Thursday, July 24, 2008

Potty talk

With the relative success of the recent adventures in potty training, there's been a lot of focus lately on the toilet, going to the bathroom, underwear and the like. Dear Alex has lately taken great delight in one story in particular, which has become a staple at bedtime, or actually anytime Dear Alex wants to talk about it: "Tell me about the loud loud potty." Now, I wasn't an eyewitness, Beautiful Wife had that particular joy, but it goes something like this:
"Alex had to go to the bathroom, and the secret quiet potty* was out of order. Brave Alex went to the loud potty with mommy and tried to go. A lady in the next stall got up, and the toilet flushed because it was an automatic toilet. Dear Alex got scared and jumped up and her toilet flushed, which scared Alex even more, because it was an automatic toilet too. But mommy was there to hold her and it was okay, and Dear Alex was so brave that we went to the restaurant and Alex got to have a special treat - She got Dibs!**"
For what it's worth, I'm paraphrasing this just a little bit, because as the story gets told and retold, new details emerge and it gets styled differently. The point here is really that there are things that stick in her mind to the point of mild obsession, which we talk out and talk about until she decides it's time to move on. I am sort of fascinated by this story, it's vividness and her passion for it. ( not to mention the humor in the compound-flush startle reaction) It had occurred to me earlier in the process of potty training that aside from her natural gifts, Dear Alex did have an odd fear of public toilets, those that she was not familiar with.
When she was still a real baby I had the happy occasion to change her many times in some less than nice bathrooms in stores and restaurants, and all went pretty well. That all changed one day when we happened to be at a Target store in Middletown, NY, which for some reason had the loudest automatic toilets (they flushed with a bang and a roar) and the bathroom also featured the loudest hand-dryers (you know, slap the button, hot air comes out) that sounded a little like jets spooling up for takeoff. Once again, I wasn't in the bathroom that time, (thank you, BW) but I heard her screaming from across the store. It kind of spooked her, and me too.
There are things that you do for your kid to protect them, to keep them safe and happy. That stuff is important. Then there are things that you can't really do anything about, and that really aren't that important - Dear Alex's fear of the occasional loud potty or dryer in a public bathroom (while certainly understandable) is something that she's really going to have to get over. I'm thinking about starting a campaign to take her to every public restroom, everywhere we go, hoping to desensitize her to what's really out there in the real world. In the meantime, the girl has definitely learned to hold it and pretty much refuses to go anyplace that's not home. She's still talking about the loud loud potty, and I'm all for it - we'll work this out together and move on to her next fascination.

*At the public beach near our house on the lake there's a clubhouse - it has a few bathroom options. The quiet, secret bathroom was closed, so they had to go to the "Ladies" - which, like the "Mens" is equipped with those toilets that flush automatically, if you so much as twitch in front of them. Startling, sometimes, even if you expect it.

** Crispy crunchy chocolate-coated ice cream treat, the Dear Alex suddenly loves. I'm half convinced that her joy in the retelling of this story is that it always ends with her getting the afore-mentioned treat.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Home at last.

Beautiful Wife returned from Vancouver late on Wednesday night, and got to be the one that greeted Dear Alex first on Thursday morning. Beautiful and nice to see how happy she was to see mommy again. After all of my concerns about the not missing, and not feeling the absence - she certainly felt the reunion. There's been a bit of a love fest between the two of them going on for the last few days, to the point that I sometimes want to say "would you two cut it out?" I'm not jealous, or feeling left out - I certainly had my time with the kid, and it's really gratifying to see how attached and loving Dear Alex can be. She's grown so much over the past few weeks, and I'm deeply feeling the love, and a great deal of pride at her accomplishments. There's something that Beautiful Wife said to Dear Alex a while back that stuck - and Dear Alex has begun repeating on the occassion of a hug or a moment of closeness - "No matter how big I get, I will always be mommy's baby." It's a true and beautiful thing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Brand Baby

The motorcycle in question, in better days.

