Newsletter: month thirty-nine

Dear Ladybug,

Yesterday you turned thirty-nine months old, which means you are one-quarter of the way to turning 4 years old.   To celebrate, today I got you a camera.

Well, actually I gave you my old SureShot digital camera, which at ten years old is almost an antique.   Within minutes you’d figured out how to turn the camera on and off, snap a picture, and put the display in playback mode so you could review your pictures.   You’ve since spent the rest of day walking around the house, snapping pictures here and there.   Early on they were mostly blurry images of your fingers over the lens, but by the afternoon, you’d figured out how to focus and engage the flash; by evening, you were framing shots and organizing portraits (say cheese); by nightfall, you’d set up a Flickr account to share your pictures; and by bedtime you were requesting a Hasselblad H2-39 camera and a grant from the NEA.   When your mother eventually wants to know who to blame for your demanding expensive cameras and photography classes, one of your first pictures pretty much answers her completely:

Your budding future as a photographer is merely the most recent manifestation of your relentless push to grow up, which has become increasingly important to you.   You first took an interest in the topic almost a year ago when I foolishly promised that you could start playing baseball when you turned 5, but for the most part you simply viewed 5 as a sort of penultimate age and left it at that.   This month, however, you’ve realized that each yearly increment to your age yields new privileges, a concept I suspect you’ve deduced from your time in preschool.   Unlike your previous daycare rooms, preschool activities are divided up by age, with the older kids getting to do (in your opinion, at least) much funner things, and so now you’re constantly on the lookout for when your next birthday might sneak up, and suggesting what new blessings I might bestow upon you at at time.

For example, most days when I pick you up, you regale me with tales of how the 4-year-olds did this and the 5-year-olds did that before invariably segueing into something like “and this one boy who was 5 just turned 6 and brought in cupcakes for everyone and got a new dinosaur toy and hey! when is my birthday coming and on my birthday I’ll be 4 years old, and hey! when I’m 4 years old I’ll be bigger and I won’t need a car seat and hey! maybe when I’m 4 years old I can have my own phone!” or “when I turn 4 I can have a TV in my room!” or “when I turn 4 I can have a flying robot pig!” or something equally silly.*

* As you might have guessed from reading that, you’ve acquired a new favorite word: hey! This latest example of venerated vocabulary acts as both your current default salutation (as in “Hey! Do you want to go to the park, or something?”) and to indicate each individual sub-clause in a sentence, which is a fancy way of saying that you use the word about once every ten seconds.   In a rare reversal of roles, however, your mother has batted nary an eye at this, whereas I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to get you to knock it off.   This is mostly a vestige of my own childhood, wherein I was taught that addressing an adult by Hey! was disrespectful, and in true “I’m becoming my own father” style, I feel compelled to pass that conversational guilt onto you.   I’ve tried to break you of the habit by using the time-honored tradition of interjecting “–is for horses!” after each utterance of “Hey,” but your lack of appreciation for (or indeed, understanding of) homophonic punnery usually meant that this witticism was met with a confused look and you forgetting what you were talking about.

However, as I noted above, it’s not so much the specific age that interests you as much as the more general idea of growing up.*   You’re growing ever more excited about the idea of being a “big girl.”   I mentioned last month how you’ve taken to getting yourself up in the morning and getting yourself ready for bed at night.   This month we can add several new tasks to your mature repertoire.   For example, reading stories!   Well, in point of fact, you can’t actually read yet, although you can now, thanks to They Might be Giants, recognize the letters of D and W in addition to L.   However, after years of listening to bedtime stories, you are now capable of reciting them back with a surprising degree of accuracy, inflection, and charm.   Your favorite story to recite is the Dr. Seuss book The Best Nest, which involves singing, yelling, crying, and bongs (the onamonapeaic rather than the narcotic kind).   You tend to “read” this story on a daily basis, and while the vigorously dramatic style with which you tell the story is unlikely to net you an Academy Award, I’m pretty sure you could secure a guest spot on Reading Rainbow.

* The only exception to this rule is your age at birth,** which you’ve found endlessly fascinating since the day we had the following conversation:

You: Hey! On my next birthday, I’ll be 4.

Me: Yep. And on your last birthday, you turned 3.

You: Yeah, and before that I was 2.

Me: Perfect!

You: And when I was in China, I was 1.

Me: Actually, no. You turned 1 here in the United States.

You: How old was I in China?

Me: Well, when you born in China, you were zero years old.

You: Zero?

Me: Zero.

[ Pause ]

You: Dad, that doesn’t make any sense.

