Sam the Science Kid Experiment 9: Circulating Heat

I had a few experiments in my back pocket for this week, but when I asked Sam what kind of thing she wanted to try, she raised her fist in the air and said “Something with FIRE!”

Okay. I can do that.

Here’s the setup:

  • oil
  • A glass bowl
  • a short candle
  • Something to prop the bowl up between (I used two rectangular dishes per the picture below)
  • food coloring

I poured a few inches of oil into the bowl, propped it up between the dishes, and put the lit candle underneath it. I then explained to Sam that when the oil at the bottom, nearest the flame, heated up, it would rise up to the top. Then, as it cooled, it would move back down. To help us see this, I used the dropper to put a few blobs of red food coloring in the oil.

At first I was kind of worried, because nothing seemed to be happening at all. I added a second candle, though, and before long the little red blobs began to “blorp” up to the surface in sputters, then scatter and slowly descend just as promised.

I explained to Sam that this kind of hot/cold circulation happens all over in nature, including in the air (which affects weather) and the ocean. Here’s her journal entry:

Experument 9: circulating het …It blrpt up all the letl dots. Its lic ther’s a invesable lin that the bobles go up. It blorpt. Hot oyl flots to the top.

As a bonus, Sam drew a little picture of the setup, which was nice.

Sam the Science Kid Experiment 8: Fail, Fail, Refraction

Continuing my blogging project for 2011 where I do a science experiment per week with my seven year old daughter.

Okay! Science experiment! Let’s see, Sam was asking about sunsets the other day, so let’s do this one about diffusion of light. Supplies:

  1. Jar of water
  2. A flashlight
  3. Milk

The idea is that the flashlight shines straight through regular water, but mix in a little milk, and the solution starts to diffuse the light, turning it from cloudly white to brownish red.

Only …it totally didn’t work. What we got was light shining through white, milky water. This is hardly exciting nor educational. I declare the experiment a failure, and Sam scribbles through the notes she had in her journal and writes “FAIL!!!” at the top. I chide her for her overuse of exclamation points. Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind, a great man once said. I think it was Jesus.

Anyway, while Sam drew frowny faces in the margins of her journal, I set up a backup experiment: Making a Rainbow! Supplies:

  1. Shallow pan of water
  2. A small mirror
  3. That flashlight again
  4. A thick piece of white paper

I angled the mirror in the dish of water and shined the flashlight at the submerged part while holding the white paper above the dish. Instantly, a brilliant, sharply defined rainbow sprang to life on the crisp white paper …is what the book said would happen. Instead, nothing happened, and in copious amounts.

Sam sighed loudly and started scribbling “FAIL AGAIN!” in her journal while I muttered halfheartedly about null results and the file drawer problem. I then flipped through the book some more until I found something that was both simple and had to be foolproof: the refraction of light.

Take glass. Fill halfway with water. Put friggin button in the friggin glass. Look, two friggin buttons. It’s friggin refraction!


Sam’s final journal entry, in full:

Experumint 8 FOR THE LAST TIME: Seeing dobl. It looks like thar are two butins. This is becas light bens wen it goes throo wotr. This is cald refraction.

I’m going to have to put a bit more thought into next week’s activity.

Sam the Science Kid Experiment 7: Density

Continuing my blogging project for 2011 where I do a science experiment per week with my seven year old daughter.

This week I continued rooting through the pantry for supplies, and decided to team Sam about density and why some things float. This was really simple as far as experiments go, but it turned out to be Sam’s favorite yet, plus I was able to get her sister Mandy involved as well. Here’s the supplies:

  1. A tall glass
  2. Water (I added red food coloring to mine)
  3. Dishwashing soap
  4. Cooking oil
  5. An assortment of small objects that you don’t mind getting oily, oily and wet, or oily, wet, and soapy.

Any three (or more) liquids of different densities that don’t dissolve in each other would work, but these three worked for me. And yes, it’s too bad I couldn’t get them to go green, yellow, red like a traffic light, but I am unable to control the density of these liquids. FOR NOW.

Sam was extremely curious as to why the liquids separated out and didn’t mix, especially after I poured a bit of water on top and she watched it flow down through the oil to join the red layer:

I explained that the three liquids all had different densities, which kind of meant that they were more or less packed together in the same space. Denser liquids weight more than less dense materials, and less dense materials float to the top of denser ones. Sam seemed to get it and inspected the glass carefully while I had panicky premonitions of trying to clean up oil, soap, and water from the kitchen table:

The next part of the experiment was to drop various items into the glass and see where they settled. I explained that this would tell us how dense the objects were, since like the liquids the solids would float on top of anything that they were less dense than. The objects I gathered included a penny, a piece of carrot, a plastic bead, a rock, a marshmallow, a piece of potato, a Lego block, a piece of rubber, and a piece of macaroni. For the first few, I had Sam make predictions about how far down they’d sink, then I had her record her observations.

She absolutely loved doing this, and since this was an activity that basically involved dunking things in other things, Mandy was both able and willing to participate. I think part of the appeal here is that kids love making predictions and repeating trials with slightly different conditions. In this way, they’re natural scientists, and it’s not far removed from how babies learn to do, well, everything. When you’re a kid, most of what you encounter is new, and the only way to figure it out is to do trial after trial and make observation after observation.

Once they had exhausted my supply of small objects, they asked if they could find other stuff to drop in. When I said they could, the first thing Sam nominated was my iPod, which was one sacrifice I was not prepared to make for science. At any rate, not only did Sam love this, she proclaimed that it was the most fun experiment we had done to date. Here’s her journal entry in full:

Experiment 7: Density.
Things that are less density float on things that are more dense. I prdect the marshmallow will float on the oil. I prbekt that the rock will go to the dotem. The peanut floated in the water. The butt rock fell to the botem.

And, as a footnote, Sam did indeed write “The butt rock fell to the botem (sic).” She and Mandy have named the rock in question thus because a streak of quartz in the lower half of the rock does indeed look like a generous backside. Since it was for science, I allowed it.

Sam the Science Kid Experiment 6: Making Gas

Continuing my blogging project for 2011 where I do a science experiment per week with my seven year old daughter.

Since we consumed a gas in last week’s experiment, I thought this week we could do the opposite and create a gas using those old standbys: vinegar and baking soda. Since we were at Grandpa’s house this week, it made for a nice easy experiment and I got to raid his kitchen cabinets for supplies:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking Soda (sodium bicorbonate)
  • A balloon
  • A bottle or vase with a narrow mouth

(Sorry for the quality of the photos. I forgot to bring a CF card for my camera, so I had to use Ger’s point-and-shoot and backlit lighting to boot.)

I explained to Sam the concept of a reaction –that some things change when they mix with or even just touch other things. That change create a lot of interesting things, including creating a gas. I told her that baking soda and vinegar would make a gas when they mix, and asked her what she thought would happen if I mixed them together and put a balloon over the mouth of the bottle. Sam wrote in her journal:

Experument 6: Makeing gas. I prdikt that the dlon will explode.

Yes! Explosions! With that in mind, I poured a few cups of vinegar into the bottle, filled the balloon with baking soda, and stretched the tip of the balloon over the mouth of the bottle without letting any spill in. I then told Sam to upend the balloon and dump the powder in:

The reaction –in all sense of the word– was pretty great. The mixture fizzed violently and the balloon started to expand like a big fat exclamation mark, which actually caused Sam to shriek and dive under the table, fearing that her prediction was seconds from coming woefully true:

Honestly, I got kind of alarmed myself for a second; the book hadn’t provided any guidance on the amount of mixture to create, and I had just begun worrying about the best way to get globs of baking soda and vinegar off of a ceiling when it finally eased off. Instead, I ribbed Sam about her squeamish reaction and made her practice her maniacal mad scientist laugh and give me ten good shouts of “I’LL SHOW THEM! I’LL SHOW THEM ALL!” to make up for it.