A few nights ago, as part of our usual goodnight ritual, where Dear Alex and I talk about our respective days as an interlude before sleepy-time, we got to talking about my weekend, when I left Dear Alex with Grammy and George, to do some business of my own. I told Dear Alex that I had to move one of daddy's old motorcycles from the city to the country, and that it was now in the basement of our house in the country. "just like my tricycle?" yes, just like that. ( her tricycle is indeed in the basement) "can I see it?" Of course. "We'll see it in the country" I said. "What motorcycle? Can I see it?" Dear Alex asked. Oh, she wanted to see a picture of the motorcycle in question. Being the guy that I am, I had that picture, and shared it with Dear Alex - after a moment, she pointed to a small point on the gas tank, and asked "What's this?" She'd pointed out the emblem on the side of the tank of daddy's old motorcycle, the BMW roundel - "That's on Grammy's car!" What's that?" I said It's a logo. "What is it?" It means that this company made this thing. "Low-go?" "It's on Grammy's car, and your old mowterrcycle?" Now, she's really interested. "Can I see it?" I tell her that yes, she can see it, it's right there in the picture, but that my motorcycle is old and very different from Grammy's car, they just happened to have the same logo. "Low-go, like Grammy's car?" We looked at the picture for a while, and Dear Alex asked to see the "low-go" again, and once again, being the guy that I am, I just happened to have one ( literally) lying around the house - a spare to replace the old ones, should the restoration of aforementioned "old motorcycle" get that far. I took it into her room and showed it to her, with the picture - "Yes! That's it!" She held it for a while and the read the letters - "B-M-W" (she knows her letters) What's that word?" It's not a word, it's a name, a brand, a company the makes things like cars and motorcycles and things like that.
"Daddy's red-seat motorcycle has B-M-W!" ( I have an newer R-1100RS, black, with a red seat - weird color combination, but that's BMW)
The logo is right on the side of the tank, prominent in the pictures that she's seen. It completely astonished me that she'd ever noticed any of this, any of these things - Dear Alex likes the blue and white, and enjoyed my explanation of what it represented - the arc of a propeller - "Like on an airplane!" Something that she's seen pictures of, and she's proud to read the letters - B-M-W. "It's a low-go!" I can't predict what her future brand-preferences will be, but it's almost a sure bet that she'll be positively pre-disposed to the BMW brand. This has nothing to do with anything but her astonishing associative abilities, and an amazing awareness of the world around her - who knew that she was paying attention? As a graphic designer and part-time semiotician, I'm fascinated by her attachment to this mark, and can only wonder how it will develop. It occurs to me that I could simply stick my spare roundels to her tricycle, and she'd be very happy, and never know the difference. It'd probably make her insane with joy, knowing that she had BMW like daddy and Grammy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Random and delightfully surreal picture from the archives of a visit to MoMA -
I love the space and the color. Dear Alex loved it too.

Tomorrow night Beautiful Wife returns, and not a moment to soon. It's been a strange week without her, with many distractions, and lots of travel and diversions, mostly to keep me busy and to keep Dear Alex entertained. That's usually really easy, as she doesn't need all that much to entertain herself. But today felt like the longest day - we sort of jumped the gun on talking about mommy's return, and Dear Alex lost patience with the waiting. This afternoon, she had a meltdown of magnificent proportions, threw a tantrum at the dinner table, and generaly gave me a picture of what the terrible-twos must be like. We've been very lucky. Though Dear Alex has her moments, she's generally been really sweet and reasonable (an odd word to use for an almost-three-year-old, but she really is) but today she wasn't. Enough said. We got through the storms, and managed to have a very nice evening, with a long hot shower for Dear Alex, and a few Thomas the Tank Engine books and a hug - a deep, long soul-nourishing hug on the rocking chair in her room. Peace. We had a quiet goodnight, and Dear Alex passed out without tears.
I've looked forward to (and written about) the joy of Dear Alex being able to express what's bothering her, and being able to talk things through, but she's not quite there yet, and she really wanted BW tonight. Nothing I could do about that but give her a hug and reassure her that mommy will be home soon. It'll make all the difference in the world.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Me and my shadow

At the request of Beautiful Wife - a nearly impossible-to-find picture of Dear Alex and daddy together - I'm usually the one taking the pictures, so I'm never in them.

Dear Alex and cousin E, playing in the sprinkler. Astonishing fun.

At home today in an outfit of her own choosing. "...A is for Alex..."
Note the pink rain boots.