** I suppose, then, that it should be no surprise that you’re also fascinated with the other end of the aging spectrum, namely, death.   It’s not some kind of morbid, pre-goth rumination on the futility of it all; rather, you simply associate it with extreme laziness, and attempt to use it as an excuse for getting out of work.   For example, I might tell you “Ladybug, clean up your room,” to which you’ll respond “Sorry, Daddy, I can’t do it.   I’m dead,” at which point you’ll collapse spread-eagle on the ground with a thunk.   Or: “Ladybug, time for a bath.” “I can’t… I’m dead.” Thunk. Or: “Stop pretending to be dead.” “I can’t… I’m dead.” Re-thunk.   For future reference, little girl: while “I’m dead” pretty much trumps any counter-argument one might give, it sort of loses its potency after the first time.

Another recent ability you’ve developed is bike riding.   Now, you’ve been working on riding your bike for some time, but it’s been extremely slow going since you’re largely incapable of doing two things at once.   I mentioned last month your inability to run while looking where you’re going rendered the game of “tag” largely trivial, and I’ve pretty much given up on buying you Tummy Yummies (a popular kid’s juice out here) since every one of your attempts to walk whilst taking a sip from the juice bottle ends up with you tripping over your own two feet, a face plant, and a whole lot of of spilled beverage.   The act of simultaneously of pushing the pedals and steering?   No frickin’ way.

However, with a little practice — no, scratch that — with a helluva lotta practice, practice, PRACTICE, you’ve managed to largely work out the kinks in the procedure, and now you are a cycling fool.   You like to ride your bike up and down the block and, if you’re feeling particularly plucky, all the way to the park and back.   This isn’t to say you’re a mini-Lance-Armstrong just yet, however: your infinitesimal attention span often means you get distracted to the point of forgetting to pedal, usually with your pedals in the 12 o’clock/6 o’clock configuration, from which you find it impossible to start moving again.   As a result, our typical bicycle excursion consists of you pedaling for 80% of the time, and me giving you a momentum-inducing swat on the tuckus for the remainder.

All the exercise it gives you notwithstanding, your excitement for cycling has been somewhat of an irritation on two counts.   First, it has fundamentally changed the way we visit the toy store.   In the past you were content to walk up and down the aisles with me, oooing and ahhing at the toys together, but now you make a beeline for the bike rack in the middle of the store.   There, you hop on one of the showroom bikes and high-tail it up and down the aisles of the store like it’s a kiddie motocross, evading my frenzied attempts to get you off the bike until you invariably take a corner too fast and end up crashed into a pile of ticklish Elmo plush toys and hydro-cephalic Dora dolls, a sequence of events that suggests that while you’re unlikely to be a successful stunt-person, you just might have a promising career ahead of you in grand theft auto.

The other irritation about your (self-assumed) mastery of cycling is that you’re now bothering me on a daily basis to learn to drive.   Seriously.   I thought I wouldn’t have to start worrying about this for at least another decade, but now each car trip usually begins with “Hey! You know what, Daddy?   Now that I can ride my bike, I’m a big girl.   So can I try your car now?”   It doesn’t help that the toy store keeps a bunch of miniature, battery-powered kiddie cars right next to the bikes, so that after each crashed bicycle ride, you run back over and hop into some ghastly Malibu Barbie Escalade, which you utterly fail to move in any way, shape or form.   (So much for that career of boosting cars.)

You’ve also developed an appreciation of basic lawn care.   Every Saturday morning you and I mow the lawns together, me with my ugly, gas-powered mower and you with your pretty, bubble-powered one.   If we do it early enough in the morning when the dew is on the grass, then the bubbles from your mower settle on the grass without popping, leaving the yard a beautiful sea of shimmering, translucent pearls.   More recently, we discovered an aphid infestation in our big shade tree, so in the interests of eco-friendly gardening, we bought a bag of ladybugs that we released into the tree and the nearby railing of our deck.   While you were initially creeped out at the sight of thousands of ladybugs squirming around in a sack, once they were released and milling about the back yard you were delighted, and made it a point to walk up and ask “Hi, how are you doing?” to every ladybug you saw.   I think its safe to say you’re starting to develop a green thumb, which your mother would undoubtedly find a welcome contrast to the more usual green feet, green shoes, and green pants you return from a day of lawn care with.

Oh, little girl, you just keep growing up into such a funny, smart, clever, and helpful person, and I’m just so very lucky to get to be your daddy and be a part of it.   … And hey! I love you!

Ba ba

Photo album

See more pictures from your thirty-ninth month over at Flickr.

You can also take a look at your pictures on Flickr too.

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