Archive for the ‘Personal favorites’ Category

The melodious sounds of a newborn … NOT

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Originally published in September 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

The stupidest dream has entertained me for the last week or so. I imagine that my 3-week-old daughter can talk, and we have this conversation:

“Father,” she says courteously in a melodious voice, “I fear I have grown hungry again. Would you please ask Mother if she wouldn’t mind nursing me awhile? I’d approach her myself, but not being able to crawl and all, it might take me some time to catch up to her.”

“I’d be delighted,” I answer. “However, your mother is preoccupied with her daily shower just now. Might you wait a few minutes for her to finish?”

“Oh, no trouble at all,” she says. “In fact, I hate to be such a bother to begin with. Please don’t interrupt Mother until she’s dried her hair and eaten brunch.”

“Thank you. In the meantime, could you use a fresh diaper?”

“Well, I’m embarrassed to confess it, but as long as you’re asking, I COULD do with a fresh Huggie. Do you have time to accommodate me?”

“No trouble,” I answer.

We both smile as the dream ends, and then I wonder why I am now pleased with the “talking baby” fantasy I find so irritating in movies or commercials.

It probably has something to do with the way many of my real-world interactions with my new daughter go.


“- Lisa! -“


“- get AWAY from me, Effie -” (Directed to our dog, whose sensitive ears probably jangle much more than mine when the baby cries.)


Geez. Holding a baked potato fresh off a 500-degree grill is less challenging than struggling with a shrieking infant in your arms.

A baby won’t be reasoned with or tolerate a delay while you wash your hands. Once she’s started crying because she’s hungry or because she needs her diaper changed or because she needs to burp or because whatever (good luck figuring it out), she won’t let up until two minutes after she gets it.

When I told my wife it baffled me that the little ones who need us so much make a noise that drives us crazy, Lisa said they do it so we’ll put food in their mouths as quickly as possible in order to quiet them down.

How awful is it that this is what I have to say about the new little miracle in our family?

I’ve been a father close to six years, which means I still have plenty to learn about parenting (who doesn’t?). One thing I know for sure about myself, at least, is that the kids have exasperated me most when they’re smallest.

This probably doesn’t say much good about me, especially when one considers all the extra demands motherhood has piled on my wife.

When was the last time Lisa got a full night’s uninterrupted sleep? A full night without having to deal with some kind of issue with one of our daughters?

Years. No kidding.

Fortunately, our baby isn’t always crying. Sometimes she sleeps.

And sometimes she’s just neat, which reminds me of all the things I like about kids. Sometimes she sits quietly in someone’s lap and looks around. The lamps, the trees, the furniture, her big sisters … it’s all new to her and she’s curious about it. That’s fun.

Sometimes she shows us she’s already learning, such as when she recently reached up to take hold of a bottle while she was being fed.

And sometimes, already, I look at her and know I don’t get to keep her forever.

Sometimes it’s a bad idea to pretend you’re a cat

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Originally published in August 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Every single day, the beautiful, intelligent, energetic little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl sharing our roof proves she’s an expert at making Daddy pound his forehead against the fireplace. She’s even better at this than her mommy, even though our girl only just turned 3.

One of the many things I’ve learned from my daughters is any parent who speaks only of the joys of children is probably leaving something out.

Our 3-year-old, the younger of the two, likes to pretend she’s a cat. Most of the time I just figure, “OK.” Sometimes I play along, rubbing her behind the ears while she purrs (first time we did this, her purring sounded more like blowing raspberries and I had to wipe the spray off my glasses).

But every now and then, she chooses to meow at really bad times. For example, when we’re getting ready to head out the door in a hurry (which we seem to do at least twice every day), it’s in bad form to insist upon meowing her answer when I ask, “Did you go potty?” It’s an even worse idea to drop on all fours and slowly head to the bathroom after I finally drag a “no” out of her.

A few days ago, I looked down at a red spot on my blue shirt – ketchup that dripped from my hamburger – then looked over at the mustard and mayo dotting my daughter’s clothes. And I didn’t much care, because I now accept stains happen.

If you’ve got a little kid at the table and you’re not willing to put up with blotches all over her skin and clothing, then you have to help her out from time to time. You have to reroll burritos before beans flop in her lap. You have to intercept her hand with a napkin before she wipes it on her dress. You have to remind her and remind her and remind her to eat over her plate. You have to create a dam for spilled milk before it flows over the table and onto her.

While doing all this, you’ll spill some of your own food on yourself. If you manage not to, then the stuff on her will get on you when you pick her up later. There’s no getting around it.

Bedtime is the worst. Being a lot like me, our daughter’s sleep requirements are like mine were at her age … which means she doesn’t need much. She gets so interested in other things that she usually takes about a minute short of forever to drop off every night.