I had a long weekend this weekend - it started on Thursday, and went right through Monday. I drove out to the East End of Long Island so that I could drop Dear Alex off with Grammy and George, then on to the house in Pennsylvania to get some things done without the distraction of taking care of the kid - I did a lot of driving. As I finally got there, I realized that I missed Dear Alex and Beautiful Wife. It's funny how much has changed in me, and how weird it was to realize how attached I've become to both of them. It's one thing for BW to be away - we've been there before, but not having Dear Alex with me felt somehow wrong. I've gotten so used to having her around, a constant companion on my journeys. I called Grammy and George a few times, inquiring about Dear Alex and whether she missed me - No, actually she hadn't really noticed I was gone was the answer. It's the same thing with Beautiful Wife - Dear Alex has mentioned her a few times, and she called for mommy once when she got a little boo-boo (she skinned her knee again), but there's no sense of missing or sadness at our absence. One one hand, this is a good thing - Dear Alex takes things as they come, enjoys herself and accepts our comings and goings as a matter of course. On the other hand you want to say "but don't you miss me?" "I feed you and clothe you and change your stinky diapers in the middle of the night, for crying out loud..." "I miss you." Actually, it's really okay - I don't think that she's internalized the abstract notions of love and loss, and she correctly assumes that we'll return. As I've said before, Dear Alex has a certain equanimity.
My Saturday was an interesting one, and a trip down memory lane as I went into the city from Pennsylvania with a friend with a pickup to retrieve an artifact from a chapter in my life that has closed, a motorcycle that I've had for years - that was last registered and run in 2000.
It appalls me that I let it go for so long, and I'm determined to restore it to some shade of it's former glory, but that's something for another time.
Sunday I drove back to the East End, to collect my lovely daughter - my return barely registered. No running to daddy with open arms, just a sweet and welcome "Hi daddy". We had some fun playing in the spray from a lawn sprinkler with cousin Eliza, both little girls were wary of the sprinkler at first, but they soon got that it was a fun thing, and there are few greater delights than watching two little girls giggling like mad and running wild in wet green grass on a hot summer day. It's pretty easy to understand why Dear Alex didn't miss me all that much - she had so many other things to see and do that there wasn't time or bandwidth to process my absence... I'm still thinking about it, though, and still writing about it.
Today, we got it together and got in the car and drove back to the city - Dear Alex didn't really want to go, but she accepted the fact that the weekend was over, and we had to go see Nanny J. - That's how I got her moving. When it came time to get in the car, Dear Alex would not let me put her in a diaper for the ride home. She wanted to wear underwear. No more diapers. I'm thinking about the potential for disaster - the L.I.E.. Traffic. No place to pull over. Dear Alex wailing in the back seat. I had a very tense drive. Guess what? No accident. She held it the whole way, and let me know as soon as we got home that she had to go "pee-pee NOW!".
It's occurred to me that Beautiful Wife will return (in two days or so) to a very different child than when she left - Dear Alex no longer sucks her thumb, is completely potty trained, and for some reason has begun talking a blue streak. She's always been verbal, but for the last few days, she's been talking non-stop. It may be that I'm thinking about it because Dear Alex didn't nap on our trip back to to the city - she chatted. About anything and everything, sometimes to / with me, in her very non-linear style (it takes a while to figure out what she's talking about and where the conversation is going..) and sometimes to Bunny, and sometimes to herself. The kid didn't shut up. She talked about everything from anchors and blimps to zippers. Entertaining for a while, then a little annoying. I turned on the radio (talk radio - WNYC) and she kept on talking. I really believe that there was something about giving up the thumb and mastering the toilet that's given Dear Alex a new confidence in herself. Though she doesn't have the words to express it, I think she's really proud to have left babyhood behind. As she constantly reminds me, she's a big girl now.
Tonight, Dear Alex had the longest shower ever - it's odd to think that not so long ago we bathed her in a tub from Ikea. She wanted to shower by herself, so we did - I set it up, she undressed, climbed in and stood there for almost 45 minutes talking constantly about anything and everything while I sat on her little bathroom stool and read "What to Expect - the Toddler Years", trying to find some reference to what it means when kids don't miss their parents when their parents go away... On the other hand, Dear Alex did ask me to tell her about my day - "the day you went away", so I guess she did notice after all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tiny Pirate

The Tiny Pirate with a peanut butter and jelly eye patch. Arrgh!

It makes me smile just typing it. Tiny Pirate. Tiny Pirate. It's one of those funny little things that Dear Alex says every once in a while, just to make herself laugh, or to make me laugh. It's a pretty random thing, and I never know what will make her do it, but every once in a while Dear Alex just blurts out "Arrgh, Tiny Pirate!" I know where the "Arrgh" came from, (and who doesn't like to talk like a pirate now and then?) but I really don't know where she got "tiny pirate" but it's funny. Usually, it involves her covering one eye with something - could be anything, a piece of tissue, her hand, or even half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's the eye patch. "Arrgh, Tiny Pirate!" I've tried to add a little more to her repertoire, but "scurvy landlubbers" and "ahoy matey" just didn't stick. The best she can do is "Arrgh, Tiny Pirate! Ahoy maybe!" I wonder what she'd make of "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum." She's a funny little girl, and I love her improvisation and the randomness of her little pirate moments. Arrgh!


