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Words and Numbers

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Theron will be twenty-two months old on April seventh. We're closing in on his second birthday; I guess we should start making plans for that.

He's tremendously active, insatiably curious, and very self-directed. These traits mean he is hardly the picture of the Obedient Child -- you know, the one who should be seen but not heard. This would be a tragedy, if that was the sort of child I wanted to raise. As it happens, I like active, curious, and self-directed children. So this is all to the good.

He's also getting bigger. I didn't think that would really be news, but it keeps requiring us to make new adjustments. He can reach higher, and stretch farther, and climb over more things. And, of course, if he charges headlong into his father, he can head-butt me in a particularly painful area.

Language and related skills are coming along nicely. The development is incremental, but those increments seem to come fairly rapidly. I'll wait until a little closer to publication time to fill in the details; anything I write now (middle of March) will be outdated by the time I'm ready to publish this.

My wife tells me that by the time Theron turns two, he should have at least fifty words which are comprehensible to a typical listener. I'm not completely sure, but I think he's nearly there already. We tried to count, and got to at least twenty off the top of our heads. He's also starting to string words together; he can say "Elmo backpack" or "Da-da Hot Tea" quite clearly.

What did they do with the sun?
One of the things which happened this month was the conversion to Daylight Savings Time. I suppose it's possible that someone, somewhere, benefits from this; but for me it basically means a week of jetlag, just when I'm trying to avoid getting sick.

We were, however, warned in advance. This allowed us to start moving Theron's bedtime around, so that by the time DST finally arrived, he was already on the new schedule.

I wish I'd been doing the same thing for myself. Meanwhile, I'm driving to work in the dark, wondering where the sun has gone.

What is this strange white stuff falling from the sky?
Shortly after the last journal entry went up, it snowed. Now, I realize there are parts of the country where snow in March is normal. There are even places where it snows more often than not -- regardless of the month. We, however, live in Texas. We get snow about once every five years. And, just to add to the weirdness, it was seventy degrees a day or so earlier -- and a few days after, as well.

Because this was so unusual -- and because nobody in Texas knows how to deal with any kind of water on the road, frozen or not -- I was permitted to leave work early. As a result, I pulled into the driveway just behind my wife and child, and we all got out at the same time. Theron came out of the garage and joined me in the driveway, where the snow was falling. I told him it was snow, and he just sort of looked around. So I picked some up and handed it to him.

He looked at it, dropped it, and stomped on it. Then he grinned. So I scooped up another handful and offered it to him. He kept grinning but didn't take it. So I tossed it at his belly. It hit, bounced, and fell... and he stomped on it. Then he looked at me and said, "More."

So I scooped up some more and set it on top of his toy truck. He stomped on it again and asked for more. This went on for several minutes, until I herded him into the back yard so I could unload my car. Then I followed the trail of teeny white footprints until I found him again.

Apparently the Beautiful Woman took him out back again the next morning, and got some pictures of him in the snow:

I can feed myself, thank you very... say, do I like that stuff?
We've hit an intriguing stage in Theron's eating habits. Following the last bout of illness, the Snorkleberry quit letting me feed him. (This is actually the second time he's done this; the first time was about a year ago.) So, he is not only weaned; he is also completely responsible for feeding himself.

(I don't mean to imply that he's been left to forage; we still provide food for him. It's just that he won't let us transfer any of the food from the plate to his mouth.)

At the same time -- and quite possibly as a result of the same illness; it was a very nasty tummy bug -- he has gotten a lot more finicky about what he will and will not eat. It's not just that he's suddenly become a picky eater, though that's partly true. It's more a matter of him not remembering whether or not he likes particular foods, and being unwilling to sample them in order to find out. So, for example, at dinner the other night I offered him some pasta from my plate. He's had it before, and liked it. This time, he steadfastly refused it; he fed me the first three pieces instead of eating them himself. But once I finally got him to nibble on a piece, he proceed to devour as much pasta as I put in front of him.

One side effect of this is that he's eating less, particularly right before bed. As a result, he's woken up in the wee hours of the morning (on several occasions) simply because he's hungry. Once fed, he goes back to sleep. I'm thinking that we should get one of those gerbil-feeders, fill it with crackers, and hang it on the side of his crib. Then he could just feed himself when he wakes up like that.

Anything so I don't have to get out of bed, really.

Theron tries his uncle's horse.

The joy of baby showers
Last weekend, my wife and her mother flew to Georgia to throw a baby shower for my sister in law (wife's sister). They took the Boobelly with them, leaving me to the joyous life of a bachelor.

