Of course, she can also point out penguins and snowmen. Which don't bring gifts. Unless I missed a Christmas special, which is always possible.

And this year, like the last few years, Kara and I didn't feel compelled to buy a lot of gifts. We had a few coming from the grandparents, and frankly, she has a ho-jillion toys, and games, and various and sundry other things that she is only just starting to understand.

(Games are still something of an issue. My mother kindly gave us a memory game. It had fifty-some cards. I took Mihret to her room, where we had some floor space, and started setting up the cards. After I got about twenty cards down, she kicked them, which scattered them everywhere.

I told her that they weren't supposed to be used that way, and set up all the cards, while watching the little one closely to make sure there would be no more kicking.

Then I tried to play Memory with her. I'd pick up two cards, and say, "They don't match." and then put them down. She'd pick up four cards in a row, and then I had to put them back because she didn't get that there was a pattern.

Finally, I got a match. Then I helped her get a match. Then she picked up two random cards and tried to keep them, even though they didn't match.

I had her put the cards back. I got three matches, and she got two. Then she came over, and stole all my cards, and walked out of the room. Game over. Clearly, my little one is not Memory-ready.)

In the midst of all the gift-setting-up, Kara and I debated the idea of Santa. We read about him a bit in some books for the kiddo. We considered talking him up.

And in the end?

We just didn't bother to mention this guy this year.

Having talked to various people over the last couple of months about Santa, we just aren't sure what the point of the big red guy is.

Well, okay, we found one: You can use Santa to keep your kids in line for a month or so.

Sometimes, anyway. At least, my memory is that mom and dad would sometimes pull the "Santa is watching!" card. Which would make me behave for perhaps five minutes.

But for all that, I'm not sure that I got anything out of the Santa mythos. Today, I don't remember "who" I got most of my gifts from. Even items from my grandparents vs. my parents are a blur, much less the collective figment of everyone's imagination.

And while "losing" Santa wasn't all that traumatic for me (at least, not as I recall), I know that a lot of parents spend years trying to ascertain where their kids are on the Santa spectrum. Is it time to tell them? Do they already know?

Trying to explain where babies come from is hard enough. Why add another story that you eventually have to explain away?

Ultimately, all the gifts in our house came from a living relative, and with any luck, Mihret will remember who got her some of the gifts so she can thank them.

Eventually, of course, Mihret will go to school, and her friends will start telling her how awesome Santa is. And if we need to change our tactics, Kara and I can talk about it then.

But for now, Mihret is Santa-free, and aware as she can be that her family and friends love her very much. And that's good enough for us.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bring On the Night

A lot of conversations Kara and I have with other parents are about our nighttime schedule.

The first question we always ask is, "What time do your kids go to bed?" Then we get the answer, and we weep inside with envy.

Here's why:

Just about everyone we know, with kids under age three, put their kids down at 8 PM. 8:30 at the latest.

Why do we weep inside with envy?

Because on any given weeknight, the little one is awake until 9:30 PM.

When people hear this, their reaction is often mild shock... as if we keep the kid up late into the night, playing poker and watching late-night cable.

But no. Trust us, we'd love for the kid to head to bed at 8. And in fact, on weekends, when the little one refuses to take a nap, she'll often conk out somewhere between 8 and 8:15, tiny dark circles dancing under her eyes.

No, our options, as far as bedtime goes, are:

1. Try to put the kid to bed before 9:30. Then get up every five minutes to give mama a hug, go potty, get water, wash our hands, or some other such task that if you say no to, she'll scream, cry, and fight until she's EVEN MORE awake, thereby making bedtime 10 or 10:30 or 11 instead of 9:30.


2. Put the kid to bed at 9:30.

Even that, however, comes with it's own set of troubles.

First, there's the bath. We do one every night, since it's supposed to help calm the kid and, frankly, she's still in diapers and wipes can only take off so much... uh... matter. As it were.

Secondly, we do lotion. Gotta keep the kid moist. Especially now, as it's getting colder and dryer, Mihret tends to get ashy if we don't lotion her up every night.

Third, we put on the pajamas. Sometimes, this is easy. Sometimes, Mihret wants to get down and dance on the floor. Have I mentioned that even if I'm putting her into pajamas at 9 PM, she's often still WIDE AWAKE? No? Because she totally is. She's raring to go.

Then, we're off to mom and dad's bedroom to read stories. We do this for as long as it takes to get to 9:20.

Then we have two options.

1. I take the little one to her room, where she asks to get up to go potty every three minutes, because she's in the middle of potty training and KNOWS we will not deny her. Plus she's figured out how to hold back some widdle, so that she can go over and over again. Six times in one night, even. She's done it.

2. Or, we can flick off all the lights upstairs, and wait for the little one to fall asleep on our bed while the family cuddles. Which is what we do, because this takes a LOT less time, and also, I don't have to sit on the floor for twenty minutes waiting for the wee one to pass out.

This takes about ten minutes, at which point I can put her in her room, turn on her night music, and close the door.

Only this, too, is not the end of the night.

Because, somewhere between 2 and 6 AM, our daughter will wake up, and mosey into our room.

Sometimes, I wake up, and stick her in our bed.

Sometimes, I don't wake up, and still manage to stick her in our bed, allowing me to wake up with a tiny warm spot in my back that doesn't feel Kara-sized.

Now, for the longest time, Kara and I were anti-child-in-bed. And then one day we realized, we could either (wow, check out all these numbered lists!)

1. Bring the little one in our bed and get some sleep.

2. Put Mihret into her own bed, often kicking and screaming, and sit there for an hour, until she falls asleep, and then stumble back to our own bed, and pass out, until an hour later when we either had to get up or, more likely, Mihret would get up again and once again come into our room, so we could lose another hour of sleep trying to get her to go back to bed.

Now, I'm not complaining too hard. At this point, we've at least got a pattern, which is more than some folks got.

But is it so wrong to want that 8 PM bedtime all week? Is it wrong to want to tell the day care to stop making our kid nap?

Because if that's wrong, I don't want to be right some mornings.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Conversations with the Kidpants: The Wha? Edition

Conversation 1:

Mihret is sitting on the potty before heading into the bath. I am there, along with Kara.

Mihret: Go away, please, Mama.

Kara: (Assumes Mihret is starting to learn about privacy.) Okay, Mihret.

Mihret: You’ll never leave here, Dad.

Me: *blinks*

Mihret: (Starting to stand up, pointing a finger at me.) I’m gonna poke you in the eye!

Me: No sweetheart. That’s not nice, we don’t do that.

Kara: Well, that was creepy.

Conversation 2:

It is about 2 AM. Mihret, who has been having sleeping troubles, wakes up in her bedroom, calling out, “Daddy! Daddy!”

I get up, go into her room, and find her sitting up, blankets pushed aside, barely awake.

Me: What’s wrong, sweetie?

Mihret: My pants fell down!

Suppressing a laugh, I pick her up just a bit, and discover… that her pants are fine. I lay her back down, put a blanket over her, and she conks out a minute later.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Potty Penguin takes on important role

Post-Crescent column - Oct. 23, 2009
There's a new pet in the Patterson house, and its name is the Potty Penguin. My daughter Mihret, who turns 3 in January, is its proud owner.

The faux-feathered, winter-apparel-wearing friend — a gift for me and my husband, Josh, from a holiday long past — stores candy in its hollow belly. Press its head, and the Potty Penguin produces the treats.

Josh and I had hidden the Potty Penguin away in a closet but pulled it out a month or so ago when we realized it might have a practical purpose. It now sits high atop Mihret's bedroom cubby, so she can see it but can't reach it without help. It only performs one trick, but that trick's enough to keep Mihret encouraged as she practices the steps for using the potty and continues the countdown toward consistently keeping her Pull-Ups clean and dry.

