Newsletter: month forty-one

Dear Ladybug,

On Wednesday you turned forty-one months old, and so to celebrate we spent the yesterday (Sunday) at the Fair.

Last year we spent an afternoon at the State Fair, but owing to your diminutive stature the only things you could ride on were the carousel, the miniature choo-choo, and the ponies, and even then they required that you wear a crash helmet and be cocooned an inch-thick in bubble-wrap.   However, in the past year you’ve grown like a weed and so now, having passed the magical 36-inch mark, a whole new world of the midway opened up to you.   You rode the carousel and the choo-choo — and the ponies, of course — but this year added ATVs, cars, jet-skis, motorcycles, and flying elephants to your carnival ride repertoire.   We also took several trips round the Ferris wheel and down the sky slide, and finished the day with you running through the fun house fifteen consecutive times.   And I really, seriously, honestly am not exaggerating that last bit.

Actually, we’ve spent the past week or so trying to cram in as much of the end of summer vacation as our schedules would allow.   You’ve played at Storybook Island with your mom and I, gone to the movies and swimming with your pre-school friends, discovered the joy of the library (with all its books, movies, animals, and other little kids)… you’ve even helped me cut down several trees and chop them into tiny bits for disposal.   (Yes, you actually think that’s playtime, and I don’t have neither the heart nor the moral backbone to tell you otherwise.)

Careful (or even cursory) inspection of your newsletters will reveal that I didn’t write you a Month 40 newsletter, mostly because you turned forty months old in Belgium, whilst we were away from the world wide web.   Hence, I shall endeavor to pull double duty here.

If there is a common theme to the past two months, it’s that you’re no longer trying to grow up… you apparently already have.   I notice this most acutely whenever I pick you up to carry you somewhere.   Whereas once upon a time you were a little girl that could snuggle up securely into my arms, now your just an explosion of arms and legs flopping about through my arms.   According to the marker at the Fair you’re about 40 inches tall; according to my eyes those forty inches consist of nothing but skinny beanpole flanked lanky appendages and topped with a cute smile.   You’re now big enough to open the heavy car door by yourself (and slam it shut); you can reach ever further into the pantry to grab yourself a snack; you can pour yourself a glass of juice or a bowl of cereal; you can even draw your own bath.   In fact, the only thing you need me for anymore is to set the TV to the Disney Channel, since the remote is the one device in the house you have yet to master.*

* Really.   Your mom gave you her old cell-phone to play with, and in short order you’ve learned how to take pictures with it (and store the ones you like), listen to music with it, and even play video games on it.   In fact, you’re actually quite flabbergasted that I am not able to do these things on your phone just as easily, and you show your disbelief at the utter technical incompetence of your parent with an embarrassed roll of your eyes.   Sorry kid, it ain’t going to get any better.   Ask any teen.

Along with your height and physical prowess, the other thing that’s steadily increasing is your vocabulary.   You are nothing if not a fluent conversationalist, and you in particular amaze me with the degree of specificity you include in your musings.   For example, one day at a park (in Holland, incidentally) you started shaping several small mounds of sand along a short wall.   When I asked what you were making, you replied “Caesar’s salads for everyone.   With crunchy noodles on the side.”   Suck on that, Gordon Ramsay.

Of the new phrases you’ve added to your lexicon, “actually” is probably my favorite.   More often than not you use it (correctly) in the spirit in which it is meant, namely, to clarify a statement so as to reflect fact or reality.*   For example, “We played with cars at school today.   Well, actually, Casey played with the car.   I rode the bike.” or “I ate lunch.   Actually, I only the cheese and meat, but not the crackers.   I actually didn’t like the crackers.”

* Your actually extraordinarily observant, and I’m amazed at the connections you make.   For example, your mommy bought me some new pajamas, and one of them has a retro video-game feel: it’s covered with “GAME OVERS” and Space Invaders and Atari logos, which for those who don’t know looks like this:

You immediately started calling these my “jerky jammies,” much to my confusion.   When I asked you why, you said because my pajamas looked like beef jerky.   I was completely at a loss to make any connection whatsoever between classic video games and dried meat products, so to help me you ran to the pantry and pulled out a piece of individually wrapped jerky.   You then pointed to one of the (upside-down) Atari logos on my pajamas and then the top of her Jack’s Links wrapper:

and repeated “Because your jammies look like beef jerky.”