They returned to find me in bed with the TV and the game consoles, passed out beneath a drift of junk food wrappers, stale pizza, DVD cases, and beer bottles. The cats were out of food, the seat was up on the toilet, and the television was the only light in the house.

Okay, not really. My weekend was fairly quiet, and marked by a smorgasbord of Bad Horror Flicks, all of which I managed to watch in a single sitting. I'd forgotten what that was like.

Apparently the shower went off very well, and everyone had a good time. With lots of new adults around, Theron spent his time eating junk food, not getting much sleep, and enunciating so he would be understood. What the hey, it was probably good for him.

I'd like to talk a little more about the baby shower and the weekend in Georgia, since this journal is supposed to be about Theron's life rather than mine; but since I wasn't there, I don't feel qualified to comment.

You never really catch up
One of the things I was told before I became a parent -- and again shortly after Theron was born -- was that you never really get settled in to being a parent. Just about the time you figure out a kid's patterns, he dumps old ones or picks up new ones or reinvents himself in some fashion, and you're back to trying to figure out what he's doing and how to deal with it.

Sometimes this is a new appearance of an old behavior. Theron, for example, has recently returned to his delightful quest -- abandoned months ago -- to hunt down our cats and sit on them. The cats, of course, have never really revised their policy of fleeing in terror when Theron approaches, so they were more prepared for this than I was.

Similarly, Theron is currently trying to climb anything he can find. This isn't entirely unexpected; I'm pretty sure that the only reason he wasn't doing this earlier was lack of skill. He climbed things, but he was limited by being short and relatively new to climbing. So he used to climb only a few specific things, and usually in pursuit of some other goal -- like turning on the tap water. Now that he's a bit taller and has had more practice, he's expanded his scope. He'll climb anything. This morning he climbed onto a chair, then from there onto our table. He crossed the table and climbed back down a second chair. "Because it was there," one presumes.

Sometimes, however, the behaviors are completely new. One odd example, though harmless, is that Theron will now clap his palm to his forehead to display dismay or disapproval. I have no idea where he gets this; my best guess is that he picked it up from Mr. Noodle, a character on Elmo's World (a Sesame Street spinoff).*

And sometimes, of course, he'll combine several developments into one troublesome package. Our bedtime routine has, for the past week, been interrupted by the fact that Theron will no longer sit still while we read to him. He prefers to climb up on the air filter and jump off. (And he says "HOP!" while he does it.) We've coped by reading the books to him anyway, and keeping as much of the rest of the routine as possible, but it was a very sudden and unexpected change of habits.

I'm not looking forward to remaining in a constant state of wary adaptation for the next sixteen years. I like my routines. I like to establish patterns that work, and then stick with them.

That pattern, however, is clearly not going to work.

Baby's Second Easter
Theron usually goes to church with my parents. This, as I've probably mentioned before, works out well for everyone. The churchfolk are charmed by my son, who is -- of course -- irresistibly cute. My parents get to show off their grandson. My wife gets to sleep in and work on her grading. I, of course, get to nap or write -- whichever seems most urgent. And Theron gets a chance to hear music, explore the pews, smile at people, and possibly visit the nursery, which has toys not available anywhere else. Afterwards, he gets to play on the playground.

So, really, everybody's good. There is, I suppose, some possibility that Theron is being introduced to Christianity in the midst of all this. Frankly, I'm not sure it matters. He's still working on how to make words. Learning about the nature of The Word is probably hopelessly esoteric.

This year, however, my parents went to Tulsa for the Easter weekend. (My mom has family up there.) So, on Sunday, my wife and I gathered up the Juggernaut and went to church with my mother-in-law instead.

Now, I was raised Episcopalian. This is widely considered "Catholic Lite", and the services involve a certain amount of standing, sitting, kneeling, mouthing responses, and pretending like you're paying attention; it's all very formal and decorous. The first time I visited a church where the congregation held their hands up to pray, I about freaked out.

Fortunately, my wife's side of the family belong to the Disciples of Christ. This is a bit different from the Episcopal church. For example, Episcopalians baptize babies and then confirm 'em when they're old enough to understand what it means -- usually around age thirteen -- while Disciples dedicate the babies but don't actually baptize 'em until they're old enough to understand what they're doing. (If that sounds like the difference is mainly a matter of semantics, well, that's how it sounded to me, too.)