When Mihret successfully uses the potty, the Potty Penguin dispenses an M&M. That's triple fun for her, because she loves to read the letter M — "M for Mihret" — and also likes to pick out a different color each time.

The Potty Penguin is a frequent topic of conversation when Mihret's around. She's also learning about sharing, so she's inclined to tell any visitor who excuses him or herself to the bathroom, "You can go potty and get an M&M." Most people respectfully decline.

We're hoping that soon, Mihret's friend the Potty Penguin will introduce her to another new pal — Hello Kitty underpants.

By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer/

Newly learned letter fits daughter to a T

Post-Crescent column - Sept. 9, 2009
Dear letter T, I'm writing you a thank-you note on behalf of Mihret, my 2½-year-old daughter, who's totally tickled pink to see you every day.

She's been telling me and her daddy every time she spies you out and about.

Your buddy, the letter M, is old hat where she's concerned. You're at the total center of her attention.

She first thought you were terrific after watching you twist and turn in a YouTube Sesame Street music video. Now, she can't take her eyes off of you.

You're at the Building for Kids, where Mihret plays almost every weekend, and you help remind families to watch their steps. Mihret can't move on without stopping to get down on her knees and trace you with her fingers.

It doesn't matter if you're high up on a street sign, and Mihret's in her car seat. She can spot you, especially on those big, red stop signs.

It's become a game between mother and daughter for me to get all excited about reading words with you in them when we're on the road, just to see Mihret's face light up and hear her giggle.

She can see you when you're big and when you're little. She hangs around our shelves so she can find you on the spines of our books.

At the end of the day, Mihret is still all atwitter over you. When she comes to give me a hug before bed, she points you out on my EAA AirVenture flight-themed nightshirt, in the to-do notes I've scribbled for myself, and on the pages of the National Geographic magazine I've put down to pull her up onto my lap.

Mihret's turning the next page on her learning and, letter T, you've happened along at just the right time.

Thanks again,


By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer/

Saturday, October 3, 2009

NAMIWalks 2009 Update

NAMIWalks 2009 update:
Our team raised $975 for NAMIWalks for the Minds of America, and specifically for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Fox Valley, our community's local affiliate of NAMI in Appleton. From our hearts, we thank all those who supported us financially, in spirit, prayerfully, in thought, etc.

We'll post a photo of our team later, as soon as Josh scans it in to our computer. (The volunteer Walk photographers took free photos of each team that were ready for the teams to take home after the event.)

Random Reasons NAMIWalks 2009 Rocks
-Our team exceeded its $500 goal by $475! We'll find out soon whether our affiliate hit or exceeded the overall $125,000 goal.
-The crisp fall weather was great for a 3.3 mile-or-so Walk.
-It didn't rain!
-There was a NAMI Knight... Fighting stigma, perhaps? I thought perhaps the Knight (a Walk-er dressed in blue-and-yellow cardboard armor with what looked like a huge cardboard sword and maybe a shield) was going to say "Ni!" to kick off the Walk. :)
-Some wonderful volunteer crafted NAMI bookmarks for any Walker to take.
-I had a breakfast of Fritos, fried donuts and candy. Only at the NAMI Walk do I have snacks like that before 10 a.m. ...
-There were wonderful conversations and catching up with dear friends. It's awesome to have an hour or so where you can't do anything _but_ talk with friends! Team, you rock.
-We celebrated the Walk with our traditional post-team brunch at a local diner (I had an omelet with veggies to compensate for the early morning candy.)
-I always love watching Mihret ride on her daddy's shoulders - now she's old enough that I don't worry so much about her falling off of them. She did great on the Walk, and Josh was a wonderful Mihret-carrier and Mihret-pusher throughout (When she was on his shoulders, I pushed the stroller, which actually gave my muscles an interesting workout of sorts in addition to Walking.)
-I narrowly avoided taking a pie in the face today... NAMI volunteers, staff and board members raised about $400 in an internal contest/fund-raiser to support the Walk. We all decorated money-collecting receptacles and waited for people to stop in the NAMI office and fill them up... the top two or three people with the most change etc. collected get to "pie" (put whipped cream in the face of) the two or three people with the least change etc. I'm on the docket to get "pied"... but organizers decided to do the "pie-ing" at a different NAMI function for some reason.
-It was awesome to literally feel the love from all the Walkers assembled there. The NAMI community is very special and the way to advocate, bust stigma and educate is to be visible! We all were very visible today. Team Serenity already is looking forward to next year.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

NAMIWalks 2009 - Team Serenity

Dear Everyone,
We are writing today to tell you about an upcoming event that we are participating in that is both very important and very exciting to us. It is NAMIWalks for the Mind of America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) signature walkathon event that is being held in Appleton, WI at Appleton Memorial Park on October 3, 2009.

Kara lives with bipolar disorder, and both Kara and Josh have loved ones who live with clinical unipolar depression, bipolar disorder and other mental (biochemical) illnesses (also referred to as brain disorders.)

Kara volunteers with NAMI Fox Valley, our community’s NAMI affiliate. She received training and now is a facilitator for Five O'Clock Friday, a support and discussion group for young adults who are living with mental illness. She also has attended courses at NAMI that educate consumers about living well with mental illness, and benefits from peer support groups that she attends. This is the fourth NAMI Walk in the Fox Valley, and the fourth walk for the Patterson family. It has become a fall family tradition.

NAMI Fox Valley continues to advocate for individuals and families in our community, fighting the stigma that unfortunately still exists.

On walk day, we're going to do more walking in one morning than we usually do in a week. :)

If you'd like to visit our personal walker Web page, go to You can donate directly to us online, if you choose. Donating online is fast and secure, and we'll get immediate notification via e-mail of your donation.

If you would prefer, you can give or send any of us (well, not so much Mihret, it’ll just go into her mouth) a check, made out to NAMI Fox Valley, and we will make sure that it gets to NAMI.

(Also, a quick note - if we have already walked, and you think you missed the deadline... you haven't! You can donate to NAMI Fox Valley - or ask about being a volunteer there, if you're in the area - at any time.)

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the largest education, support and advocacy organization that serves the needs of all those whose lives are touched by these illnesses. This includes people with mental illness, their families, friends, employers, the law enforcement community and policy makers.

The goals of the NAMIWalks program are: to fight the stigma that surrounds mental illness, to build awareness of the fact that the mental health system in this country needs to be improved, and to raise funds for NAMI so that it can continue its mission.

NAMI is a 501(c)3 charity and any donation you make to support our participation in this event is tax deductible. NAMI has been rated by Worth magazine as among the top 100 charities "most likely to save the world" and has been given an "A" rating by The American Institute of Philanthropy for efficient and effective use of charitable dollars. Thank you in advance for your support.


Kara, Josh and Mihret Patterson

And all the rest of Team Serenity

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Success and Not Success

I will now provide the definition of a mixed blessing. 1) My daughter pooped in the potty at day care. 2) She got off the potty too early and pooped on her shoes. I got to day care and she was wearing moon boots. Thanks to the return of her ‘fro, she looked like a small brown Napoleon Dynamite.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On a Bear

It was potty-training that finally broke the dam.

For the longest time, we more-or-less avoided having the TV on when Mihret was around. Kara and I are not really huge TV-watchers as it is, but we’ve been even more conscious of turning it on since the little one entered our home.

Our original plan was to avoid TV until Mihret was around two, then introduce it gradually – but we didn’t even feel compelled to do it then.

But along came potty training.

We’ve gone back and forth on the best way to accomplish training, having talked to friends and heard wildly different stories about their experiences, which ranged from “pretty much figured it out on their own,” to, “forced them to do it over the course of a couple of days.”