Then she finished writing in her journal:

The ballon bloow up. The vineger and the baking soda made a gas.

Next week: we waste more foodstuffs while learning about density.

Sam the Science Kid Experiment #5: Fire!

Continuing my blogging project for 2011 where I do a science experiment per week with my seven year old daughter.

Following last week’s failed attempt to create a stalactite, Sam and I decided to go for something that looked a little more reliable. As a bonus, it involved FIRE. Here’s the equipment:

  1. A shallow baking dish
  2. A candle
  3. Some colored water
  4. Something small to set the candle in or on (I used a baby food jar)
  5. A drinking glass or glass jar big enough to cover the above

I also had a fire extinguisher handy, just in case. Sam seemed hopeful that it would be needed.

Before we set fire to anything, though, I explained to Sam that fire needed two things to burn: fuel (like wood, gas, or a candle wick) and oxygen. The latter, I explained, was a gas comprising a good chunk of the air we breathe, along with nitrogen and a few other things. Nitrogen doesn’t do much in a fire, but oxygen, on the other hand, makes stuff burn REALLY good.

So I lit the candle, propped it up in in the little jar, then put the jar in the dish of colored water as you can see in the photo above. I then held up the drinking glass and asked Sam what she thought would happen if I put the glass over the candle, creating an airtight seal because of the water.

She paused a second. “The flame will go out!” she said.


“Because the fire will burn up all the air.”

So she HAD been listening. “Okay,” I said, “do you think it will go out right away? Good scientists are make their predictions as detailed as possible.”

She thought for a moment. “Ten seconds. No, 12 seconds. Then it will grow out.”

So, I asked Sam to write her prediction down in her journal.

Experiment 5: Brning oxagen. I prdekt that it will drn 12 sikints. Than it will go owt.

After she did this, I put the glass down, and after 16 seconds (according to my stopwatch) the fire dimmed and winked out.

Sam was interested in seeing the fire go out for no apparent reason, but seemed happy that her prediction was correct, if off by a few seconds. She claimed that the air was all gone inside the glass, but I explained that there was still some gas in there, but that the oxygen was pretty much gone, having been used up in the fire.

I asked her, though, to study the scene carefully and tell me if she noticed anything unusual about it:

Almost immediately she pointed and said, “The water inside the glass is higher!” I agreed that it was and told her to think back about what she had learned about air pressure in Experiment 1 and Experiment 3. Almost immediately she said that the air pressure inside the glass must be lower, and the air outside the glass must be trying to get in there and pushing the red water down and up into the glass.

Actually, I think it’s because the low air pressure inside the glass is sucking the liquid up but maybe it’s 6 of one half dozen of the other and I was pretty impressed by her quick answer. But she impressed me even more by asking a very astute question of her own: “How come, if candles need air to burn, they go out when we blow on them, like on a birthday cake? Why don’t they just burn more?”

At the risk of crooning about my kid, this struck me as a pretty damn insightful question, and I’m glad to see that she’s taking what she’s learning in these little experiments and trying to apply the facts to other phenomena in her world. Unfortunately the best answer I could come up with to her question was that when we blow out candles we’re blowing the air past the flame so fast that it doesn’t have a chance to react with the oxygen. However, some subsequent web searching suggests that this answer is, in fact, wrong or at least incomplete. The real reason candles go out when you blow on them is that the fast air is actually lowering the temperature around the flame enough to stop the reaction and put it out –a temperature high enough for ignition being the third requirement for flame that I forgotten to mention.

While I had to go back to Sam with this information and admit to not being as omniscient, it did give me a nice opportunity to explain the value of peer review to science. I think the laptop computer will be a standard piece of equipment to include with future experiments if for no other reason that we can take to the interwebs in the event of any more astute questions.

Sam The Science Kid Experiment 4: Stalactite Interrupted

Well, 4 weeks in and we’ve got our first failed experiment. The idea was to make some homegrown stalactites and stalagmites, and here’s what was involved:

  • Two jars
  • Some yarn
  • Two binder clips
  • Baking soda
  • Warm water

Sam filled both jars with warm water, then spooned baking soda into each one. She kept trying to lick her finger, coat it in baking soda, then lick it off, which I found gross but ultimately harmless. This made her want to eat more of it.

I had her keep stirring until no more baking soda would dissolve in the water.

Sam asked the pretty astute question of where the baking soda was going when it seemed to disappear, to which I replied “Uhhhhh…” as I frantically cast my memory back to my 10th grade science class and tried to remember. I gave her some kind of half-assed explanation about the baking soda molecules sticking to the ends of the water molecules and sort of fitting “in between” the water molecules. It turns out that this explanation was indeed more right than wrong, but it was all over her head in any case. So I focused on teaching her the concepts of a “solution” and “saturation.”

Anyway, after we had our warm water saturated with baking soda, I cut a piece of string, weighted the ends down with binder clips, and dropped one end in each jar:

I told Sam that I hoped the baking soda would form gather on the yarn and drop down the center to form a stalactite just like water and minerals do in caves over years and years. I asked her for her prediction:

I predekt it will grow 2 inches in 7 days.

Unfortunately things didn’t work out. After about 7 days we got this:

Something about this reminds me of Tetsuo in that Akira movie.

That’s got a pretty good head going on it, but the progress pretty much stopped there. I don’t know why –maybe we didn’t get enough baking soda in there, maybe the yarn wasn’t supposed to hang down into the jars that far, who knows?

Alas, this was Sam’s entry after 8 days:

It grow 0 inches in 7 days. Crest is grow on the yorn. It was wite.

Maybe we’ll have better luck next week.

Sam the Science Kid: Experiment #3: Crush With Air

Continuing my blogging project for 2011 where I do a science experiment per week with my six (soon to be seven) year old daughter.

This week’s experiment returned to the world of air pressure and was actually conducted right after experiment #2 from last week. Sam wanted to do another, and who was I to say no? Equipment for this week consisted of…

  1. A 2-liter soda bottle (empty) and cap
  2. Some hot water
  3. Some ice water
  4. A large pan full of ice

We started by having Sam fill the bottle with the hot water and putting the cap on after a few seconds. We used a funnel, but there was still mess. I think she makes the mess on purpose, but you know what? That’s okay. Nobody ever did science without making a mess and/or killing a bunch of graduate students.

She then lay the bottle down in the pan of ice and slowly poured the ice water over it. Again, more spillage. I think I should invest in some proper science-ey beakers so that we at least look the part.

We then sat back and watched, which for Sam was probably the most grueling part. Soon, though, the plastic bottle began to crinkle and pop as the cooling air inside began to contract and thus lower the air pressure. Sam thought this wanton deformation of grocery items was exciting, so I explained to her about how gasses expand when they get hot and contract when they cool. I tried telling her about the three-way relationship between volume, pressure, and temperature, but she was too busy poking the bottle and asking (perhaps hopefully) if it would explode.

This being a pretty simple experiment, I asked Sam to focus in her journal on describing what we did. I told her that this is an important part of doing science, since one of the qualities of a good experiment is that it can be copied and repeated by other people. Here’s what she wrote:

Experiment 3 Crush with air. We pot hot water in a bol. Pot the led on. The dottle felt hot. We pot it in ice it crushed. The air crushed it.

