Week 170: TV, Medicine, and Giggles

This will be a short update, since I spent a good chunk of the week (including the weekend) in New York City for the annual SIOP convention. More on that later.

One thing I can say, though, is that Sam seems to have developed quite an imagination. This had been a source of some anxiety on my part, as I always worried about overdosing Sam on television and irradiating any germ of creativity that might have otherwise blossomed within her. Instead, Sam seems to have taken her limited (well, usually limited) television viewing time as a starting point for her free-form play. After seeing an episode of Curious George where the eponymous monkey breaks a leg and goes to the doctor’s, Sam took an abbreviated version of the Hippocratic Oath and appointed herself the caretaker of a ward full of ailing stuffed animals and other assorted household objects. It’s really fun watching her play and seeing what direction she’ll take things given a blank slate and a little inspiration. They usually involve my “talking to” (i.e., talking for) the various animals and other objects, cataloging their maladies and thanking her for the swift treatment delivered by means of Sam’s wiggling finger and, for some reason, little swishing noises. Modern medicine is so amazing.

Mandy is also doing great, and has picked up one awesome new trick: she laughs. She’s been making delighted huffing and cooing sounds for quite some time now, but for the first time this week when I laughed at something while she was sitting nearby she looked at me and erupted into a tittering giggle. We both kind of stopped short and straightened up, surprised by what had happened. She tried it again, tentatively, and decided that she liked it. It’s now quickly becoming one of her standard tools for communication, which I think will serve her pretty well throughout life.

Week 169: Talks, Illness, and Changes

It’s amazing that after more than three years, I’m still shocked by how quickly Sam can lurch forward along her developmental path, displaying new tricks and quirks. Sometimes it’s nothing demonstrably stupendous, but instead something subtle like the way that talking to her has morphed from a series of staccato question/answer exchanges about Curious George to a flowing conversation complete with pauses, intonations, implied messages, retrieval of previously archived thoughts, and a general exchange of abstract ideas. Also about Curious George, but it’s still qualitatively different than the kind of exchanges I was having with this person just a few weeks ago.

In fact, the kid seems crazy for conversations. One of her favorite things lately is to have me “talk to” her toys. Or even just common objects, like her bath towel or her toothbrush. And by “talk to” she actually means “talk FOR,” because in order to stop the otherwise incessant flow of “Talk to the frog, Daddy, talk to the frog talk to the frog daddy talk to the frog,” requests I have to take the object in question and pretend to make it talk. This cracks Sam up, and she will proceed to have engrossing conversations with the object about eating flies, absorbing bathwater, or removing plaque. When all those parenting books told us to constantly talk to our baby we didn’t quite foresee this kind of mania as the result.

Sometimes, though, Sam reverts to her old self. The other day Sam suddenly came down with a fever. Just the run of the mill childhood malady that’s nothing serious, but which sends the reading on The Samantha Alert System crashing through the floor into previously uncharted territory, specifically somewhere between “Pissed off at Entire World’ and “I Will Kill You All With My Shrieking Shrieks of SEVERE DISPLEASURE.” During these times, Sam just wants to sit there so she can sputter and cry at the world, and any overture of help (say, a hug or a popsicle or neon red goop from a bottle with a child-proof cap) are met with spastic rejection in the form of shoving and renewed shrieking.

It usually doesn’t last long, though, and it didn’t in this case either. During the night Sam’s fever broke. I woke up suddenly around 4:00 a.m. when the part of my brain that I’ve reserved for hearing Sam’s bedroom door open clicked on. It can do this no matter what state of consciousness I am in nor no matter how far away I am. Modern scientists think it has something to do with quantum physics and dark matter, but they’re not sure. I got out of bed and met Sam at the door to my bedroom, dropping to my knees and asking her what was wrong. She just mumbled something ending in “Daddy” and leaned into my chest, wrapping her arms around my neck. I picked her up, carried her back down the dark hall, and put her back in her bed. She settled in, mumbled something else that this time ended in “you can go now,” and closed her eyes. Those are the quiet moments, the best moments, that make the more shriek-filled tirades and never ending conversations with toothbrushes worth it.