Not really wanting to go the forcing route, we’ve been taking our time and trying to be encouraging in the potty arena. For a while, it seemed like we were headed in the right direction, and then… Mihret kind of lost interest.

My mom thinks we missed a window, but I’m not really sure about that. Not long ago, Kara and I picked up an article on potty training that contained 10 things that indicate a kid is ready to potty-train, and Mihret had three indications, if you really, really stretched it.

So we didn’t worry about it.

My mother did, helpfully, provide us with a couple of “potty readiness” videos, one of which is The Bear in the Big Blue House: When You’ve Got to Go.

On the whim, one day, I stuck it in the DVD player and sat down to watch it with the little one. And she was totally enraptured.

I thought the video was all right, and there are bits that amuse me, but mostly I was just glad that she enjoyed it enough to ask for it again. Not wanting to watch it a second time, I looked around for something else that was short, and put it in.

And we were sorta-kinda off.

I have to say that TV kind of scares me. Mihret is a runner and a player, but I’ve seen the glazed “Bring me entertainment!” look that comes from watching videos for too long. At her best, she gets bored after 30 minutes and wants to run around. At her worst, she kicks and fights when you turn off the TV.

Which I do not really view as A Good Thing.

What makes it hard to turn it off, though, is the fact that suddenly pottying has become a LOT more important to her. She wants to go more often. She’s talking about wearing “underwears.” She’s even been seeking out the underpants her Nona got her.

However, she has not yet become good at telling us when she needs to go, whenever she needs to go.

We’re watching the video almost once a day now, and I’ve drawn the line at putting it in a second time during the day. We’ve also watched a couple of movies while putting in her braids, and taking them out, and I’m even willing to let her watch her Amharic educational video fairly often.

But I have seen the face of TV, and I have to say that it makes me nervous.

I also have to admit that watching the same Bear video over and over again has caused me to pick up on some things. Like, the bear is left-handed, and almost never moves his right arm. I realize this is because the puppeteer is using his right hand to operate the bear’s head, but really… it’s a little freaky, once you notice it.

Also, the Big Blue House looks really bad on the outside. Its right and left halves don’t line up very well at all, like they hired a model-maker who did a really shoddy job and then refused to fix it. It’s unfortunate.



Recently, Mihret discovered that she has pockets in her pants.

Sometimes, she puts stuff in them, but more often than not, she just gets excited to know they’re there. She’ll stick her hands in them and wander around the house.

Her teacher shared a fun story with me a few weeks ago:

The Scene:

The teacher in question is standing on the playground while the kids race around. She has placed her hands in her pockets.

Mihret, ever the mimic, walks over to her, affects a similar stance, and sticks her hands in her pockets.

Teacher: All the cool kids stick their hands in their pockets.

Mihret: (conspiratorially) We’re cool.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Flying, Boom-Boom!

Mihret holds her mini-unicorn and purple bear on a plane flight to Florida to help Auntie Anna (one of Mommy's dearest friends ever) marry Uncle Markus (she was one of the flower girls, Mama was a bridesmaid and Daddy was an usher/toddler wrangler.)

Over the past few months, Mihret's imagination has taken off.

For quite a while she's been really into "cooking" for us using her pretend kitchen and taking care of her "babies," but lately her creative play has gotten much more original.

One of the games she and I have been playing started after our flights to and from Florida, where we spent a week in mid-July for our dear friend Auntie Ania's wedding to Uncle Markus. We call it "Airplane Boom-Boom."

It goes something like this: Mihret puts her Bumbo seat up (she can still fit into it) onto the couch, like she's sitting in an airplane seat. Then - and here's the "boom-boom" part - I'm sitting or lying down on the couch, and I lift her high up in the air like she's the airplane, and say "Airplaaaaane-" and drop her down suddenly into a great, big hug ("boom-boom!"). The reason she's into this is because when we were on our flights, she loved the varying speeds and bumpiness of take-off and touch-down.

So, after this, she gets out and pretends to be the flight attendant. ("I'll get you some apple juice. Here's some ice!") Then, we switch roles and I get to serve her juice. Then it's "boom-boom" again for the pretend landing.

I personally love this new game because it involves lots of cuddle time. :)


Friday, August 7, 2009

A Sense of Humor

One of the things that no child-rearing books seem to cover is just when a child is capable of understanding a joke.

A two-year-old can tease another human being, but that’s pretty rudimentary. It’s funny because it makes an adult laugh, but most kids don’t really understand why it’s amusing.

And then there’s our kid, who has figured out how to tell a joke.

Granted, her first “joke” was a pretty basic reversal tactic. For example:

Dad: Okay, should we go… that way? (Points left.)

Mihret: Nooo… that way. (Points right, then smiles.)

Dad: That way? (Left.)

Mihret: That way. (Right.)

Dad: That way? (Left.)

Mihret: That way? (Points up.)

As jokes go, that’s pretty elementary. But it’s clear that she gets that she’s telling a joke. Call it the toddler version of, “Take my wife… Please.” She knows that what makes a joke funny is to do the opposite of what’s expected.

Kara thinks our daughter is this way because I’m her dad, and I can’t disagree. But even I was shocked when she pulled out a second joke – and then later pulled out a variation on the same joke.

The Scene: Mihret is sitting in her swing in the backyard, while I am pushing.

Mihret: (singing) A-b-c-d-e-f-g-diaper-diaper-diaper-diaper…

Dad: (laughing…) What?

Mihret: (singing) A-b-c-d-e-f-g-diaper-diaper-diaper-diaper…

For those of you following along, my daughter has a) figured out that humor is found in the unexpected, and b) determined that potty humor is beloved by all.

Now, you could argue that someone taught her to sing the song that way, but let’s jump forward to later in the evening:

The Scene: Mihret is in the bath. Mama is sitting and reading the Noah story to Mihret, while Dad checks the computer.

Mihret: (singing) A-b-c-d-e-f-g-diaper-diaper-diaper-diaper…

Mama: What, honey?

Mihret: (singing) A-b-c-d-e-f-g-diaper-diaper-diaper-diaper…

Dad: She did that earlier. Our daughter has figured out how to tell a joke. It’s sort of eerie.

Mihret: (singing) A-b-c-d-e-f-g-birthday cake.

Dad: (Does a double-take.) That’s new…

So, to recap, our daughter not only knows that jokes are found in the unexpected, she realizes that eventually repeated jokes lose their power and you have to change up your game to make them work again.

Her teen years are going to be really entertaining or a complete train wreck.

- Josh

Friday, July 31, 2009

I'm learning to make most of small backyard

Post-Crescent column: Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I've been a mom for about two years now, but my backyard is just catching up.
When we moved into our house a handful of years ago, my husband Josh and I had found such a good buy that we figured we'd deal later with our awkwardly positioned, L-shaped lack of green space.
As a couple without children, we'd toss down beach towels or set up folding chairs and spend summer afternoons engrossed in reading or talking about the future.
We toyed with gardening the small soil beds that lie flush with our house and in two back corners. A friend with a green thumb told us the clay content was high and growing potential was low. At best, our efforts yielded a lone loaf of zucchini bread and a panful of fried green tomatoes.
When we prepared to bring our now 2½-year-old daughter Mihret home from Ethiopia, however, we had to face facts. The backyard wasn't "cute" anymore. It was confining.
I thought back upon my earliest days in a rural cul-de-sac bordering farmland in upstate New York near the Canadian border. I roamed the lush woods that were our neighbors' property in fall, and in summer spent hours in an above-ground pool that felt like a secret hideaway. My best friend and I played "Star Wars" on my swingset, and I devoured books on a blanket under rows of crabapple trees.
At least, I consoled myself, we can search for a swingset that fits next to our yard's one gem, our apple tree.
Our January baby got her swingset as a belated birthday present from Josh's parents. Mihret's two grandpas and Josh installed it, along with a new hammock as an early gift for me, a September baby.
Hardly a day goes by when Mihret doesn't want to swing on her "blue swing" and go down her "green slide." She also piles into the hammock with me, or rocks me in it when I'm lounging there.
How our backyard has grown.
-By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer

Author's passing revives stories

Post-Crescent column: Wednesday, June 10, 2009
One of my favorite authors, epic fantasy novelist David Eddings, died June 2 at age 77.
Like J.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle and other writers of the genre whom I "met" in my youth through their incredible storytelling, Eddings told stories I devoured, until it came to the last few chapters of the final book in a series. Then I purposely slowed my reading rush, not wanting to finish the book and, in so doing, have to mourn the characters I'd come to feel were friends.
Because I started reading the prolific writer's books in middle school, I literally grew up with them. My most recent memory of disappearing into his world was when I was a college student, bedridden with influenza and feeling isolated during an away-from-home internship.
Eddings' latest series, "The Dreamers," sits on my bookshelf, waiting its turn for attention among other good reads stacked high in piles throughout my house.
But my first memory of Eddings is tied to summer, and to the children's reading program at McCollough Library in Evansville, Ind.
At 11, I flitted back and forth between the teen and adult departments. I'd spend hours there each week. On the day I "met" Eddings, I was both hungry for a new reading challenge, and also somewhat lonely.
A summer library employee in her late teens or early 20s saw me wandering the stacks and struck up a conversation with me as she re-shelved paperback fantasy novels.
I don't remember her name, but if I walked into that library again, I could go directly to the spot where she picked up one of Eddings' novels and said, "I think you'll like this book. Try it, and tell me what you think."
She doesn't know how much her kindness meant to me, just as Eddings never knew how much his books did.
Rest in peace, David, and thank you for your stories. Thank you, summer library employee, for your time. And thank you, hometown library, for the memories.
-By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer

Friday, July 24, 2009

Our Big-Girl Bed Girl!

The bars are off - Mihret's officially a big-girl bed girl. She actually sleeps better (most of the time) in her bed. She still sleeps in very odd positions - bottom up in air, head where feet should be and feet where head should be - it's very cute. We've positioned a plump green pillow next to and slightly under the bed so should she fall out (she does this once in a while) it will break her fall. We've got a routine down now so that getting into bed comes after we read a few books, say prayers and read her "Counting Kisses" book by Karen Katz (Interactive: "Ten little kisses on teeny tiny toes..." all the way down to "One last kiss on your sleepy, dreamy head.." and Mihret says, "Now it's time for Mihret's bed!") She is still daddy's girl through and through, so I have to leave the room right after we walk her in there, and go into the computer room or our bedroom and wait for Mihret to come find me (on her terms) for "one more hug, mama." I won't complain when there are cuddles involved, although she has started using that as a manipulative strategy to prolong bedtime. Working on that.... My favorite part of bedtime is that we use it as a chance to practice some Amharic. I tell her ishi, ishi, it's OK, my fandesha, smiley girl, and I love you, ewedishalehu. And she says ewedishalehu, mama, ciao-ciao, goodbye.

We Love Our Library

Mihret receives her first, very own library card at the Appleton Public Library. Now, to complete her collection... (Appleton belongs to one of two library systems in our area, and Josh and I also have cards for the system that encompasses Neenah and Oshkosh. We truly do love our libraries.)
We've fallen into a pattern, not unintentionally, of reading books about milestones or situations in Mihret's life. (See "Diapers are not Forever," "Teeth are not for Biting," and "My Own Big Bed," for example.) One of Mihret's favorite books is called "Lola at the Library," by Anna McQuinn.
Mihret loves to hear about Lola, a little girl who looks a little like her, who goes to the library with her mommy. That book is not a library book at our house - It was a present from Grandma P. We've read it quite a lot this summer, and not so ironically, we go to the library quite a lot. It's a nice, barely-ten-minute walk further downtown from our downtown neighborhood, something fun to do when we all can get home and eat an early dinner.
The library is a place where Josh and I can easily lose ourselves for hours. I can't count the numbers of times I've been barely on time (even late) for appointments and meetings because I've been skimming the pages of new nonfiction, checking the shelves for a documentary or foreign film, scanning the sci-fi section or looking up "just one more" item on the computerized card catalogue.
Mihret doesn't know what to do first in the library. She zigzags across the children's department as soon as one of us unbuckles her from her stroller. She wants to sit in a cubby with daddy and flip through a book. Then she wants to watch an older child play a computer game. Then she runs between the stacks, grinning, like they're part of a corn maze, and expects us to chase her.
While I'd like her to just settle down and pick out some board books - we more often than not end up grabbing a small pile of interest just before the library closes - part of me is just glad that she's able to be in the library. It's like bringing her to church well before she can truly grasp the importance of being there. We do that, and we'll continue to bring her to the library, too, until she's older and can lose herself in the stacks by reading.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Tale of Color

The favored game in the bathtub these days is "cups." Mihret will say, "Cups, please?" And then some variation of the following will occur:

Me: Which cup do you want?

Mihret: Yellow one?

I place the yellow one on the edge of the tub. She now has four other colors to choose from: blue, pink, green, or orange.

Mihret: Orange one?

I place the orange one on the tub.

Mihret: Um... red one?

Me: You don't have a red one.

Mihret: Blue one?

I place the blue cup on the edge of the tub.

And so on, until she names all the cups.

Recently, however, we had two variations:

Mihret: Brown one?

Me: We don't have a brown one.

Mihret: Brown one?

Me: You don't have a brown cup. *a short pause, as I try to figure out her logic* YOU'RE brown.

Mihret: YOU'RE brown.

Variation two:

Mihret: Sing the cup song.

Note: There is no cup song.

Me: (Singing) Cuuuuuuupppppps.

Mihret: That doesn't make any sense.

I start laughing.

Mihret: Don't laugh!

I laugh harder...


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Case of Clean

This one is for all the parents who, like me, have been spending the valuable toddler years trying to figure out how to get stains out of their kids' clothing.

The only reason I feel compelled to post this is because:

a) I spent months trying to find a formula that actually got my kid’s clothing completely clean more than 50% of the time.

b) I figured all the other parents in the world had this kind of thing figured out, until I talked to a mom at a playground recently who also lamented how quickly a lot of her two-years-old’s nice outfits were becoming play clothes after one use.

First, a quick list of things I’ve tried, and their level of success:

Stain Stick: Stain Stick has been a standby at our household since the day Kara and I got married and moved into an apartment together. Perhaps once a month or so, one of us would accidentally dump something on ourselves, and The Stick probably got everything clean, say, 98% of the time. The big problems were generally things like olive oil, which just plain doesn’t come out easily.

I will say this: Stain Stick works really, really well. The problem is context – kids don’t get one dot of sauce on an outfit. When my little one comes home, it appears that she was playing paintball.

You can run a Stain Stick over that, but you better not have anything planned for the night. So that became sort of worthless.

Oxi Clean: For some reason, parents love this stuff. You take a scoop, throw it in some water, soak the clothes, and presto! Nothing happens, and you’ve still got a bunch of dirty clothing.

Oxi Clean worked perhaps 50% of the time, but I’m convinced that the clothing that came clean would have come clean even if I hadn’t soaked the clothing in advance.

Oxi Clean Max: This is a spray bottle that informs you that once you spray something, it MUST be in the wash 10 minutes later.

I’ll say this for it – the spray works, say, 80% of the time. Unfortunately, it still has to be applied everywhere your stains are. So if the wee one looks like she’s been playing paintball, chances are good that you either a) miss a spot, or b) spend lots and lots and lots of time trying to spray every inch of her clothing on laundry day.