Next week: we grow stalactites and learn about the importance of careful measurement! Maybe. If that doesn’t work out, we’ll crush something else.

Sam the Science Kid, Experiment #2: Grow Mold

As I mentioned earlier, my pet blogging project for 2011 is going to be a weekly recap of 52 kid friendly science experiments in 52 weeks. I’m doing at least one little project each weekend with Samantha where I’ll teach her some miscellaneous science facts by doing the experiments in addition to familiarizing her with the scientific method in general by having her use a notebook to make predictions, record observations, and describe what she’s doing. (Practice with writing, spelling, and grammar is a nice bonus, too.)

This week we learned about mold and what makes it grow. To start, I collected some aluminum tins to hold the following:

  1. A piece of bread
  2. A toasted piece of bread
  3. About 8 ounces of yogurt
  4. A peeled orange

I then explained to Sam that mold was a fungus, which is a kind of plant. There are tiny mold spores in the air that will grow on food if you set it out. She surprised me a bit by sitting up and saying “Oh, like decay!” Yep, mold could definitely be part of the decay process. I then asked her to write down in her journal what she thought would happen. She wrote:

I thigk the tost will grow the most mould. I think the yogrt will grow the lest mould.

Sam, forming her hypotheses.

At this point I asked why she thought that, and she said, “Because I think mold will grow best in dry stuff.” Bam. That’s a model, folks. Not a complicated one or a very accurate one as it turns out, but that’s beside the point. She articulated a model of mold growth!

Final step: we labeled our specimens:

After that, I placed them on a shelf in the basement and we let them alone for a week. At this point I should point out that I kind of screwed up by not covering the tins with plastic wrap per the book’s directions, which probably affected our results a bit by drying the bread out. Fortunately Geralyn did this for me before all was lost.

A week later we retrieved the specimens and laid them out. The bread that was robbed of its moisture by the toaster was mold-free as far as we could tell. Unfortunately so was the untoasted bread, most likely because I had let it dry out. Normally I think it would have grown something:

The yogurt, on the other hand, was just starting up a good green head, but nothing spectacular:

The orange, fortunately, came through and provided the moldy jackpot:

Eugh. We took a good look and I asked Sam to write down what she was observing.

The yogurt grew a letl mold. The ornge grew the most mold. The tost and dreb ded not grow aney. The mold is green and wite on the ornge. It looks fussey. When you poke it dust comes off.

(As you can see, she still sometimes flip-flops her “b” and “d” letters. Working on that.)

At this point I asked Sam what other sense she could use –besides touch!– to make observations about the mold. She made the face below then wrote “it ded not smel good.” in her journal. This was true.

At this point I asked her to read back over the predictions she had written several days earlier and tell me if they had been correct, which resulted in her writing this in her journal:

My prediction was wrong. Mold gros in wet plases not dry.

She seemed disappointed in herself, but this was a great chance to point out that one of the reasons science works so well is that even wrong guesses can be very useful. Science is iterative, meaning that every result is the entry point for a new repetition of the process, leading to refinements and better predictions. Wrong answers are helpful if they help us point ourselves in the right direction, which her “Mold gros in wet plases not dry” comment illustrates.

It can almost go without saying, though, this is all beside the point if you’re not doing science with a fancy sparkly pen:

Sam the Science Kid, Experiment #1: Card Trick

As 2010 draws to a close it comes time to pick my blogging project for 2011, and I’ve decided to return to writing about my kids. Wait! It’ll be a bit different than before.

One of the Christmas gifts I bought Samantha this year was a book containing a bunch of science experiments for kids. All the experiments are pretty simple and can usually be accomplished with stuff you can dig out of the trash and junk drawers. I also bought Sam a white lab coat with a name tag reading “Dr. Samantha” –because hey, you have to look the part. Over ninety percent of science is just looking dapper. To round things out, she also got a journal and a sparkly pen –again, science demands fashion sense– to take notes about the experiments and write up the results. The goal this year is to do one of these experiments with Sam each week and then to write about it.

One of the reasons I’m doing this is to help teach Sam about science in general and the scientific method in specific. You know, a good foundation for a mad scientist girl genius. When she finally gets her weather control machine working and starts making demands of the world’s governments, you’ll know who to thank.

I started off Experiment #1 with an explanation that scientists look at things in the world and do the following:

  1. Make up explanations for those things based on what they know
  2. Guess at what’s supposed to happen according to those explanations
  3. Collect information to see if those guesses were right
  4. Share those results with others
  5. Repeat

Some of the finer points may be missing, but it’s good enough for a six year old. In addition to learning the fundamentals of science, having her write in the journal should have the added benefits of getting her to practice her penmanship and translating her thoughts into words.

Future mad scientist in training.

For example, consider Experiment #1, which had to do with air pressure. I explained that I was going to take a shot glass, fill it to the tip-top with water, place a playing card on top, then flip the glass and card upside down before letting go of the card and holding the glass in the air a foot above the table.

Today's science experiment brought to you by Kappa Delta sororoty.

I asked Sam what she thought would happen, and she immediately said, “The water will fall out and make a huge mess!” This seemed to be a delightful prospect to her, especially since I’d be the guilty party for once. At any rate, I instructed her to write down her prediction:

I think it will spill out.

(FYI, I’ll be posting Sam’s journal contents verbatim. I’m working with her on her spelling and grammar, but I don’t think it will be worth interrupting the flow of the activity to get things perfect.)

So I filled the glass, put the card on top, and flipped them. Here’s what happened:

Sam was confused but fascinated, so I explained about air pressure –how air was pushing up on the bottom of the card harder than the water was pushing on the top. I also told her about how air always tries to go from where there’s more air (high pressure) to where there’s less air (low pressure), and that if we gently pressed down on the card enough to let a few bubbles in, the pressure dropped to the point where the card fell and the water dumped out. I then instructed her to record this observation in her journal:

What hopind: The card stayed up.

So, like I said, I’m starting off simple but I hope that Sam keeps her interest level up so that I can task her with writing more detailed predictions and explanations for why she predicts what she does. Next week: we grow mold! Who doesn’t like mold?

Happy 3rd Birthday, Samantha Alyse Madigan

Dear Samantha,

You turned three years old today. Outstanding! Like I did last year and the year before, I thought I’d send you a letter to let you know how it went and what I thought of the whole thing. Some day, when you’re famous and powerful, you can include this in your memoir. Possibly in a chapter entitled “See, This is what I Had to Put Up With.”

Looking back over your last year, I’d say there are two major themes flowing through it: independence and change. And hoo boy, let’s talk about independence. You started off life as the most milquetoast of creatures, mostly sanguine as long as your basic needs were met and ready to please or conform. Somewhere along the line, though, you decided that you’d be missing out on a lot of developmental opportunities if you didn’t push back a bit. At first you kept it pretty straight forward, opting to throw the occasional hissy fit if you didn’t get what you wanted. This prompted me to create the Samantha Alert System and we pretty much adapted.

From there you progressed on to ineffective Jedi mind tricks to get your way, as well flat out power struggles. And of course, there’s always the nonsensical contradiction of everything we say and constant rearranging of the command structure in our house.

And then there were the times when you actually tried to use your noodle and talk your way into (or, perhaps more frequently, out of) different situations. Your nascent understanding of negotiation led you to turn my own manipulation techniques against me.