Mandy is also doing well, and again I’m shocked almost every time I look at her. I can set her down and turn away to look for the remote, then when I look back at her she’s completely changed. I think she has started to grow into her baby fat a bit, so that she’s still not quite as chunky as she used to be. She’s also really started grabbing things and pulling them towards her mouth. She seems to favor her index and middle fingers, which she periodically grabs with her other hand and crams into her maw or, if her aim is bad, her nostrils. Oddly enough, getting them in her mouth never seems to be as satisfying as she thought it would be, because she spends the rest of her time slurping and emitting sharp grunts of extreme annoyance. But it entertains her, so I’m not about to stop it.

As far as pictures go this week there’s not a whole lot. I like this one of Mandy, because of the stupendously stunned look on her face after putting her in the bouncie swingie thingie. I also like this one of Sam for some reason, probably for the lighting and because the expression on her face really encapsulates a good part of her personality. The other part is captured right here, which is the part that constantly shouts “Hey! Excuse me! Excuse me! Everyone look at me now! Excuse me! Hey!”

Photo of the Week: Broken Heart

Broken Heart

I’m actually not very happy with the way this turned out. The lights were too strong and blew out the highlights on the tops of the hearts. I should try it again without the two billion watt fluorescent lights. On the other hand, the new bulbs I used were rated at 6400K daylight color temperature, and they resulted in a nice white light instead of the yellowish cast produced by ordinary household light bulbs.

See the rest of my Flickr photo stream.

Book Review: East of Eden

Having read this book in addition to The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl, I think I’ve read enough of John Steinbeck to count him as one of my favorite authors. Steinbeck supposedly considered East of Eden his most ambitious and epic book, and I have to agree. I didn’t find it as powerful or emotionally rousing as The Grapes of Wrath, but this tale of how two generations of a ranching family walk the path between good and evil was still really, really good.

Like many of his other works, East of Eden is set in turn of the century (well, not the most recent turn of the century, but the one before that) in agrarian California. The Salinas Valley where most of the novel’s action takes is a pretty blatantly telegraphed metaphor for the fine line between good and evil, with the dark and brooding mountains on one side and the light and fluffy clouds on the other. This kind of lack of subtlety is endemic to the rest of the book, which is essentially a multiple retelling of the story of Caine and Able from the Old Testament: Two brothers each offer sacrifices to God, who favors one and tells the other one that he totally sucks, leading one brother to kill the other and get banished for it. Steinbeck goes to extreme lengths to make sure that YES WE GET IT, this story is a metaphor for THAT story. It even got to the point where I could predict basic plot twists quite accurately and it robbed things a bit of their suspense.

Still, none of that detracted from the sheer quality of Steinbeck’s writing. One thing I’ve noticed that he does better than anyone else I’ve ever read is dialog. The way that Steinbeck writes exchanges between characters is nothing short of beautiful in its elegance and simplicity. His dialog is very straight forward and bereft of the filler that other writers lean on, like “he said angrily” or “she replied cooly.” Steinbeck doesn’t need that stuff, because he skilfully drops in all the necessary clues for how things are being said, either from the content of the dialog itself or with sparse adverbs and descriptions of body language. It’s masterfully done, like an artist somehow creating a complex scene out of nothing but the careful arrangement of a few clean, strong lines.

The rest of the book is equally well done, and I’m glad to have read something that manages to make you think, even if you can see the plot coming. The central concept of free will in choosing good over evil isn’t novel (pardon the pun), but it is neatly wrapped up in an engaging epic story about pioneering ranchers, philosopher servants, and a monstrous sociopath who walks in the skin of a woman. Great stuff, and something I’d recommend to anyone wanting to add something a bit more substantial to their literary diet.

Week 168: Milestones, Shopping, and Impresonations

Of course, one of the neat things about having another baby like Mandy is watching her hit all those milestones again. There’s the big ones, like holding her head up, grabbing things, and grunting at you in an extremely annoyed fashion because you’re not holding her just right. Sam’s milestones seem like they’re getting further and further spread out, but I’ve found that they’re just more subtle and not quite as flashy as they used to be. In the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed these firsts for Sam:

  • Using ordinals, like “the first door, the second door, the third door.” There are, by the way, rhinoceroses behind all of these doors.
  • Using similes, as in “This swing squeaks like a donkey, Daddy.”
  • Throwing a shrieking, hysterical fit because that laser pointer dot that’s zipping towards her looks like “SOME KIND OF RED BUG! BLLEEAAAAAAARRAAAAAA!” Actually, I guess that’s kind of a simile, too.