So it’s useful, but not practical.

Color Safe Bleach: This, folks, is the magic bullet, and I say that in all seriousness.

A story: The little one was having lunch with us. Pasta. Red sauce. New dress, with a white collar. Guess what happened? Right.

I tried soaking the dress, then washing it. It did not come clean.

I tried the spray, then I washed the dress again. It did not come clean.

I tried the Stain Stick, then washed the dress again. It did not come clean.

I figured, “You know what? The dress is wrecked anyway. If the bleach makes it worse, so be it.”

And guess what? I washed that dress, and you would never ever guess that the thing had ever been worn, much less sauce-smeared.

So, to all you parents spraying and sticking and washing and hoping to get more wear out of clothing, I say this:

Stick all the clothing that seems like a lost cause into a separate pile.

Find a washer with a “bleach” slot in it.

Put the color-safe bleach in the slot.

Wash the clothing normally.

Weep for joy over not having to spend an hour in your basement hunting for stains.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tales from Early Morning

The Scene:

Kara is trying to wake up after a week off of work. I, the husband, have been unemployed for almost three months.

Mihret sits on the bed.

Me: Wake up, mama! Time to bring home the bacon!

Mihret: I eat the bacon!

Kara: Aajgksdoijf...

Annnd... scene!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Motherhood often a shared journey

Post-Crescent column: May 9, 2009
My daughter Mihret has two mamas. Every time Mihret looks in the mirror, her Ethiopian birth mother, Mama Delame, looks back at her.

When Mihret studies herself in the glass, something she loves to do at age 2, I often watch her and smile. I can't help but notice how she is Mama Delame in miniature.

Mama Delame will always be with her, in her serious, solemn look that's well beyond her years, and in her smile that flashes her teeth and shows her dimples.

I don't feel threatened that we share the title of mama, or Mihret's heart.

Ever since Mihret came home from East Africa with me and my husband Josh as a 6-month-old, we've shown her our photograph of me and Mama Delame standing together in a dusty care center courtyard in the countryside, our arms tucked behind the small of each other's backs.

We're both wearing long skirts out of respect for the occasion, our first meeting. I'm in awe of this slender yet strong woman, barely out of her teens, who breastfed and sang to Mihret and told us about her dreams.

As we're about to celebrate Mother's Day, it's bittersweet. The sweetness is our daughter, our precious joy, and the trust Mama Delame placed in us to parent her child. The bitterness is the tang of missing my sister in Christian motherhood, and knowing we may never meet again in this lifetime.

For an early Mother's Day gift, Josh and Mihret strung together a special necklace for me at the Building for Kids in downtown Appleton. Miss Patty, who runs the art studio there, chose for Mihret a stone from Zimbabwe as the necklace's centerpiece. Five beads surround the stone on each side to represent our family: Josh, me, Mihret, Mama Delame and Mihret's birth father figure, her Grandpa Demesse.

As Mihret grows into a young woman, she may wrestle with ever-changing emotions, with all that's sweet and bitter about life after adoption.

We — all of her family — are her constants. And her Mama Delame will always be with her, wherever she goes.

-By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Random Photo Gallery

Mihret's teachers at day care school helped her make this precious, personalized vase and "flower bouquet" for me for Mother's Day. The felt flowers are her hand outlines and the flowers on the vase are her thumbprints.

This time, I remembered to raise the blinds so our Africa/Ethiopia stained-glass suncatcher, handmade by our cousin Hanni, is visible too!

This girl has hair! Konjo (Amharic: beautiful) hair! She is ready for the big-time braids.

Mihret sitting and "copying" Auntie Rachel, a dear friend of ours.

Our peanut - the girl of many facial expressions. I love this one, for some reason.

Two new family photos on Mother's Day. (We were visiting Great-Grandma Peg and Great-Grandpa David in Oshkosh.)

Mihret pays homage to the new Star Trek movie, which we (Kara, a hard-core Trekkie, and Josh, a semi-Trekkie) are planning to see next week. Maybe Mihret will watch it in a decade or so.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Saturday, How I Love Thee

Saturdays are great fun at our house for many reasons, but one of the biggest of those is that we're (usually) together, all three of us, for big chunks of the day.
After a week of talking with lots of people and writing lots of stories (me), talking with lots of people, writing some freelance pieces and networking with people on the job search trail (Josh), and hanging out with cool teachers and tiny peanut friends (Mihret), we're all ready for weekend togetherness-time.
Mihret is juggling a lot of milestones at the moment, and we're trying to figure out the best way to handle them all without being either lax or pushy. The parenting dilemma that transcends ages.
She's sitting well at the table like a big girl (still in a seat on top of the seat, so she can reach the table) and eating from her plastic Hello Kitty plates fairly well.
In other business, today Josh printed out "Mihret's potty chart," which we posted today up on the side of her bedroom cubby. She picked out her first Minnie Mouse sticker (she likes the "Ms") for telling us she had to sit on the potty, and then sitting on the potty. (By the time she got there it was too late for her to be productive, as it were, but her new princess Pull-Ups are helping her to at least feel when she is messy and associate that with the need for pottying.)
Perhaps the most fun for us is to watch Mihret grow in her capacity to learn, create and express herself. Today at the Building for Kids, our local children's museum, Josh took her to make me a Mother's Day gift in the art room. Mihret wanted me to open it right away. She handed me a tiny, square cardboard box and said, "Here's a present for you, Mama!" I lifted the lid, and teared up. There was a necklace with five small beads on each side of a large, black stone. Josh told me the stone was from Zimbabwe, and he'd helped Mihret string on the five beads on each side to represent the five members of our family: Josh, me, Mihret, and Mihret's family in Ethiopia, her Mama Delame and her Grandpa Demesse. I said I'd consider the big rock in the middle from Africa to represent God. I put the necklace on right away.
To end this post, a humorous out-take from our day. It goes like this:
It's lunchtime. Josh is helping Mihret with something related to mealtime. As I walk back into the dining room from putting away some provisions, I hear:
Mihret: "That was an immense help. Thank you, Daddy!"
We did a double-take and asked her to repeat herself. She said it again.
"That was an immense help."
Words are awesome, and tiny peanuts who say them are awesome. And the Saturdays during which they say them are .... you guessed it. Awesome.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mihret Does Faces For You

Note: Uncle David face is a face that my brother taught her. He's a good guy. He just needs to learn that we will turn such things around on him.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Loving Lists

I'm a big fan of lists, and I thought I'd let the blog be my electronic Post-It note today to share some observations about Mihret and the simple yet amazing ways she fills our days. We'll go with ten.

1. She loves pepper from the salt and pepper shaker, and she now asks for "Pepper, please" to put on almost anything at dinnertime. I doubted she could pepper her hummus without dousing it, but she was very gentle and she actually ended up asking for MORE pepper! We think that having the treasured gift of breastfeeding from her Mama Delame in Ethiopia may have prompted a love of somewhat spicy foods.

2. Her two favorite books right now are "Curious George and the Monkey" and "Zoo Animals." She can recite most of the first book, and names most of the animals in the second. When we climb up on our bed for storytime, she now brings the following items: 1) as many "babies" as she can carry; 2) the new pink rubbery ball and the new tiny Koosh ball she got from Grandma for Easter, and 3) her wooden cross that we haven't yet hung on the wall, that says "Jesus "heart" Me and I "heart" Jesus." We're working on having her keep the balls and the cross out of her mouth, but she is doing really well with not biting her books. Yay for good behaviors!