But I have you tell you, Sam, I don’t hold it against you. In fact, here’s a secret: it’s one of the things that I love about you. While having you obey me without question and never having you lunge outside the boundaries we’ve set up for you would make life a lot easier and safer for you, I know that testing the boundaries and flexing your own prowess –social, physical, mental, and otherwise– is part of growing up. I want you to question authority when it’s appropriate –even my authority. I want you to think for yourself and to be brave enough and confident enough to disagree when your heart or your mind tell you to do so. That doesn’t give you carte blanch to try to rake a screwdriver across my computer monitor like you did that one time, but you’ll fine tune those impulses eventually. I’ll help you.

I think the second theme to hit us this last year is change. You obviously changed a lot by simply dividing your cells over and over again, but about midway through the year your surroundings changed, too. See, you were born in this mystical land called “San Diego, California.” Literally, there were princesses and magical kingdoms right up the highway from us, but you had to pay through the nose for tickets and wait in line forever to get to the best stuff. Anyway, San Diego was five separate and distinct kinds of awesome. The weather was almost always perfect, there were fun community parks all around us, there were zoos and nature reserves, there were beaches, there were theme parks, and there was just about everything you could ever want to take your daughter out to do on a Saturday afternoon. On top of all that your and your Mom had a playgroup full of friends that got together every week and there were neighbors with other kids about your age. It was great.

So, we left.

Yeah, I know. WTF? (Don’t tell your mom I taught you that.) We left the only home you’d ever known and we sent you to live with Grandma and Grandpa for a week while your Mother and I drove the minivan more than halfway across the continent to our new beginning. Why? Well, in large part, for you.

I know you may be thinking that that’s a stupendously stupid thing to say, but hear me out. Family is important, Sam, and one of the main reasons we moved was to be closer to the rest of your family. You visit your Grandma and Grandma like every week now instead of a couple of times a year. Plus they can give you a TON more presents if they don’t have to take them through baggage claim or to the post office to get them to you. You’ve also gotten to see your Nana a lot more, plus your Aunt Shawn and Uncle Brent and your various cousins, aunts, and uncles on your Mom’s side. And sometimes THEY buy you stuff, too. Trust me, you’re raking it in. You’ll be able to open a retro toy store in a decade or two and live off the profits.

Plus, the new house is a lot bigger and nicer than what we could afford in San Diego, don’t forget that. You actually have room for all your junk now, even if it did take you a while to learn your way around. And there’s actually these things called seasons here, where the weather goes through wild mood swings. You enjoyed the Fall, and when Winter brought its first big snow storm you loved it. Slurping hot chocolate from a mug so big you can barely hold it just isn’t the same when it’s sunny and 74 degrees out.

So, I hope you don’t mind. You adapted to the new surroundings without any problem at all, so I’m guessing you’re cool with it. In fact, you’ve dealt with it better than we have. Occasionally someone will say the word California and you’ll arch one eyebrow in thought, trying to remember why that sounds familiar. And when Lightning McQueen, star of the hit movie Cars, said he had to get to California for the big race, you even straightened up and squawked “I used to live in California!” but then a few seconds later you seem to have gotten past it again. That’s one of the other things I love about you: a few exploratory tantrums aside, you’re incredibly easy going.

And of course, keeping with the theme of “change,” we pulled another huge change on you recently in the form of your baby sister, Mandy. Suffice to say that you took this change to your world with minimum difficulty as well, though there have been some complications to all our lives and some new challenges.

But that, as we say in the entertainment biz, is a cliffhanger. I’ll tell you all about it next year.

Love you,

Want to send Samantha a quick “Happy Birthday” note? Shoot an e-mail to

And of course you can read the archives for more.

Sam’s Story: Week 151

The week actually didn’t start off to well for Sammy. Shortly after one of her regular trips to that germ breeding lab they call preschool, she came down with a fever. What was kind of odd, though, was that the fever was the only symptom she had –no sore throat, no aches, no runny nose. She was just really, really hot and really, really pissed off at the world and everyone in it. Then things got a little worse when she took a face first trip to the hardwood floor and busted her upper lip open. So she basically oscillated between sleepy and infuriated, sometimes several times a minute. We responded with lots of Tylenol, a trip to the pediatrician, and desperate prayers that she get better before Ger went into labor.

Well, you know how THAT turned out. Actually, though, Sam was on the tail end of her illness when Ger went into labor, but not entirely over it. At any rate, we passed the buck to Grandma and Grandpa on our way out the door to the hospital. We were kind of worried about how Sam would react to this at first, but it turns out she was as care free about her extended stay with the grandparents as she has been about, well, almost everything. Again, this kid is weirdly easy going sometimes.

By the time Sam came to the hospital to meet Mandy on Sunday afternoon she was feeling better, though. I’m not sure what we were expecting of this first encounter, but we figured the worst that would happen was hysterical shrieking and some kind of life-long scarring for everyone in the room. For Sam. In fact, Sam seemed really curious abound Mandy, what with all the pressing her face up against the clear plastic of her baby sister’s bassinet and just staring at her. After that, Sam would just kind of look over at her every few minutes and say “That’s my baby sister.” Which, as far as we were concerned, set everything sufficiently straight and we let out our breath.

The real test will be when we bring Mandy home, though. Despite how we’ve been prepping Sam for months, I’m not sure she really understands the depths of the changes we have wrought. I don’t think I understand them, and I’ve had a lot more schooling than Sam. My main reason for suspecting that all may not be well under the surface is how when the time came for Sam to leave the hospital and go back with her grandparents, she walked over to Geralyn and said “Mommy is going to come home soon, baby sister is going to stay here.”

Well, no. Things are gonna change a bit, kiddo. Just roll with it.

And speaking of changes, this is it, folks. After 151 weeks and literally thousands of pictures, this is the last Sam’s Story entry. That’s not to say that I’m not going to write about her anymore, but with the birth of her little sister Amanda it’s time for her to share the lime light and probably to edge out of it a little. My plan is to continue doing a children/parenting update every Monday just like with Sam’s Story, so that everyone who enjoys the daddyblogging can continue to do so, but it’s not going to all be about Sam.

I considered calling it quits entirely, but I want to keep maintaining a record of my kids’ lives. When I scroll through the Sam’s Story archives nowadays, I’m SO glad I started doing this and kept it up. What I have here is a written and photographic narrative about Sam’s first three years of life and my first three years of parenthood. It’s fun to look at the pictures to see how much has changed, and there are a lot of events and stories that I would have forgotten forever if I hadn’t written them down here. Some say that blogging is about communication and sharing, and that’s true. But it’s also about making something which outlasts the moment that created it.

When I started this, I did it solely for the sake of Geralyn’s family and my family, all of whom lived far, far away. I wrote about Geralyn’s pregnancy and our preparation for parenthood, then I posted some pictures of the newborn. After that I decided to keep writing about what was happening so that our family could keep up between phone calls. The habit just kind of stuck. I figured that maybe some of our friends might stop in to check it out, too, but that was about the limits of my expectations.

Now, while I can’t understand my traffic logs that well, there seem to be quite a few people coming here at least once a week to read my stories and look at my snapshots. It’s not enough to compete with the big-time mommybloggers out there (nor do I wish to), but it’s certainly a lot more than I ever expected. So thanks for that, especially those of you who have introduced yourself and shared kind words. Glad you’ve enjoyed it, and I hope to see you back next Monday for the next phase.

Now, where’s my book deal? Anyone?

Sam’s Story: Week 150

For all the Christians, agnostics, atheists, and unconcerned secularists among us, it’s the Christmas season. That means that you’re going to be seeing a lot of pictures of Sam wearing a Santa hat, because THAT’S THE LAW.