Lunchtime photo of Dear Alex today - happy girl talking about the "blimp" she saw floating over the city. "it's a balloon! a balloon! a blimp BLIMP!" Completely unrelated to the post, but just amazing that she has a word for what she was seeing. Who taught her that?

...Another day closer to Beautiful Wife's return, and a long strange day for daddy and Dear Alex. We started the day on a grace note - a hangover from our chat the night before, with Dear Alex nothing but sweet and happy as I came into her room to answer that first morning cry. Out of the sodden night-time diaper, and into underwear (!) without a fight. After a few minutes, Dear Alex suggested that she might like to go to the bathroom, and did so without incident. She's getting to be quite good, and I love that if you ask her if she wants a little privacy, she'll say yes - then pee immediately as you leave the room. Much easier than waiting, waiting and suggesting that "it's coming"... good stuff, this potty thing, but we may be taking it too far. It's a potty all the time. A few days ago, Dear Alex was running around the house with one of the many soft toddler toilet seats we've recently accumulated on her head, and I was thinking that she was just about right - potty on the brain. But it works, and it's been amazing to see the difference in her, psychologically speaking. There really is a change, a certain understanding of responsibility that's engendered by suddenly being mostly in command of your bodily functions. I can honestly see a difference in her self-confidence and attitude. She feels like a "big girl" now, and is (mostly) acting like one.

Of course, the other thing from last night that wasn't really resolved came back - that fear (I'm pretty sure) of swim class. She dreaded it all day, decided that she'd much rather take a nice nap in her crib, or have another lunch, or go for a walk or do anything but go to swim class. Dear Alex was so distraught and had worked herself up to the point that as we got to the pool and her into her bathing suit, she threw up (yeah, threw up) all over Dear nanny J. Awful. Stinky. I took Dear Alex into the bathroom to clean up (and go to the potty), and let Nanny J clean herself up, and all was right with the world. Dear Alex had a great time in the water, blew bubbles, went under water, and didn't want to stop at the end. Baffling. Why does she dread something that she enjoys so much? This little quirk is a small thing, but it confirms to me that there's still a lot that I don't know about the mind of this child, and much that I don't know about how she really feels about things. I can't wait until she has the language to explain what she's feeling, and I'm confident that she will.

A little follow-up to the BLIMP! thing: As we were stuck in traffic on the L.I.E. We saw the blimp again, which excited Dear Alex trememdously. She loved that it seemed to be there for her today - a large and freindly giant following her through her day. "Hello blimp!"

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

C is for calm*

Dear Alex having a moment on the floor. Like the weather the mood changed, but it was that kind of day.

Dear Alex enjoying a well-deserved pre-bedtime snack. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best, if you don't squeeze them too hard.

Dear Alex and daddy playing with the computer"s "cramera"

... As in the relative calm that follows a storm - today was like that, with changeable weather, cloudy skies, sun, a threatened thunderstorm and a little rain. The weather seemed to perfectly mirror Dear Alex's day - an emotional rollercoaster of a day, with periods of sun and a little hard rain. Dear Alex did not have an easy bed time tonight, but it eventually ended with calm, and lessons all-around. I tried putting her in her crib at the (slowly slipping later and later) usual time of 8: 30 or so, after a fun time of having a snack, going to the potty, (twice! high-fives and stickers all around!) and attempting to take a decent picture of Dear Alex and daddy together for Beautiful Wife. Thank you, iSight. We lost a little time on that because Dear Alex was absolutely fascinated by watching herself in almost real-time on daddy's computer screen. She made some pretty funny faces, and tried to play a game of hiding herself from the camera to see if she was still there, by ducking or bobbing from side to side and looking to see if she was still on the screen. Hard to describe, but I got what was going on instantly - there's a little bit of a camera lag that she noticed, and she was playing with it. Cool.
We had the usual chase around the apartment when it was time to switch from underwear (another accident-free day! I'm so darn excited!) to a diaper for the night, and get the PJ's on and the hands and face washed from the peanut butter and jelly sandwich she had for a snack. Easy goodnight stuff, then the meltdown. As I put her in the crib, Dear Alex began screaming. Nothing specific, just about everything: I want a hug! (gave a hug) I want a cup of milk! (gave a cup of milk) Change my diaper! I made a poopie! (changed diaper - not wet, nothing in it) I don't want my PJ's anymore! (I'm losing interest in this game) My knee hurts! (definitely not interested in this game anymore) I'm hungry! (we just finished cleaning the last of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich you had for a snack off of your sticky little fingers...)
Okay, it was time to pick Dear Alex up and have a conversation in the rocking chair - I kind of wanted to calm her down, get a big hug, and figure out what was really bothering her. It was the right thing to do. We ended up having a great conversation about a lot of things, a stream-of-conciousness dissertation that you can only get from a verbal 2.75 year-old. We talked about fear - something was definitely bothering her - she was afraid of automatic toilets, and loud things in bathrooms. Dear Alex definitely doesn't like loud noises, especially when she's trying to concentrate on peeing. Next up was a diversion to ladybugs, which she likes, but also sort of fears - not sure why, but she also kept repeating that it's silly to be afraid of ladybugs and that "ladybugs like Alex". She also repeated something that I say to her whenever she wants to see a ladybug, which I love - "you don't find ladybugs, ladybugs find you." (have you ever tried looking for a ladybug?) And she told me about the time there was a "ladybug on her finger and she put the ladybug down so it could go home." Dear Alex remembers everything. It's kind of scary. Our conversation moved on to the subject of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I guess she sort of likes, but has a hard time eating - I told her that maybe if she didn't squeeze the sandwich so hard, the peanut butter and jelly wouldn't ooze out all over everything, and it wouldn't fall apart. "oooh" says Dear Alex. We talked about being scared of things a little more, about going to the potty at swim class (we're getting warmer) and about crying about going to swim class (aha!) I can't for the life of me figure out what's going on with the swim class thing. Dear Alex loves the water, she loves to swim, and she has a weird attachment to her swim instructors, (oh, that's a story for another day) But the truth is, it makes her cry. I can't possibly say what she's afraid of or why, and neither can she - but at least we talked about it. Once Dear Alex was calm and cozy after our almost-hour on the chair, she gave me a big hug, and simply said, "I miss mommy." So do I.
We went to her crib, said a quiet goodnight, and all was right with the world. No more tears. Sometimes all you can do is listen and talk and hold on tight. Tonight was one of those nights.