3. When it started to *snow* the other day after a weekend of (comparably) warm weather, I grumbled about it in the morning before I headed to work. Mihret looked at me and said, "Mama, it's _just_ snow." I guess I need an attitude adjustment. :)

4. Mihret has learned her colors and loves to point out what is purple, what is pink, what is yellow, etc. etc. Her "Hello Kitty Colors" book and her vibrantly colored bath toy cups have helped reinforce this. She kept mixing up "blue" and "red" for the longest time - I thought there'd be a better chance she'd mix up "red" and "pink," for example - but now she's getting most colors right about 95 percent of the time.

5. Josh found a way to help Mihret cope with getting her hair done in the morning. He took the play mirror from her talking purse and asked her if she wanted to watch while Daddy did her hair. She has been so much more cooperative since then. Her teachers at day care school have done her hair a few times (the cutest 'do was the four-poof 'do) and she loves that, so we're hoping to bring her to the stylist for a hair health checkup and a 'do that's a little more complicated.

6. She's taking to her big girl bed arrangement in her crib very well. She's also taken to bringing her stuffed platypus from Uncle Dave to bed - it lays on her pillow alongside two of her favorite "babies." Sometimes Grover gets to join them - sometimes he's relegated to a toy box.

7. Josh told me he's noticed she's figured out that when he plays the piano and reads the sheet music, there are directions on the pages that tell Daddy how to make the piano make music! Hopefully next year he will start teaching her some piano basics. For right now we're just openly letting her (respectfully) explore the instrument and seeing if she keeps up her interest.

8. She's growing to love Ethiopian pop music! We dance to it at home and watch Ethiopian music videos on YouTube.

9. She still points out the outline of Africa everywhere she sees it.

10. She fills my heart with such joy.

-Mihret's Emaye (Kara)

A Prayer for the Journey

A blessed Easter - Christ is risen!
Mihret's new word Easter week was, "Alleluia."
Our continued prayer is that God would help us be the parents Mihret, and He, need for us to be. I pray regularly for the support team of loved ones in Mihret's life who will surround her - those we know and those whom we haven't yet met - who will show her God's life, love and light, and eventually point her to Him. I hope someday to rejoice with her as she receives her new life in baptism - the outer symbol of her personal choice to live for God. Please, if you feel moved to do so, lift up a prayer for our daughter's someday choice.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mihret's (Pseudo-) Big-Girl Bed

Mihret's been napping on a cot without side rails at day care "school" for awhile, so we decided to see what steps we could take at home to get her ready for a big-girl bed.
We don't think she's quite ready to be tucked into a bed without rails yet, because she would likely roam free. We have a gate at the top of our stairs and we could shut all the other doors to the upstairs hallway, but we'd still worry. I'd also heard a suggestion to try shutting her door, but she can escape - believe me. She loves figuring out how to open doors and she's very good at it.
Her crib turns into a toddler bed - take off the rails, and presto. Then, when she outgrows her toddler bed, apparently we go out and purchase a large mattress and reconfigure the crib parts in some way that makes sense, and presto - an "until-you-leave-the-nest" twin bed.
What we decided to do, you've probably already figured out from the photos. We made up a bed for her, with new big-girl pillow, pillowcase, comforter and sheets inside her crib, so it's basically a bed with rails. We figure maybe when she's about 2.5, it will be an easier transition from there to taking off the rails and tucking her in.
Josh usually puts Mihret to bed, after we finish our family reading and prayers routine, I give last kisses, sing a final lullaby and leave the room. He's reported that Mihret seems more willing to let him leave the room and fall asleep on her own now that she's in her pseudo-big-girl bed.
They'll start off sitting in her rocker and then Mihret will tell him when she wants to get into her big-girl bed. Then, Josh will rub her back for a bit, until she tells him, "Daddy, you can go potty now." (That's how he got her to let him leave the room, by telling her he had to go use the potty. :) )
She loves to put her babies, Grover, Elmo, etc., to bed, too. She hasn't jumped out of her crib at night, and this is comforting. Big-girl bed makes everyone happy!

Mihret, The Singing Dinosaur

In Mihret's day care "school" class (2-2.5 year olds), the teachers instruct children using theme weeks - weather, transportation, Dr. Seuss, to name a few examples. After one recent week, "Dinosaur Week," Mihret came home with a very cute little skit. Watch as she pretends to be a dino.

And because she likes to sing, watch for her to launch into her version of the "Numa Numa" song.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kiddo Conversations

Part I:

The Scene: Mihret is at day care. She is talking to Alex.

Mihret: Alex, you go home?

Alex: I'm going to my daddy's house!

Mihret: Okay. Bye, see you later!

I'm not going to say my kid is a brilliant conversationalist, but how often do you see two two-year-olds having a conversation that makes sense?

Part II: I had to fetch a paper for Kara to sign from out in my car. The only problem was, Mihret was up already and Kara was in the shower, and I'm still a little wary of leaving Mihret alone for two minutes.

So I picked her up, and we went outside, got the paper, and came back in.

Kara emerges from the shower:

Mihret: Mama! Daddy and Mihret go outside and get the papers!

Kara: Did you help daddy get the papers?

Mihret: Yes.

Note to self: Do not rob a bank with Mihret in tow...


Monday, March 23, 2009

"Mihret's Talking to Daddy Right Now..."

I am so happy that Mihret, like her Emaye and Abaye, seems to be falling in love with words.

She loves to choose lots of board books to read (we're waiting to let her hold the books with more delicate pages until she's a little gentler with them). She often tells us, or her "babies," or her bear, or her Grover, Elmo, etc., the stories on the pages. We like to read along and then pause so she can fill in the missing words or phrases.

She's got the "ABC Song" down pat - it's one of the songs she sings most frequently right now along with an eclectic mix of "Africa" by Toto, the "Numa Numa" song by that Romanian band, the "Way-O" song from the Wisconsin-based performers Colleen and Uncle Squaty's children's educational songs CD, and "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

She also can recognize four of the 26 letters by sight: A, B, C and "M for Mihret." She "read" us the first three letters off of her organic Sesame Street butter cookies box and we got all excited. As many of you know who are reading this post, Josh and I are avid readers - make that uber-bookworms - and we can't wait to share this world that is opening up to Mihret.

The sentences Mihret is saying these days are also becoming much more complex. She always speaks in full sentences now, although the grammar is a bit mixed up sometimes. She is learning about contractions ("No, I didn't!" "No I don't!") and compound sentences ("Mihret's blueberries all gone, and I need some more berries in my tummy!").

My latest favorite gem from Mihret, although I have to catalogue it under "a bit sassy"...

I stopped home briefly while on a dinner run during a weekend night shift at the paper the other day, and Mihret was eating her dinner at the kitchen table. She looked up when I came in the door, and said...
"Mama, Mihret's talking to Daddy right now. Go upstairs and read your book on Planet Bed." (our endearing term for our bed, which we pretend is a planet when we zoom Mihret to it in her laundry basket.)

Words... you never know which ones will come out next, and in what combination.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Toilet Paper, Please

(NOTE: For this posting, Josh was begging for an alternate title: Our Little Whiz Kid. :) We're all about the puns at the Patterson house.)

Mihret's been aware of the potty for quite a while now. We decided we didn't want to put any pressure on her to sit on it, but we've made sure that she knows it's there for the sitting at any time.

She's watched us use the potty plenty of times. She's fixated on the roll of toilet paper that hangs at a fairly low and accessible level for little peanuts. At first, she stood by the roll and handed the potty-ing parent piece after piece. ("Need paper? There you go, Mama!") Now, she favors shoving handfuls into the potty-er's hands and walking out the door, closing it behind her.

For the past month or so we've been taking out her potty seat (one that secures onto the toilet seat) and asking her before bathtime if she'd like to try sitting on the potty. She's been doing that most nights, except for when we've been running behind schedule and she's been overtired, or a few nights following the two times recently when she's been sick to her stomach (we had the unfortunate experience of having to introduce her to "getting her uckies into the potty." We figure having to hang over the potty head-first while doing a frightening thing like vomiting scared her away from it for a bit.)