With the new baby due to make its gooey debut literally any moment now, we’ve been trying to get in as many Christmas events and chores as we can. The tree is up, the lights are up, and all my shopping had been done for a week. That latter actually stuns me, as I’m pretty sure it’s never ever happened before and I’m sill not sure how I did it without just buying everyone gum. One other thing we tried to do is to get Sam to visit Santa Claus for that precious photo op. Instead of the mall, though, we took Sam to this “Brunch with Santa” thing at our church. We were late in registering so our place in line to see Santa wasn’t until like 12:45, but we got there, had an awful meal of tepid cheese pizza, and entertained Sam with games of little to no skill. The whole time we could see Santa up on stage, though, and Sam seemed at least somewhat excited at the prospect of sitting on his lap and telling him all about the McQueen Cars toy she wanted.

When they finally called our group, Ger bolted to the front of the line and presented Sam to jolly old Saint Nick. The event organizers had set up a dinky digital camera and were taking and printing pictures of your little one’s encounter with Santa, but I elbowed my way into a good position to take my own. Unfortunately what happened was that as soon as Sam got a good look at this strange, bearded man in a garish red snowsuit she totally froze up, locking her arms around Ger’s neck for dear life and whimpering about “that red man.”

In the meantime I was snapping away, trying to salvage whatever I could. Surprisingly, though, Santa seemed less interested in the whimpering toddler trying her best to get away from him and more interested in giving me the stink eye and growling “No pictures! No pictures!” at me. I heard him, but I just muttered back with “Eat it, you stupid elf. I didn’t pay a $21 cover charge for two slices of pizza and a chance to not take pictures.”

So all I got was this picture, which wasn’t even terror-filled enough to submit to the Scared of Santa gallery. I did get some seriously dirty looks, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find reindeer poop on my front porch Christmas morning. At least Sam enjoyed getting some hardcore Christmas tats.

I mentioned last week that Sam has gotten into the habit of getting herself up and letting herself out of her room when she wakes up in the morning. We thought we were used to this change, but Sam proved us wrong the other morning at 6:48 a.m. Ger and I were just lying there, dozing in and out of fuzzy sleep and thinking about how we should really get up. You know, the kind of semi consciousness that amplifies the normally soft and faraway sounds of the waking morning like birds chirping outside, the hot water heater puffing to life, and the occasional neighbor starting up his car. We were just starting slip off for a few more minutes of snoozing when there was a bellowing “HI MOMMY!” like four inches from Ger’s nose.

Geralyn, as she is wont to do when bugs or toddlers take her by surprise, completely spazzed out. She shrieked, jumped a good foot straight up off the mattress, and generally flailed all her extremities. I swear I thought she was going to lift up the sheets to reveal that the baby had popped out. Sam was nonplussed by this reaction, but the next morning she remembered enough of it to stand in the hallway outside our door and whisper “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” over and over again until Ger laughed and waved her in. She’s a fast learner, I’ll give her that.

Sam’s Story: Week 149

As a cursory glance at the photos below will tell you, the big event this week was Sam’s first real snowfall. Last Thursday a huge winter storm hovered over our house and dropped several inches of frozen rain. Then it belched, scratched itself, and dumped several more inches of snow on top of that.

The result was that everything was delightfully frozen and wintery, the kind of thing that we never saw in Southern California. Sam had technically seen snow before on previous Christmas vacations, but she acted like it was completely new and it was fun to watch how excited she got. She insisted on going out while it was still coming down, at which time she just kind of wandered around in a glee-struck stupor. When she broke out of the trance she grinned at me and actually started a (admittedly feeble) snowball fight. I totally won, but she got hot chocolate as a consolation prize.

The next morning everything was covered in a blanket of brilliant white snow and Sam was once again totally keen on getting out there and stomping around in it. We dressed her more warmly this time, and because out subdivision was so snowed in that I had to work from home that day I got to take some pictures, some of which turned out to be my most favorite in a while. (Tip for other mom and dad would-be photographers: even though is sounds counter intuitive, increase the exposure bias by one stop when shooting in the snow. All that white stuff makes your camera think there’s more light in the scene than there really is.) Sam ran around, jabbering about icicles, noting how her swing set was covered in snow, and generally having the time of her life. But by the time Saturday rolled around, we had put her to work shoveling off the sidewalk, so her enthusiasm may be dampened a bit.

The other thing on the agenda this weekend was some “Super Siblings Class” that Geralyn had signed us all up for at the hospital. Having a sister as I do, I thought I pretty much knew all there was about having a sibling and didn’t think it would be that hard for Samantha to pick up on. But apparently there are life lessons that must be learned in a classroom, for a $10 fee. For example, in its exquisite thoroughness the class taught Sam that:

  1. Your baby brother or sister is coming!
  2. Baby brothers or sisters are neat!
  3. Yaaaaaaaayy!
  4. Clap clap clap!

And besides the part where the teacher passed out little paper cups full of animal crackers, that’s pretty much it. Furthermore, Samantha spent a large chunk of the time ignoring the lecture and trying to root through various cabinets and drawers well out of view of the teacher. The only potentially worthwhile part of the class was when we all wandered down to the nursery to look at some newborn babies, but even that was limited to peering through a window into a soundproof room. It was basically like watching one on TV with the mute button on. But still, Samantha now has a certificate stating that she is a “Certified Super Sib.” It is, as I explained to her, a binding agreement and we can sue her for breach of contract the first time she wakes up the baby after we’ve finally gotten it to sleep.

And speaking of waking up, earlier this week the day finally arrived when Sam realized she could just open her door and let herself out of her room after waking up. She had never done this before for some reason, always preferring to just stand up in her bed and yell at us through the baby monitor when she decided she’d had enough. An honesty, we didn’t see the point of changing this habit given that it made her easier to keep track of. But her newfound mobility was sweet on Saturday morning when she wandered into our bedroom at 7:30 with a armload of books to read. It meant, after all, that we didn’t actually have to get out of bed.

However, it was all less charming that afternoon when I was trying to take advantage of her supposed nap time to take a shower. I looked up from my lathering to see her standing there outside the shower door, staring at me and holding a toy I’m pretty sure had been all the way down in the basement when I put her down. I’m just glad she sleeps through the night so we don’t have to worry about any nocturnal wanderings.

Sam’s Story: Week 148

Thanksgiving did, of course, pass us in a gravy drenched and meringue-topped blur last weekend. Following tradition, we spent the majority of it out at “The Farm,” a place that Ger’s family owns out in the wild lands prowled by savage beasts and slightly less savage hillbillies. And like the rest of us, Sam has grown to love The Farm, both for its wild charms and for the chance to visit with the rest of her family.

Sam was actually pretty sociable throughout the entire gathering, though I was constantly left wondering where she learned that the appropriate way to greet someone was to get two inches from his face and say “Hi! Hi!” for like five minutes straight. I’m pretty sure I didn’t teach her that. But still, she had fun going for walks in the woods, climbing things, and sleeping. On Thanksgiving day proper, she also managed to stuff herself silly like the rest of us, belch, and then demand to be put to bed early.

Sam’s mental and verbal abilities continue to climb to new heights, though I’m still pretty sure I could take her in a fair debate if I had time to prepare. One new thing that I’ve noticed is that she’s starting to take pieces of information and put them together to make inferences or conclusions. She often, however, does this very poorly as of yet. For instance, we had this exchange with her when she picked up a rock outside:

“Sammy, don’t pick up rocks off the ground and then put your thumb in your mouth,” I said as she did just that. “That’s dirty. And leave the rocks outside where they belong, please.”