So, yeah, there are some differences, but they aren't really important. They are not, in other words, the sorts of things that might send me into some sort of panicky culture shock. Institutionally, in fact, the Disciples of Christ are actually a more tolerant organization than the Episcopal Church is (though individual churches vary, of course). The Episcopal Church has official positions on any number of issues, but acknowledges that individual parishioners may disagree with them; the Disciples, on the other hand, have no official position on many of those same issues. They prefer to leave it up to the conscience of the individual believer, which I rather like.

This morning's service began with a couple of hymns, and a few words on the nature of the holiday. Then everyone came forward for communion. Immediately beyond the folks with the bread and wine, there was a collection of flowers, and the progression continued by picking up a flower and attaching it to the cross. (This was done by inserting the stem into a bit of wire netting, which covered the plain wood cross. It's essentially invisible at a distance, but really pretty when the flowers are all in place.) Theron had a good time carrying the flower up, and squawked loudly when the Beautiful Woman put his flower on the cross. We gave him a second flower, and he made us step back so he could put it on the cross himself. The kid has very definite opinions about how things should be done...

Anyway, this was followed by another hymn, and then they turned us loose for a potluck breakfast and an egg hunt. Theron ate a lot of ham, and had a good time taking the plastic bunny out of the glass container on our table (the centerpiece), and putting it back in.

He had a good time hunting for eggs, too. There were plenty, and he filled his basket. Then he wandered off towards the play equipment. I stopped him to point out another egg in the grass nearby. "Hey Theron, what's that?" He looked up at me, said "Egg," and kept walking. I guess he was done.

My only real concern with all this is that Theron will come to view the Episcopal church as "normal" and the Disciples church as "that funky place with the bunnies and eggs."

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as applied to parenting
Okay, so this is more of a journal than an advice column. Yes, it's mainly just an account of the first years of my Podling's life, and yes, I mainly put it together for the benefit of friends and family that we don't get to see in person very often. Granting all that, I have tried to make one or two useful points. One of those, of course, is simply that becoming a parent isn't something to be undertaken lightly.

Once you do become a parent, though, there are some very simple things which can make your life easier or more difficult. It's surprisingly easy to forget them, especially when you're stressed out or sick or just feeling overwhelmed. So consider this a reminder, as much for myself as anyone else.

But first, one more anecdote. Theron has, like all babies and small children, suffered through quite a bit of diaper rash in the course of his young life. When he was a baby, we used the stuff the hospital had given** us, which is called Desitin and works fairly well. Later on -- I think on someone's recommendation -- we picked up a tube of Boudreaux's Butt Paste, which smells funny but works rather better. Oddly enough, though, the stuff that works best is a little tube that came in a pack of Burt's Bees baby stuff -- from the baby shower, I think.

So, a couple of weeks ago, my wife puts some diaper rash cream on Theron's butt. He's suffering a fairly bad bout of rash, so she uses the Burt's Bees stuff. I'm watching this out of the corner of my eye while doing other things -- activating the vaporizor, or picking out a book, or something -- when something occurs to me.

There is one small problem with the Burt's Bees items. They're a matched set: cream, soap, toothpaste, and something else. They all look alike. More to the point, I'm fairly certain that the last time I saw that particular tube, it was in Theron's daypack -- and I don't remember seeing the Beautiful Woman retrieve it. So, sensing the potential for trouble with a parent's well-honed instincts, I ask: "What are the odds that you just covered our son's butt with toothpaste?"

My wife stops, picks the tube up from the bed, looks at it... and starts taking the diaper back off.

We washed it off with a wet washcloth, put some cream from the right tube on in its place, and gave Theron a fresh diaper. The only noticeable effect of the toothpaste treatment was that, for one night, my son's butt was minty fresh.

So, the moral of the story: Parents have needs, too. There are things you need to take care of, for yourself, if you're going to be a good parent. Once you get past the basics -- food, clothing, and shelter -- the next most important thing is sleep. A well rested-parent is more alert, healthier, more patient, and more sane. Do whatever you have to do to get enough rest.

Otherwise, you too could find yourself putting toothpaste where it never ought to go.

As usual, we'll close the entry with some pictures:

 

Theron on a playground in Georgia

 

Theron in the Atlanta Airport

     

 

Theron eats rice

 

"Hop!"

* Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure where he found his interest in Elmo, either. His mother and I have been carefully cultivating the Muppet Show and few other things -- mainly things that don't drive us crazy. But a few weeks back, the Podling displayed a sudden, powerful interest in all things Elmo. I guess he just 'picked it up on the street', the way kids do these days...

** In the sense that hospitals tend to use the word 'given', which can be translated as "handed over with the firm intention of sliding twice its actual cost onto our bill as some sort of exorbitant line-item."