I’m now going to gently break my self-imposed moratorium on writing about poop to say that Sam has also hit the potty training milestone, which IS a big one. She’s actually been mostly good for quite some time now, but after almost 2 weeks straight without an accident we decided to make the call and take Sam shopping at Toys R Us where she could buy any one toy to celebrate.

I admit, I went into this with some trepidation. Even after slipping in the disclaimer “within reason” (which Geralyn insisted upon after she caught me trying to coach Sam into saying “Xbox 360 Premium System”) I was kind of afraid of what Sam would pick out. The event, though, turned out to be kind of fun. Sam ran into the store and started manhandling all kinds of displays and toys, but she would inevitably say “No, I don’t want this,” and either drop it on the floor or hand it to us, her servants. I held my breath as we passed through the Barbie and Bratz aisles (I think I would have actually refused her if her selection had been too egregious), but it turns out that Sam spent the majority of her time in the so-called “boy’s” section. In fact, the single item that held her twittering attention the longest was a Darth Vader / Mr. Potato Head action figure mashup called “Darth Tater.” Ger and I stood on either side of Sam while she pondered this purchase, me grinning and saying “You can have that if you want, Sammy” and Geralyn frowning and saying “I’m not buying her that thing, Jamie.”

In the end, Sam made a fairly gender neutral selection consisting of a little miniature golf set and a secondary purchase of Thomas the Tank Engine’s buddy Edward using the money Nana had sent her for Easter. I was pleasantly surprised that once Sam decided on what she wanted she gleefully accepted the boundaries placed on the rest of the trip and didn’t ask for anything more, despite the myriad of merchandising ambushes that awaited around every turn. She’s a good kid. And the golf set is neat, but resulted in an almost immediate admonishment about high sticking when she accidentally whacked one of my SLR camera lenses off the table.

Speaking of which, the pictures are kind of bland this week, with the exception of a couple of cute ones of Mandy. I particularly like this one, mainly because her expression makes her look A LOT like my mom. This one of Samantha, on the other hand, makes her look like me.

Week 167: Easter village, egg hunts, and candy

I was kind of excited about Easter coming around, since Sam seemed to be old enough to really get into it this year. And she didn’t disappoint, but a variety of factors conspired to chill our enjoyment a bit. Literally.

First, I was off work for Good Friday so I took Sam to this kind of farm ranch thingie where they were supposed to have an übertastic “Easter Village.” Dreaming of dancing bunnies, jelly bean fountains, and all other manner of elaborate decorations, we drove out to hicksville where this place was and asked at the visitor’s desk for the most direct, pranceable path to this fabulous holiday village. What we found, instead, was a long line of children and parents waiting their turn to duck through a large piece of particle board cut and colored like a giant Easter egg.

Undeterred, I waited about half an hour in line, sitting on Samantha to keep her in place when needed. Because if it was this huge a line, it had to be good. When finally it came our turn to part the veil and enter this Shangri La of springtime festivity it turned out to be a woman holding a chicken. You could pet the chicken, but the woman warned you that it would probably peck you. Hard. Oh, and I think there may have been a couple of inert rabbits and, for some reason, a particularly annoyed looking poodle. I was somewhat disappointed.

Seeking to reverse our fortunes on Saturday morning we all packed up and went to a Easter egg hunt that was being put on at the local university. The main problem here, though, was that the temperature had plummeted to about 35 degrees. And we somehow forgot to bring Sam some gloves. Or a basket to carry her eggs in. As you can see from the pictures, Sam was miserable and teetering on the verge of icy tears every second we were there, but since we had come the whole way we wanted to at least stay for the hunt.