Of course, you’ve discovered that actually is a clever way of diverting the flow of a conversation or request in a direction to which you’re more interested.   For example, I might ask you if you’d like to come with me to the store, to which you’ll reply “Yes.”   And then, after a few moments, will add, “Actually, I really want to go to the park.   Can we go there after the store.”   Or at dinner I might only offer you a choice of only milk or water, which which you’ll replay “I’ll have milk, but actually I want a Fanta.   Do we have any of that instead?” You’ve got quite a career in used car sales ahead of you, little girl.

You’ve also started to use the word probably, a word whose meaning you’ve apparently learned not from Webster’s English Dictionary but from West’s Encyclopedia of American Law: probably indicates something that may happen, but for which you are in no way obligated to make happen.   A typical example of its usage is as follows:

It is 9:00 and time for bed.   You are playing with your toys in the living room.   “What do you think you need to do before bedtime?” I ask.

“I probably need to put my toys away,” you reply.

“Good,” I reply, and then go back to, say, unloading the dishwasher or one of my other evening chores.   Minutes later I return to the living room to find you still playing with your toys.

“I thought you were going to put your toys away,” I demand, to which you apply your coup-de-grace:

“I said I probably was going to…”

A common theme you might notice here is that you’ve become much more argumentative.   Not in a belligerent or obnoxious way; rather, you’re very actively questioning the rules you’ve heretofore tacitly accepted, and are trying to make logical arguments against the ones you particularly dislike.   From my standpoint as a trained mathematician, I cannot express how proud I am of you and your cognitive capabilities.   From my standpoint as your harried father, I cannot express how much I wish you’d just… SHUT… UP.

Part of this new found desire to dispute can be traced to Month 40, which started out with you and your mother traveling to Florida to be with the Nana B after Papa B passed.   While there, you spent a lot of time up-close and personal with your six-year-old cousin S.   You two quickly became little BFFs, playing dollies, watching movies, dressing up in matching outfits, incessantly giggling, and quite generally having a grand old time of it.

However, it also exposed you to an entirely different set of parental rules and standards than the ones we impose on you, and suddenly every single chore I assigned was up for debate:

Me: Ladybug, do undesirable task X.

You: But I don’t like undesirable task X.

Me: I know, but unfortunately undesirable task X is something little kids have to do.

You: But Cousin S doesn’t have to do undesirable task X.

Me: No, but…

You: So actually it’s not something all little kids have to do.

Me: Well…

You: That means you’re probably lying.   Are you lying to me, Daddy?

Me: Uh… er… wait… help

Perhaps not coincidentally, this was also right around the time I started thumbing through military academies to which I might send you.   Soon.

To further complicate matters, immediately after your stay in Florida we all headed to Belgium, where suddenly everything was up for debate: language, food, you name it.   One of the stickiest wickets was you 9:00 bed time, which was complicated by the fact that (a) the sub wouldn’t set in Belgium until well after 11 PM and (b) your bed was in the same room as our bed, which meant that even if you went to bed right at 9, you’d be awoken a few hours later when your mom and I finally crawled up into bed, and if you were going to be so rudely woken up anyway, why should you go to bed so early?   In fact, you won that debate, and spent most of your time in Belgium staying up to 11, a habit I’ve been trying to break you of ever since we returned stateside.

As a side story, our hosts in Belgium, Mel and Cel, utterly loved your conversational prowess, and were themselves particularly amused every time you uttered an actually or a probably.   You similarly adored Mel and Cel, although you spent most of the first week walking up to them and asking them “Why do you talk like that?”*

* It’s worth pointing out that, while your vocabulary continues to grow, you still have a number of pronunciation hurdles to work through, such as replacing l‘s with w‘s and g‘s with d‘s, which often leads to endless looping conversations such as this:

Me: I’m sorry… what’s your name again?

You: Wadybud.

Me: Wadybud?