In her new classroom at day care "school" - she moved up in early February, shortly after she turned two - she's been sitting on the potty about twice a day. Her teachers say she hasn't been initiating the bathroom visits, but when her older friends line up for the potty, she usually follows right along.

Lately at home, her before-bathtime potty time has gotten more and more involved. She's wanted to wipe with square after square of paper ("Toilet paper, please!" she asks, and we oblige in moderation, giving her a piece at a time for conservation's sake). She also started asking for reading material - the magazines we keep in a basket in the bathroom. Truly a child after our own hearts!

So tonight was the big splash (pun intended). I was actually in the computer room checking e-mail, and Josh was helping an enthroned Mihret leaf through a "Parenting" magazine. All of a sudden, I hear Josh saying, "Mihret _went_ potty!"

The funny thing? She was really more into looking at the magazine than she was in getting excited about her tinkle. But she did wipe all by herself and try to flush (Josh had to help; the lever's too heavy for her to push down on at this point.)

We're not going to rush the full-on and intense potty training, but I can't help but wonder how soon her potty time will become productive on a regular basis.

Next step: Checking into the Pull-Ups diapers. (We still use the ones with the tab fasteners.)


We try to make most of teachable time

March 4, 2009

Post-Crescent column: We try to make most of teachable time

Our 2-year-old daughter Mihret loves going to day care, which my husband, Josh, and I like to call "school."

At her Christian school, her creative and compassionate teachers help her learn to love God, care for others and explore the world around her with a healthily curious attitude.

We've accepted the fiscal fact that, in order for us to provide for her and also plan for a second adoption, we need to be a two-income household. That means Mihret sees more of her teachers in her waking hours during the workweek than she sees of us.

So as her first teachers, we've tried to make every minute with Mihret meaningful.

When she's eating her snacks, Josh plays piano. While we clean up, we sing together, following her lead. One favorite — a "Mihret medley" of the first verse of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" that leads right into the chorus of "Jingle Bells."

When we shop, she loves to help us unpack bags. It's fun to hear her identify groceries ("Pasta! Yogurt!") and it's also interesting to see what she'll call items that are a mystery to her. Lemonade has earned the affectionate term "Clamonato."

We play catch with her globe-patterned bouncy ball. She loves to point out Africa, the continent she recognizes. We use the game as an opener to talk about her Mama Delame, Grandpa Demesse and other birth family members who live in Ethiopia.

We read her favorite books, including "The Snuggliest Snuggle in the World," a book about a mommy leopard who goes hunting and leaves Little Leopard to play with jungle friends until she returns to give hugs only parents can give. We talk about how Mama and Daddy have to go to work, but always come back.

And every night before bed, we pray together about our busy day, and the day to come.

-By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mihret Sings Her ABCs

Mihret's learning her ABCs... here she is singing the ABC song.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Daughter's too-small dress still holds memories

Mihret in fall 2008, at about age 18 months

Mihret in fall 2007, at about age nine months

Emaye with her Fandesha (smiley girl!) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, summer 2007

In bottom photo: Kara holds Mihret at a goodbye ceremony at the CHSFS Ethiopia care center, while a pediatrician and a caregiver look on. Summer 2007, about age 6 months

Post-Crescent column: Daughter's too-small dress still holds memories

Jan. 23, 2009

I've gotten used to sorting through my toddler daughter Mihret's closet and parting with clothes, even my favorites. I know they're going to a good home, my goddaughter's.

But during a recent survey of Mihret's dresses, with her upcoming 2-year-old pictures in mind, I paused at one, not wanting to admit it didn't fit anymore.

The white, gauzy cotton dress with a silken underskirt and accents of green at bodice and hem has a matching white cotton headscarf with green trim.

It's the dress Mihret wore in summer 2007 on the bittersweet day her nannies at a care center in Ethiopia, her homeland, placed her in our care.

The home where Mihret lived from age three months to six months in Ethiopia's capital city of Addis Ababa supplies children there with a traditional outfit. It's theirs to keep and it's what they wear on the day of the goodbye ceremony that signifies their transition into their adoptive families.

On that day, we saw how lovingly one particular caregiver held our daughter, who looked so small and so scared, her headscarf slipping off of her barely-there curls.

The caregiver assisted my husband Josh and I as we marked Mihret's hand with red paint and pressed it firmly against a wall of the care center's playroom, to the sound of clapping from care center staff, children and other families. Although she was leaving the country with us, that most unique part of her — her handprint — would remain behind.

When I look at that white cotton dress — when I hold it in my hands, bring it up to my face, breathe in deeply and try to imagine its original scent, an almost indescribable mixture of incense and spices — I'm no longer in Wisconsin.

I'm back in that room, that day our daughter first wore the dress and we wet it with our tears of joy mixed with sorrow at her separation from all that was familiar.

We have other Ethiopian garments in a plastic tub in our basement that are waiting for Mihret to grow into them. But nothing can replace her white cotton dress.

-By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer,

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Little Hyper

The Scene: Sunday, lunch with my parents and my brother David, post-church.

We're all sitting and eating, and Mihret is having a great time, because she loooves her uncle David. They sit and make faces at each other.

The little almost two-year-old is sitting there, being two. Which means she was being somewhat hyperactive. She's eating her food for a second, then trying to play with my brother, then saying "Grandpa!" and waving at my dad.

My Mom: "Can you say ADHD?"

Mihret: "ADHD!"

The entire table loses it. Except for Kara, who rolls her eyes in shame at our inability to control ourselves.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tag... We're Thankful!

We've been tagged!
We're sorely overdue as it's a Thanksgiving tag... We need to write about five things for which we are thankful.
I'll answer this my way, and then let Josh come on here later for his.
We've been tagged by Kara V. (Many of you reading this know that I also used to be a Kara V. - and I've finally met another Kara V.! Thanks for the tag, Kara! :) )
Here are my five:
1. I am thankful that God has blessed my life with safe and (mostly) effective medications and skilled, caring physicians, a therapist, pastor and church family, a local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter and a loving support system of family and friends to help me live well with my chronic illness, bipolar disorder.
2. I am thankful for my husband. He is my best friend, my helpmate, my rock, my lover, my strength.
3. I am thankful for our daughter. She is a precious one, a wonder, a joy, a blessing, a little mystery waiting for us to discover who she is. I can't wait to help her find herself, find her faith, and find her purpose/God's plan for her as she grows.
4. I am thankful for Mama Delame and Grandpa Demesse and all of our Ethiopian family, and for their courage in the face of hardship and daily struggle.
5. My first four are so serious .... so my fifth posting is going to be thanks for some random things I lurv ... ladybugs, penguins, unicorns, books, popcorn, the smell of bookprint, back scratches, back rubs, cups of chai, Post-Its, extended deadlines, Facebook, my new aloe-covered slipper-socks, our digital camera, my new scrapbooking basic tools, the fact that we have so many diverse languages and cultures in this world, and the fact that I still can be lots of things when I grow up. :)

-Kara (who will tag five other people/households as soon as Josh explains the tagger ettiquette)

Monday, January 19, 2009

She's Definitely Listening...

Here's Mihret looking like a big girl in her Emaye's glasses.

A common scenario in our house after mealtime is Mihret trying to free herself from her high chair before her hands and face are clean, usually even before her bib is off. Sometimes before her tray is gone.

At that point, I tell her "One more minute." It's been our "time phrase" that she seems to understand as "Wait, please." I also have asked her to "be patient," which we also use in conjunction with "Wait, please."

The other day in church, Mihret was playing with the goldfish crackers I kept handing to her one by one so as not to create a crumbly mess.