When they finally blew the whistle for Sam’s age group, she and about a hundred thousand other toddlers raced for the field like speculators at a land grab, minus the covered wagons and dysentery. I ran behind Sam, screaming at her to GO GO GET THE EGG! GET IT! GET IT! GET IIIIIITT! Because the sooner she got her eggs, the sooner we could leave. Terrified, Samantha tried to flee from me through the rioting mass of other children, pausing when she could to stoop and retrieve a plastic egg from its hiding place in the middle of plain sight. Since she had no basket and the best substitute we could find was a plastic sandwich bag, Sam would immediately turn and try to hand her eggs to the nearest adults, regardless of if they were me or not. So I chased behind her, snatching the eggs and cramming them into my various coat pockets. After about nine eggs Sam finally broke down and squatted in the middle of the chaos, bawling, hugging her knees, and screaming that she was cold and wanted to go back to the car. This was also the point where I started to feel really bad about the whole morning.

Meanwhile, Ger was off having an adventure of her own. Mandy had chosen this time to release one of the biggest bowel movements of her life from underneath her piles of protective blankets and buntings. Not wanting to change her in the freezing cold, Ger entered the nearest university building and started randomly trying doors, most of which were locked or led to rooms occupied with people presumably uninterested in the dilemma at hand. Unable to find a women’s restroom, Geralyn wheeled the stroller down a darkened hall until until she found a men’s restroom. Apparently the men’s bathrooms at a college aren’t as baby friendly as , say, those at an Applebee’s. So Ger had to change Mandy on the men’s room floor, hoping that no one would wander in. Except, of course, someone did. Fortunately the visitor just shrugged, did his business in the urinal a few feet away, and left.

Saturday afternoon, on the other hand, turned out much better. We had the grandparents and Ger’s godparents over to dye eggs, an activity that deeply fascinated and delighted Sam. After some preliminary experimentation with the little wire “egg plopper” tool, though, she decided to expedite the whole process by just dunking her hands into the cups of dye, which returned the colorful results one might expect.

Sam started Sunday morning with another egg hunt, but this one was inside the cozy confines of our house, where she could get by just wearing her pajamas and Curious George slippers. She enjoyed this one much more, to the point where she doggedly continued the hunt long after we told her flat out that she had found all the eggs.

And find them she did. Sam’s collection of candy made her Halloween haul look meiserly in comparison, mostly because people just kept giving her stuff. She got baskets from me and Ger, including delicious Peeps. She got a basket from Ger’s godparents. She got party favors full of candy from the family gathering on Sunday night, and from the egg dying party at her own house. She got candy from all the eggs she found. And then add on top of all that the fact that Mandy got baskets, too, and like everything else given to Mandy they became Sam’s de facto property. It got to the point that on Monday morning I took about two thirds of the candy with me to share with my co-workers. If Sam notices I’ll just tell her that the Easter Bunny took it back so that he could share it with starving children in China, where candy and brightly colored eggs are outlawed.

So yeah, it was a pretty good Easter on balance. Also, I think we went to church at some point in there. It’s hard to remember.

Search Term Haiku

While looking at my traffic logs to investigate Sam’s Mean Face, I noticed something else amusing. The terms that people use in search engines like Google to find this site often crack me up, mostly for their sublime absurdity. Reading through some of the recent ones, I noticed that many of these terms could be grouped together to form haiku. For those of you in need of a refresher, a haiku (the plural form is also “haiku”) is essentially a form of Japanese poetry consisting of 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. You probably wrote some horrible ones as part of an assignment in your high school Humanities class.

Combing through my old traffic logs for actual 5 and 7 syllable search terms, I quickly assembled the following haiku:

the evil Snugli
alien pops up screaming
rectal catheter

getting dressed for school
orange dork tee shirts
Mr. Noodle underpants

screening applicants
a monkey washing dishes
Christopher Walkin

For Whom the Bell Tolls
what happens in chap nineteen
job analysis

covered in egg food
watching the diaper changes
I’m communism

gigantic clown bong
gradually pixilates
Jenna Bush liver

zombie survival
my evil closet monkey
pissing Ayne Rand off

WoW human warlock
your clothes on inside out
the reverse mullet

Maybe it’s extra funny to me because I can think back and recall exactly which posts each of these terms comes from, but at any rate it cracks me up. If have a blog and care to perpetuate this into some kind of meme, take a look at your traffic logs and try it yourself. It’s surprisingly fun.

Mean Face Meme

So this is kind of weird. I was poking around in my traffic logs today when I noticed that I was getting a number of referrals from search engines for the phrase “mean face.” Curious, I typed it into Google Image Search and was mildly surprised that this picture of Sam was third in the results:

mean face

Edit: Ha! At the moment it’s the FIRST result returned on a Google Image Search.