Sam pauses here to consider my words for a moment before responding with “I can only suck my thumb OUTSIDE.” She beams as if she totally stuck the landing on this bit of logical gymnastics.

“Um, noooo. That’s not really what I meant.” But by this time she trying to fit the actual rock in her mouth and the thumb doesn’t seem that bad after all.

Sam has been much better, however, at tackling longer conversations and explaining series of events. I came in on her the other day to find her with an old game from her grandparents’ bookshelf. The contraption consisted of several concentric rings placed so that each ring was lower than its exterior neighbor, forming a kind of shallow funnel. Each ring could spin around the center of the board and had several slots into which you could place marbles. The object of the game seemed to be to rotate the rings so that gravity pulled your marbles down the slots when two of them were properly aligned. Doing this, the marbles would eventually drop into a well at the center of the board with a satisfying clunk. I know all this because Sam basically explained each step in surprisingly effective terms.

The funny thing is, though, that Sam quickly either got stumped by the game or came to the end of her patience. So she’d just pick the marbles up and drop them directly into the well at the center of the board. When confronted about this, she proved coy and difficult to pin down.

“Hey!” I said. “You’re cheating!”

“Mmmmm, maybe I’m not cheating,” she said, still not looking up at me.

“You just picked that red marble up and dropped it in the hole, Sam. I think that’s cheating.”

“I think it’s not.” She looked up at me with an furrowed brow. “Maybe you’re cheating.”

I probably shouldn’t have let her watch all those political ads during the last election.

Sam’s Story: Week 147

Wow, this week really kind of slipped past us. Nothing really big happened, and when I looked on my camera’s memory cards earlier I thought “Woah, I kinda slacked off on taking pictures.” Well, bound to happen once in a while. Still, I did have the sense to grab my glass when Sam got ahold of a pair of safety glasses and my old hardhat from San Diego Gas & Electric:

Wish I still worked there, ’cause I could probably get that framed and hung in some hallway.

Actually, this weekend marked one minor milestone: Sam’s first real outing to a movie. She had been before as an infant, but this weekend I decided that a very pregnant Geralyn needed some time off to herself and that a movie would be just the ticket. So Sam and I packed it up and went to see Happy Feet, the new animated movie about a penguin with the voice of a hobbit and the feet of a dancer. It was substantially less horrifying than the last movie about penguins we saw, but it still had some stuff that scared Sam, as well as some fairly overt sexual innuendos. And Robin Williams. I should really research these things more in the future, but at any rate she did really well, sitting all the way through the movie and seeming to enjoy herself. Hurrah, I have found a new way to kill an afternoon with her.

And now here’s the federally mandated picture of Sam with something smeared all over her face. I think it’s chocolate. I hope it’s chocolate.

Besides smearing things, Sam’s new thing is being extremely bossy. We had a rather one sided conversation at dinner tonight that went something like this:

“Take your napkin, Daddy, now eat your noodle NO NOT THAT ONE NOT THAT ONE, this one! EAT IT! USE YOUR FORK! Now, keep your napkin on your lap like a princess and eat SLOOOOOOWW. And don’t talk with your mouth full it’s not polite.” This last particularly ironic given that she delivered these instructions through great mouthfuls of black beans, noodles, and carrots.

Finally, here’s another video that I made of Sam doing her nightly ritual of singing the ABC Song while brushing her teeth. Click to watch:

I may make the occasional video like this, but nobody really said anything about last week’s. You all dig them?

Sam’s Story: Week 146

Being a grandparent must be pretty great. Ger’s parents, for example, get to see Sam every week and they get to be the heroes. They’re the ones who shower Sam with gifts, treats, and affection while reserving discipline for only the most severe situations. Seems we can barely take Sam over to her grandparents without cookies and sweets flying out of their jars and into her gobbling maw, as if by some magical force. If I ask Sam how her visit was, she’ll burst out with “YEAH! I ate cookies, and I played with the train, and I had chocolate and I ate cookies!”

Keep in mind that I don’t begrudge them (or my Mom) this frivolity one bit –it’s a privilege they earned many times over and I hope cover Sam’s kids’ faces with a light coat of sugar some day. But really, there are some things that push it. Earlier this week, for example, Sam came home from one outing to the grandparents, and when I put her in the tub that night she started singing, well… here, I just had to go get the video camera and record it. Click below to watch the movie:

In case you can’t get the movie to play, that’s Sam singing Barney’s theme song, “I Love You, You Love Me.” She was actually bellowing it earlier, but toned it down when I turned the camera on. Watching Barney was on my “I will never do the following as a parent” short list, but apparently I can’t control what goes on outside my own home. Alas.

(I put the video up and embedded it here with the help of, by the way. The process was stupifyingly simple. No wonder they’re so huge.)

This weekend I spent a lot of time with Sam so that Geralyn could attend some Scrapbooking/Stamping events and peddle her wares unencumbered by a whining, bored, and pesky tag-along. Or Samantha. I had mentioned to Sam the day before that I’d take her to the park, but when the temperature plummeted to the 30s I attempted to revise that plan, pitching the concept of an exciting day of Staying at Home instead. Being a recent resident Southern California, though, I don’t think Sam really grokked the concept of “thirty six degrees” this side of the freezer door, so she insisted and I acquiesced. I bundled her up and we went to the park, but after ten minutes of climbing over ice-cold metal play structures, Sam waddled up to me and moaned “My haaaaands are tooooo coooold! I wanna go hooooome!” Lesson learned, but at least I got a couple of shots:

The last thing I’ll mention this week is that I’ve noticed is how Samantha has been picking up on not only on our mannerisms, but on tactics for navigating the waters of everyday interpersonal relationships. I’ve written before about how she seems to have a natural sense of guile, but this is a little bit beyond that. For example, one tactic I’ve learned to employ against Sam’s growing stubbornness is to ask her if she wants to do something I know she likes, then tell her that she can’t do it until she does what I want. So if she’s being obstinate about brushing her teeth, I’ll ask her what she wants for breakfast, then when she answers (“a waffle!”) I’ll tell her that she can have it after she brushes. You know, even though that had been the plan all along. Basic Manipulation Through Perceived Empowerment 101, really. We psychologists take to this kind of thing easily.

Sam, though, has decided to model this kind of manipulation, or at least try to. The other night, after a full day of play, I was tired and wanted to sit and check my e-mail. Sam wanted to play “grocery store,” though, which would have involved lots of running around the basement with her toy grocery cart and pretending to unload, scan, and bag her little plastic groceries while she chanted “two pounds of cow meat, please” or “two pounds of ice cream, please” (groceries only come in two pound allotments in Samland, apparently).

So I decided to try Misdirection, another basic parenting technique, in an attempt to get her to forget about grocery shopping. “Sam,” I said, “Can you name the cars in the Cars movie we saw today? This usually works, because like a lot of kids her age Samantha is compulsive about naming things.

“Daddy?” she said, putting a hand on my arm.

“Yes, Sam?”

“Do you like to play your guitar song?”

I gave her a queer look. That’s her name for Guitar Hero. I had just bought the sequel, Guitar Hero II, earlier in the week and had been rocking out whenever I got a chance. “Yeah,” I replied after a moment.

She pulled on my arm. “You can play your guitar song after we go grocery shopping. Come on!”

I laughed and we went grocery shopping –like five times, actually. And while I never did get to check my e-mail or play Guitar Hero II, I didn’t really mind.