They're goldfish of many colors - pink, orange, green, purple - and I didn't want the dye to rub off on our clothes or anything else. So when she kept on handling the fishes instead of eating them, I put the lid back on her mini-Tupperware container and took the fishes away.

She promptly dropped to her hands and knees and began to crawl under our chairs. They're regular stackable chairs so when they're fitted side by side, a tiny peanut could easily crawl through the gaps like she's navigating a maze. Not acceptable during church time.

While my mom-in-law held onto the back of her little pants suit so she couldn't shoot out under the back of one of the chairs - we were in the very back row, a quick scamper to the stairs - I leaned forward and said in a very exasperated stage whisper, "Mihret. That. Is. Enough."

What did Mihret say in return?

(Wait for it...)

"Mama," she said, looking up at me with those big brown eyes. "Patience."


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It Begins

(Note: Alex is a little boy in Mihret's day care. Up until recently, they were in the same room, but Alex just aged to the room. Mihret will follow in a few weeks.)

The scene: Saturday Morning. The little one has just woken up, and we're all sitting on the bed while Kara is on the phone with her parents.

Kara: Mihret, do you want to talk to Nona?

Mihret: Hi, Alex!

Kara: Mihret, Nona is on the phone.

Mihret: Hi, Alex!

Kara: Can you say, "I love you, Nona?"

Mihret: Hi, Alex!

Kara (to her mother): It's starting already.

Second Scene: Kara, me, my mom, and my dad, are all sitting eating Chinese food. I have just finished relaying a story about Mihret at day care.

Kara: Mihret, who do you play with at school?

Mihret: Alex!

Kara: And who else?

Mihret: Alex!

Me: Who else do you play with?

Mihret: Alex!

Kara: Do you play with Bella?

Mihret: Alex!

Me: And Logan?

Mihret: Alex!

Me: Do you play with anyone else?

Mihret: Alex funny!

Me (to Kara): We're in trouble.

Third scene: Mihret and I are looking at a picture of Sam and Rachel Bass (two of our favorite people!) and their kids (our Godkids!) Iris and Ian Bass.

Me: Mihret, who's that?

Mihret: ?

Me (pointing to Sam): Who's that?

Mihret: Unca Sam!

Me (pointing to Rachel): Who's that?

Mihret: Rachel!

Me (pointing at Iris): Who's that?

Mihret: ?

Me (pointing at Ian): Who's that?

Mihret: Ian!

Me (back at Iris): Who's that?

Mihret: ?

Me: Is that Iris?

Mihret: ?

Me: Iris?

Mihret: ?

Me (pointing at Sam again): Who's that?

Mihret: Unca Sam, and Rachel, and Ian.

Me: What about Iris?

Mihret: ?

Me: Hmmm...


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Little Unworthy

I've wanted to be a father as long as I've known what a father was - and maybe longer.

My mom was the one to point this out to me. At family gatherings when I was younger, I tended to gravitate towards the littler kids - playing games with them, being silly with them, and often throwing them up on my shoulders and walking around with them.

In more than one instance there was a child who just had to be held, and had to be held a certain way, and I was often more than happy to do it for minutes or hours at a time. I even changed a few diapers, though I never got that good at it.

Somehow, though, I always knew that there was some kind of daddy gene in me.

The daddy gene was activated in other instances as well. When our church was working on shuffling around who was teaching the babies, and who was watching the babies during service, Kara and I were always more than happy to step up to the plate.

And for a few wonderful months, there was even one little-little girl who became our Sunday charge most weeks, while her parents taught classes.

We were sad when her family left. We were just as sad when they came back for a visit, and suddenly we were strangers to the little girl again.

Time passed, and a couple of years of emotional distress, and then came one of the top five happiest days of my life - the day I really, truly, became a dad.

You can see it in our Ethiopia visit video. They caught the first time I ever saw my little girl. I burst into tears.

A few days later, when Kara and I finally got to bring her back to the guest house in Ethiopia, I held her, and tried to sing to her, and I started crying so hard my throat closed and I couldn't do it.

I finally started changing a lot of diapers, and started getting good at it. (True confession though: The first time she pooped in her diaper, the smell hit me so hard I had to go throw up. Not a magical moment, but certainly an indicator that you adjust to such things quickly. That's never happened since.)

I finally reached a point where I could sing to my daughter without being overwhelmed by emotion.

And I got good at other things - knowing when she was hungry, knowing when she needed to be changed, dealing with her spit-ups.

Through it all, I always thought I was a good dad. Maybe even a very good one.

I never felt inadequate to the task of parenting. I had the daddy gene.

As Mihret started getting older, for a long time she didn't really express any interest in dolls. She liked stuff with wheels - things she could push around, or walk with. She was, and is, kind of rough and tumble. She wants to run, and jump, and be picked up and be bounced around a bit.

Recently, however, that's changed a bit. She has a lot of dolls now - mostly given to us by my mom or Kara's mom, and she's slowly but surely starting to treat them as her babies. Which is fine and wonderful and cute, only it can be confusing because she has a few of them now and they're all called Baby.

A few nights ago, Kara was working and I was on solo bedtime duty. So, Mihret had her bath, and got her jammies on, and then we grabbed her current favorite baby and went to Planet Bed for story time.

First we put down the baby, and then Mihret got onto the bed, put the baby on her tummy and started rubbing her back.

I read Mihret the story we picked out (The Snuggliest Snuggle in the World - it may as well be called: Mom Has to Go to Work, and the People At Day Care Are Second Best When It Comes to Hugs) and I set the book down and said it was time to do prayers.

Mihret flipped her baby over, held the baby's hands together, and said, "Thank You, Amen!"

I thought that was pretty nice, so I decided to try doing a thank you prayer. "Thank you, God, for Mommy, and Daddy, and Grandma, and Grandpa, and Nona, and Papa, and all the Great Grandmas and all the Great Grandpas, and especially for Ethiopian Mama and Ethiopian Grandpa. And thank you for Jesus. Amen."

And Mihret said, "Thank you for Grandma, and Grandpa, and Grandpa, and Grandpa, and Grandpa, AMEN!"

And tears started to prick my eyes, and my throat started to close again.

So I sat there, while Mihret read to her baby, and rubbed her baby's back, and sang Itsy-Bisty Spider to her baby, and put a blanket on her baby to keep her warm.

When I told the story to Kara later, she pointed out that the reason that Mihret was doing all those things is because she learned them from us. (She also pointed out that Mihret will also, on occasion, tell her babies, "No biting mommy. No biting daddy," and then will give them a time in.) That these were all good things.

But for me, for the first time, I felt like I might not ever be a good enough father to her.

Trying to explain why is hard, but I think it has something to do with love - that strange emotion that gets mirrored for us in songs and movies and books, where creators struggle to show us what it could, or should, be.

Watching my daughter do all those things, being so wonderful, so loving, I felt like I somehow got so much more than I deserved - a little girl who is so like me, and so like me at that age, only better than me on a physical and mental level.

I felt like she deserved a better dad than I can ever be.

Writing this down now, I feel a little silly. Lots of people have told me how lucky my daughter is to have me for a dad, whether it's because I'm a hopeless goofball, whether it's because I don't mind reading the same stories over and over, whether it's because I don't run when it's time to change diapers, or even just because I "saved" my kid from a much harder life in her homeland.

But I think it's all right to feel this way. So often we complain about all the thing that aren't fair to us - not enough money, a job we don't like, the fact that we'll never be as good-looking as we should be, or that no one ever notices how smart we are.

In this case, though, God gave me so much to live up to, put such an amazing person in my life and said, "Here, she's yours, take care of her as well as I would," and then stepped back.

It's a powerful blessing that I don't know I can ever fully live up to. But I'm going to try.