This kind of boggles my mind, since this image was a throwaway post from back in 2005 and frankly it’s a lousy picture. The post contains the words “mean face” but otherwise I’m not quite sure how some Google-powered robot looked at that image and decided that it was the third most relevant result for someone searching on that term.

But wait, it gets weirder. A little more investigation into traffic logs shows that this image was occasionally being used around the web, mostly in message boards and places like MySpace. The people weren’t talking about Sam, they were just posting what they thought was a funny picture of a toddler showing some attitude. Someone would say something snarky and someone else would post the picture of Sam’s mean face, along with “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” or somesuch.

I know this kind of stuff weirds Geralyn out, but it just strikes me as both odd and fascinating. It’s just the viral spread of a meme, like that fat kid pretending to have a light saber fight or that cat riding an invisible bicycle, but it does seem a little strange to have it come from so close to home. The internets are weird.

Now, if I can just figure out why Google is also sending me people looking for information on “goldfish teeth” I’ll be satisfied.

Week 166: Studios, Death, and Resurrection

This has been one of those weeks where none of the pictures I took really turned out that good. Mandy still doesn’t do much worth photographing, and Sam has developed a strange new antagonism towards the whole picture taking process …or so I thought. Apparently it’s just me, because only the first four photos in this update were taken by me; the rest –the good ones– were taken by a complete stranger.

Earlier in the week Geralyn had mentioned that she was taking the kids to one of those department store photo studios. I think my exact response to this bit of news was “Mrmpfh,” mainly because we’ve had lackluster experiences with these kinds of places before. As far as I expected, some bored, minimally competent “photographer” would half heatedly wave a threadbare stuffed animal and capture Samantha’s resulting expressions of fear, annoyance, and bamboozlement. We’d get maybe one good shot out of the bunch due to various laws of statistics, but the bizarre packages the studio hoisted on us would require us to buy four hundred wallet-sized shots of Sam looking like she was either extremely constipated or extremely scared or both.

This time, though, apparently the person behind the camera knew what she was doing, because we got a some great shots which I’ve scattered throughout this post. I’m quite pissed at how good some of these look. When I try to take Sam’s picture lately I can rarely get her to unplug her finger from whichever of her head’s various holes she has it jammed in, much less look at the camera and smile. But somehow the photographer at the studio got her to actually pose for shots. Who is this girl? Why isn’t she shouting “I’VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS, DADDY!” and wandering off?

Well, at least I have this picture of Mandy, which makes me laugh because when I look at it I can’t help imagining her saying “The Queen is not amused!” in a snooty, falsetto voice.

And speaking of unamusing, this whole parenting thing has gotten more advanced lately. During the impromptu backyard gathering I wrote about last week, some of the kids brought up the cheerful subject of death. Because, you know, it’s a popular topic among kids. The three year old girl from next door piped up that her dog and her grandpa were both dead, apparently listing them in order of importance. The kids seemed to want to impress me with their knowledge of this fact of life, but I just put my hands in my pockets, hummed, and stared at the sky. It worked, because they eventually stopped saying things to me.

Apparently Sam brought up the topic again with Geralyn, who was caught a bit off guard. Bowing to her lack of intimate, first-hand experience with the event, Ger decided to keep the explanation truthful but simple, saying that when someone died it meant that they went away and you never ever got to see them again. This seemed to satiate Sam’s curiosity for all things morbid and macabre, and she let it go.

For a while. The other day I was reading Sam one of the Easter books we had dug out of storage. When I got to the part that talked about how Jesus died, Sam straightened up and squawked, “That means he went away and nobody ever saw him again!” She then smiled like this was the greatest thing ever.

“Well,” I said, “That’s normally true. But Christians believe that Jesus was the only one to ever come back.”

She blinked at me, giving me a slightly annoyed look. “When you die that means that nobody ever sees you again, Daddy.”

“Right, but Jesus was–“

“NOBODY SAW HIM AGAIN! Turn the page.”

And so it was. My daughter the skeptic, rewriting thousands of years of religious teachings with a spastic flick of her hand. And just in time for Easter.