Sam’s Story: Week 145

To celebrate the end of the “able to go outside” season here in the Midwest, we all went out earlier this week to this kind of miniature railroad where all the trains were fun-sized. Unfortunately the fun was kind of fun-sized, too. The idea is that you can take a ride on these little steam powered, hand crafted trains, chugging along the rails through the beautiful fall foliage. That was the theory, anyway.

Our first mistake, I think, was to get there late in the day, for the last ride on the last train on the last day of the season. The lines were long, and rather than send everyone home the conductors decided to just keep adding cars to the train. There was some big long delay while they brought out “Ole Number Five” out of the yard and I imagine here a grizzled veteran of a train who has a heart of gold and crippling arthritis. This involved much backing up, scooting forward, and blasting of steam while twenty guys in overalls and handlebar mustaches stood around and said “Yup…” to each other. I should have known by their pitying looks that we were in for it.

By the time we actually hit the tracks for our farewell voyage it was almost night –thanks, Daylight Savings Time, you’re a champ. The subsequent blackness made it kind of hard to appreciate the wonders of nature, but we still had the experience of plodding along in an honest to goodness steam engine. Sam seemed to love it. For a few minutes, anyway.

It seems that the guys running the train thought that he laws of physics had been repealed in their jurisdiction, though, because once we hit a seven degrees incline the force of the little engine that couldn’t became inadequate to keep us going. We stopped, in the pitch dark, in the middle of nowhere.

It’s amazing how dark and how quiet things can be just a few miles outside the city, and given this I fully expected that when our conductor turned around he’d be wearing a hockey mask. Only he’d take it off and it would actually be a BEAR. A HUNGRY bear. A hungry bear WHACKED OUT ON DRUGS. He wasn’t, though he was also not very helpful, as we stayed stranded there while they brought in a bigger engine and I wondered why they hadn’t just used that one in the first place.

I mentioned this to Geralyn, who just kind of shrugged and said “Well, we’re all gonna die.”

“Yep,” I said. “Looks that way.”

“Yep,” Sammy echoed as she clambered down from the train and tried to bolt off into the darkness.

We spent another half hour sitting there on an absurdly tiny train waiting for rescue. The funny thing was that we probably could have just gotten out of the thing and walked back pretty easily. I even offered to have Sam get out and push, but no. We were told that we had to stay there in the rapidly cooling night air and wait until they could split up the trains into two smaller trains that could be pulled back. Cold aside, though, Sam actually seemed to enjoy it. Wonders of being a kid, I guess. They find everything cool.

This week was Halloween, too, which I talked a bit about last week. Sam wore her second costume on the actual holiday, though, and made a pretty good Minnie Mouse. Sam totally got into the trick-or-treating this year, dragging us to nearly every house in our neighborhood. She’d clomp up to the house, wail on the door and shout “HappyHalloweenTrickorTreatOkayThankYou!” as soon as someone opened it. She made a huge haul of candy, which we’ve been putting to excellent use as bribes for good behavior.

As you can see in the picture above, we also carved a pumpkin earlier this year. I fully expected Sam to go wild for the “pulling the pumpkin guts out” part of the activity, but she stuck her hand down into the gourd’s slimy cavity once, pulled out a fist full of goo and seeds, and promptly announced “I DON’T LIKE THIS!” before jumping off my lap to run to the bathroom sink. It took some coaxing to get her to come closer to the table again, but eventually she decided that she could participate with the aid of a spoon. My daughter the neat freak.

Interestingly enough, her proclivity for tidiness seems to conveniently vanish the second you put a beater full of cookie dough in her hand.

Sam’s Story: Week 144

It is, of course, almost Halloween. What was once perhaps the most bitchin’ of holidays became, as I got older, utterly trite has once again become totally awesometacular again simply because we now have a child. Sam is finally getting old enough that we can dress her up, and unlike before, she can actually enjoy it. This we had two costumes again, the first of which we strapped her into so that I could take her to this little kiddie party at the local community center. I give you Purple Fairy Girl:

Sam was totally stoked to go to this thing, and since Ger was at a yoga class that night I got to take Sam by myself. It was mostly little games and crafts that were done in exchange for fun-sized candy bars. I guess when you’re two years old a rousing game of “Drop the Bean Bag in the Bucket Right There In Front of You” really pushes your nascent dexterity to the limit.

They also had one of those inflatable structures that you can jump around in, kind of like a trampoline only marginally less dangerous. Sam was initially dubious of this gas-filled behemoth, but when she eventually asked to try it, I took off her shoes and tossed her in there. There was a big sign on the side of the thing that very clearly said “WARNING: ONLY TWO CHILDREN AT A TIME” but that really didn’t stop parents from just flinging kids in there by the dozen. Soon the laughing, undulating mass of costumed kiddies was so thick so as to preclude any sense of safety. I saw Sam totally clobber no less than three kids before I could get her out of there.

The other Halloween related activity for the weekend was a visit to a farm owned by, inexplicably, a major dog food manufacturer. There were, of course, dogs and dog food to be seen. But there was also a hay ride and a haunted house that Sam seemed to enjoy. Some stuff in the latter scared Sam or utterly confused her, forcing me scoop her up let her bury her face in my neck while I hurried her towards the exit, but she actually asked to go through it twice. My daughter the fear junkie.

On the whole, though, I have to say that Sam is an easy going kid –sometimes a bizarrely easy going kid. She rarely throws fits and follows our shrill advice about staying away from hyenas most of the time. Still, she’s entered into the years where this part of her nature has to compete with the forces of basic biology and childhood development that help her push back on the world and learn to get through parts of it on her own.

Take the other night, for example. Ger was out and I was one-on-one with Sammy, having just gotten her out of the bath and trying to get her ready for bed. Sam wasn’t exactly going with the flow, probably thanks to the Halloween sweets she’d snarfed just an hour earlier. When Sam is in such a mood she’s apt to bellow “I’M NOT COOPERATING!” and then proceed to illustrate her point in every way she can come up with. Think Ghandi, but more aggravating and not quite as motivated by concern for her fellow man. I had managed to get her dried off, diapered, and half of her pajamas thrust over her flailing torso, but when I tried to put on her pants she broke away from me and bolted for the bathroom.

“I want to brush my teeth first!” she said, scrambling up her stepstool and reaching for the toothbrush that had been prepared with a healthy dollop of unnaturally blue gel.

“Sammy, come on. Put your pants on,” I protested. “This is the drill. You know the drill. Respect the drill!”

“Nooooo! I want to brush my teeth first!”

For what seemed a long time we stopped there, locking eyes with each other. She in the bathroom with her toothbrush, cocked and ready to be jammed into her mouth, and me crouching on the bedroom holding a pair of pink pajama bottoms at the ready. We were like two substantially ridiculous cowboys, all tensed up and facing off, but with stuffed animals as our audience instead of good townspeople.

“Samantha,” I said, using her full name and that certain tone, just the way my mother had always done with me, “put on your jammy bottoms first.”

“No,” she said, locking eyes with me and leaning closer to the glistening toothbrush.

A lot flashed through my mind at this point. This had nothing to do with Sam’s love of dental hygiene and everything to do with a power play. She was deliberately pushing the limit and testing my authority just to see if she could get away with it. And I, in turn, was faced with a parenting problem that could not be solved by simply loving her, keeping her away from hyenas, or doing anything else that was obviously in her best interest. If I wanted her to accept my role as an authority figure in her life, I would stop her, punish her, and force her to do it my way. Such respect and deferment could serve quite well in keeping her safe and passing along my values to her as we go on in life.