* I know that I should be beyond stupid things like A...B...C.. as an excuse to get me into a post, but it seemed to fit somehow, and I'm battling a serious case of writer's block, so whatever it takes...I'd rather write than not.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

B is for Beautiful

Beautiful Wife and Dear Alex on one of our previously undocumented trips to Coney Island.
Dear Alex isn't so sure about the train ride she's about to take with mommy.

Dear Alex picture from today, as she's telling me about going to Canada.

Another picture from today, just a smile for BW.

... As in Beautiful Wife and of course Dear Alex. BW is once again out shooting in Vancouver - still my favorite city, the place of that real western light and wonder that makes it feel like anything is possible, which of course, is absolutely true - anyplace. I think that Dear Alex has the key, and I'm definitely hoping to follow her lead - because in the curious and imaginative mind of a nearly-three-year-old, anything really is possible. Today she decided to ride her tricycle to Canada to see mommy, and she took her bunny friends (There's a growing collection of bunnies, and her relationships with them is kind of fascinating - but that's for another time.) along, talking to them and instructing them to "be careful" and "watch out" and "hurry up", all things we say automatically to Dear Alex a hundred times in the course of a day. It's a great and instructive thing to watch her learn and play freely without the constraints of reality, but also to see her think about things as well. Before her trip we went to the large map on the wall so that I could show her exactly where mommy was, that little dot on the upper left corner - and Dear Alex was where the little dot a little lower on the right corner is. "Okay let's go!" Fun. Silly. Beautiful. I wish that it were so easy.
I dug out a box of pictures from our time in Vancouver so that Dear Alex could see the place we were talking about, and I looked again in wonder at our selves from a time before there was even a thought of a lil'screamie. Looking back, it occurs to me that anything really is possible, that I could find such a beautiful and wonderful woman and have such a life is a testament to that.
Today, Dear Alex was a joy - sweet and funny and imaginative and all over me as it sinks in that mommy really isn't coming home tonight or tomorrow. I'll take the hugs, of course, because I miss BW and there's nothing in the world like an Alex hug. We had a perfect potty day again today (note to self - you really know you're a dad when this matters...) and a goodnight/bedtime without tears. Wow, anything really is possible.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A is for Alex

...And Dear Alex is amazing. That's been a running comment for me for a very long time, and I don't suppose that it's unique. Every father, every parent, must feel this amazing pride as their kid learns something new, does something new, or simply moves forward along the path from little savage to civilized human being - and so it is with me and my child. Dear Alex and Beautiful Wife and myself take great pride in the "potty charts" that grace the refrigerators in our home and our home away from home. The sheer delight of Dear Alex for another sticker or star or smiley face for a successful bathroom attempt makes me smile for her for her pride at succeeding at something that we as adults simply take for granted. Good job Alex!