You: No, Way-dee-bud.

Me: Oh, Lay-dee-bug.

You: Yes.   That’s what I said.   Wadybud.

Me: Wadybud?

You: No, Way-dee-bud.

Me: Oh, Lay-dee-bug.

You: Yes! That’s what I just said!

One of the curious facts we noticed while we were Europe was that, no matter where we went, people felt compelled to give you things.   We’d go out for lunch, and the waitress would invite you back to the kitchen to get a piece of candy and a toy.   We’d go to a store, and the shopkeeper would give you a piece of candy and a toy.   Hell, we’d go to get gas, and the attendant would fork over some candy to you.   In fact, it happened so often that you more or less expected it, and on the rare occasion that someone didn’t surrender you some swag, you’d complain vociferously about it for hours:   “He didn’t give me any candy.   I don’t like that place anymore.   I actually don’t think we should go back there.”   Jeez… you’re only three, and already a prima donna.

Europe also gave you a chance to expand things other than your ego.   For example, on several occasions Mel, who is a pretty distinguished local artist, would spend the day with you doing art projects, and during the course of our stay you painted with watercolors and acrylics, draw with crayons and pencils, and even made clay sculptures.   Mel gave you a small spiral notebook and a pair of wide, multicolored pencils, and would spent each evening drawing shapes and coloring curves in your little notebook, deep in artistic concentration.   You’ve kept it up even after returning home — we’ve made construction paper collages and paper snowflakes since we’ve been home, and we’ve even purchased you an “art box” to store you many varied markers, crayons, and paints in.

You also invented a new game in Europe called “Ice Cream,” based on the fact that many street-side vendors in Europe sell ice cream cones wherein a cylinder of ice cream is loaded into a kind of hydraulic press and is forcibly squirted into an attached cone by pulling on the level of the press.   The Ice Cream game, then, consists of the following moves:

  • You ask for ice cream, and pay for it with several imaginary coins.
  • I check each coin before storing them in my pocket.
  • I then load an imaginary cylinder of ice cream into an imaginary ice cream press, and then pull down the imaginary level whilst blowing as loud a raspberry as I can.
  • When you stop giggling, I give you the imaginary ice cream, which you pretend to eat.
  • You then ask for a napkin and clean the imaginary mess off your face.
  • Repeat.

This process usually goes on until one of us tires of it: either me, by announcing that, sorry, I have no more ice cream to day, or you, by announcing that you’ve eaten too much and are now, sadly, dead.

Death has been something of an uncomfortable topic these past two months as well.   Whereas when your Papa K passed away, you only understood it as something sad that had happened to me, when the Papa B passed away, you realized it was something that had happened to him.   Your mom and I have had some talks with you about it, and its been some of the hardest parenting I’ve had to do.   How do we explain what happened in a way that (a) would make sense to you and (b) wouldn’t scare you or sadden you unduly.   Your mom has explained the “death” part as your Papas having gone from Earth up to Heaven, and that we won’t see them again until we go to Heaven too; I’ve tried to take the sting of their absence away by telling you that a part of your Papas are always here with us on Earth whenever we remember them and the fun things they did with us.

I wasn’t quite sure how much sense any of that meant to you, but on the day we visited the city of Brugges, you and I visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood (so named since the chapel houses a venerated relic: the blood of the crucified Christ, as collected by Joseph of Arimathea).   In the lower chapel along the walls were rows of lit candles, in which you took an immediate interest.   “What are these?” you asked.

“People light these candles,” I explained.   “They light them to remember people the miss…. their friends and their family who can’t be with them right now.”

“Oh,” you said softly.   You looked at the flickering lights a bit longer.

“I miss Papa B and Papa K,” you said.   “Can I light a candle to remember them too, so that they can be with us a little bit?”

And so we bought two candles and lit them in the basilica, and for a few minutes we quietly remember two papas who couldn’t be with us in body, but were never to far from us in heart and mind.

I think that, more than anything, shows just how grown up you really are. And I am ever so proud to be your daddy, little Ladybug.

Ba ba

Photo album

See more photos of your fortieth and forty-first months over at Flickr.

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