But on the other hand, I want my daughter to eventually learn to push back on authority when it’s warranted. I want her to rely on her own judgment and instincts instead of always just rolling over and doing or thinking what she’s told. Sure, she’s not even three yet, but what if those foundations are laid early? If that were the right call, I’d let her brush away and put on the rest of her jammies whenever she darn well felt like it.

But I was stuck. I didn’t know which was the right thing to do, so we just stood there for a few more seconds, looking at each other and waiting for the other to make the first move.

I decided to compromise just as Sam decided to call the question. She thrust the toothbrush into her maw and started brushing vigorously as I sprang forward with the pink jammy bottoms. I didn’t stop her from brushing, but I grappled with her kicking legs to put on the pants while she squawked protests through gobs of blue foam. I heard the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in my head as we did this. A minute later she was completely dressed and rinsing out the last of the toothpaste. It had turned out to be, in fact, a lot more efficient that way than doing the two activities separately and Sam didn’t seem to hold any kind of grudge.

“Come on, Sam,” I said, turning off the bathroom light. “Pick out three books and I’ll read them to you.”

“Maybe,” she said as she trailed after me, “you’ll read me FOUR books.”

And so it goes.

Sam’s Story: Week 143

I’m not normally the kind of father to pay a lot of attention to milestones relative to other children, but I do tend to notice when Sam starts or stops doing things. Recently she’s made great leaps in her communication skills, what with her ability to imagine conditional situations (“I could watch a DVD if we didn’t need to go [out to run errands].”) or outcomes (“I can go outside after Mommy finishes dinner. Are finished now, Mommy? Are you finished now?”). She’s even starting to properly enunciate her F and S sounds. Sometimes, though, we still have a failure to communicate.

Take the other night, for example. All three of us were in the playroom, I on the floor with Sam and Ger sitting nearby doing some virtual errands on the computer. Sam had her Winnie The Pooh Megablocks out and was busily snapping them together. Her favorite piece of the set is a little swing that you can snap characters into, but she sometimes has trouble working it by herself. After a moment of arranging Tigger, Piglet, and their comrades, Sam looked at me and said “I think poo needs to come out.”

Now, we’re still hoping to get Sam potty trained by the time the new baby arrives, so this is exactly the kind of statement that will make me jump to action. I leaped up and held out my hand. “Oh, thank you for telling me. Let’s go to the bathroom!”

Sam gave my outstretched hand an annoyed look. “Poo needs to come out, Daddy,” she repeated without making a move to get up.

“I know. So let’s go sit on the potty!”

She shook her head. “No! Get poo out!”

My shoulders slumped and I just stood there, looking down at her. “Sammy, we have to go to the bathroom to get it out.”

“No, here!” she said, thumping the floor with her palm.

“Sammy, if you want to get the poo out–“

“You get it out!” she shouted. She was starting to get pissed.

“Me? I don’t need to go!”

“I think,” Geralyn broke in with the voice of well formed reason, “that she wants you to get Winnie the Pooh out of the swing.” She pointed to the piece of the Winnie the Bear Megablocks, which had the titular bear firmly set in the swing where little hands often had trouble dislodging it.

“Ooooh, get the Pooh out.”

“Yeah,” said Sam, looking at me like I was the Chief Engineer on the express train to Stupidville. “Get it out.”

Here’s a few pictures.

Nothing too exciting up there, as we spent most of our weekend shopping for furniture. Which, by the way, is something I recommend you not do with a toddler. Not only did Sam want to sit in every chair we saw, but she insisted on molesting every breakable nicknack the store had set out on its displays. I tried to adapt to the danger by trying to play the “Do you see something red?” game, but that just propelled her into the act of trying to break red things, which seemed to be even more expensive.

Speaking of expensive, Ger’s prenatal yoga instructor seems like a very nice lady from all I’ve heard, but she’s a bit dippy. Ger was telling me how at her last class the instructor was reminding everyone that her “natural childbirth pain management” class still had slots open. Like all of them. For just $160, she could coach you and your partner on how to employ “body centered hypnosis, in which imagery and suggestion guide the pregnant mother through the journey of labor and birth.” The flyer she handed out further promised to help you “integrate the coping skills necessary for dealing with pain.”

Now, no offense to those who choose to practice more natural childbirth, but Geralyn isn’t one of you and she doesn’t need this class for $160. She already knows all the coping mechanisms related to very naturally and organically using her facial muscles and larynx to say “I want an epidural.” When she went into labor with Sam it was like the first thing Ger said, even to the receptionist at the information desk in the hospital lobby. She then calmly repeated this hypnotic mantra over and over again until men came and threaded a flexible catheter into her spinal cord and injected a steady trickle of medicine.

The best part of the whole flyer, though is that it promises to give you “a tape of the hypnosis exercise” to play during labor. A TAPE. I mean, woah that’s too high tech. If it’s not on a metal cylindar that I can take it back to my drawing room and insert into my hand-cranked gramophone, it’s beyond me. This is 2006, after all.

Sam’s Story: Week 142

Why do I even keep sponges around? They’re like little time bombs of bacteria thanks to the way we diligently moisten them and then cram them into some small, warm drawer for days on end so that they can breed new forms of life. The other night Sam cheerfully smeared some cheese spread on the carpet, so I retrieved one of these microbe magnets from the kitchen to wipe up the stain. Sam saw what I was doing and insisted on trying it out for herself, so I gave her the sponge and let her go to town. It WAS her mess, after all. Of course, I look away for like one second and then turn back to her to find that she’d crammed half the thing in her mouth and was sitting there with the other half jutting out of her smiling face like a diseased yellow tongue. Worse, she was actually sucking on it.

I, of course, shrieked like a little girl and snatched the thing out of her mouth. But sure enough like an hour later her nostrils are leaking and she’s hacking like a cat with a particularly distasteful hairball. These things worked fast. So for the last few days Sam has had a nose made red and sore by all the running and blowing. This has in turn put her in a perpetually bad mood and caused exchanges like this:

“I want raspberry drink, Daddy.”

“Okay, let me get your cup out of–“


Apparently she wanted me to lunge over to the fridge, yank out the pitcher, and pour it down her throat, but that would have caused a stain on the carpet and alas irony is lost on most two-year olds.

Here, at least, are some pictures of her in better moods:

There’s several shots of Sam at another pumpkin patch which I got to attend this time (hooray, weekends). I’ve often worried about becoming one of those “baby people” that look forward to doing things like the pumpkin patch and enjoying life by using their kids as a proxy, but I gotta tell you: it doesn’t bother me now. I have a blast just by soaking up the excess joy she radiates when riding a tractor or getting a new toy that fires bits of molded plastic into the air at dangerous velocities. I couldn’t imagine life without it now.

But I guess it cuts both ways. This shot was particularly nerve wracking, but as they say, sometimes you gotta just let your children go and watch them scale a massive mountain of hay bails. Amazingly, though, Sam went right to it without any hesitation or fear. I just stood at the base, cringing and making a mental note about what still scares Sam (bugs, loud noises) and what does not (heights, sponges).

There’s also this snapshot where Sam learns to use chopsticks, mainly to stab sugar packets wail on the table like a Tommy Lee having an epileptic fit. Sam’s routine in restaurants, Chinese or otherwise, is actually pretty established. She knows the drill, such that we get exchanges like this:

“Hi, folks, my name is Chad and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Can I start you off with–“

“I want macaroni! And cheese! And lemonade! Please!”

I then apologize to the waiter, explaining that she pretty much treats us the same way and that he should totally read my blog.