My wife and I will sit in the living room, passing time while we wait for our girl to finish singing, chatting with her dolls, reciting the poem her big sister made up (“I have a little pony, Her name is Little Grey, I bought her at the barbershop, And now I go away”) or begging us to refill her water cup.

Every night, I think I’ll be able to work on a model kit or start the next great American novel after our child gets to sleep, and every night I run out of energy before she does.
Yeah, this stuff gets old.

But man, what’s harder to describe are the things that make the frustrations so worth it. It’s stuff that’s good – great, even – but a lot of people probably wouldn’t get it.

Like over the weekend. We’re working on teaching our girl how to behave at church and she struggles. The reason for the struggle is obvious: Church is boring, she doesn’t want to sit still. I have the same problem.

But one moment – one quiet moment – we looked at each other during the service and her eyebrows went up.

“I’m being good,” she whispered. Sounded like a statement, but it was a question.

I nodded, smiled, whispered, “Yes you are, sweetheart.”

That was all she needed to hear. Her grin was so big it lifted her shoulders to her ears, then she rewarded me with a kiss on the cheek.

So worth it.

Another kid? What were you thinking?

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Originally published in March 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

When you’re in your early 40s and say, “My wife is pregnant,” the first responses you get aren’t the same as the ones you might have heard as recently as your mid-30s.

“Congratulations”? Nope.

“Great news”? Uh-uh.

“About time”? Get outta town.

Instead, the response I heard to the news that Lisa is pregnant – news I started selectively sharing this year around mid-January – usually amounted to, “Is this on purpose?” Which at least wasn’t the snort of laughter I got from one person, or the unabashedly flummoxed/amused wide eyes I saw on another.

Isn’t it interesting that even when dealing with someone as socially withdrawn as me, many people – including some I really don’t know all that well – scarcely think twice about asking such an intensely personal question?

Let’s acknowledge that such responses amount to this: “You’re so freaking old, Todd, and with two kids already, Lisa and you have already made your replacements. What were you thinking?”

Well, to quote some younger fathers-to-be – many of whom were less married to the significant women in their lives than I am – I wasn’t thinking.

At times, I feel like pointing out Tony Randall and James Doohan became fathers when they were twice my age. Then I remember they’re both dead now and hold my tongue.

At least I can look to my favorite literary father figure, Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He’s described in the book as being almost 50, which means I’m in roughly the same ballpark, and unlike Atticus, I get to raise my kids with my wife instead of with a loving maid and opinionated sister.

Heck, just last week I heard someone describe 60 as the “new 40,” which by extension could mean that 40 is the “new 20″ and therefore I’m on the young side of things.

Yeah, I’m just going to keep whispering that to myself over and over. “I’m a young man. I’m a young man.” If I avoid eating pizza after 7 p.m. and make sure to get 10 hours of sleep every night, I even feel young.

Well, maybe not young, but less … mature, maybe?

OK, here’s the simple truth that I know I don’t have to share if I don’t want: This isn’t what we expected. I’m going to be almost 42 when this next little one arrives, which means I’ll be almost 60 when she or he reaches legal adulthood.

So no, we didn’t “plan” it. To be blunt, we didn’t “plan” any of our kids.

When I found out, my own response held considerably more shock than anything I’ve heard from anyone else, and not a whole lot of amusement.

Starting the whole process of raising a third kid – diapers, feedings, bottles, yadda yadda yadda – is intimidating.

For a few days after getting the news, my brain played the opening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” over and over in my head. You know, the part about how he went out for a ride and never went back, Jack.

Having lived more than five years with night lights in every room (so the kids won’t trip if they get up in the night, or so we won’t trip ourselves if we have to rush to them), I keep thinking about how much I miss simple, genuine darkness.

At the same time, the two kids I already have make me so stereotypically happy it’s goofy. People who tell you how great kids are may irritate you by coercing you into looking at endless stacks of boring snapshots of toddlers playing in water, but they’re right about how good it is to be a parent.

God only knows what a third one will bring, but I bet happiness will be a big part of it.

Young reader creates unexpected moment

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Originally published in February 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Thanks to a combination of my wife’s tenacity, a great lesson book and the pupil’s interest, our 5-year-old daughter has a good head start on reading.

She’s even gone beyond the point where she has to sound out every letter; some words are familiar enough that she recognizes them right away, others she’s usually able to figure out pretty quickly – or at least a respectable approximation. Naturally, this delights Lisa and me and we encourage it.

So when she saw a sign as the four of us (two girls, Lisa and me) left a restaurant after lunch recently, she didn’t think twice about trying to read it aloud even though a steady line of strangers was walking past us on the way in.

The first word was familiar: “Happy.” The second wasn’t, but phonetically, she knew it should begin with a “huh” sound, there was an “o” in the middle and an “err” sound at the end.

Speaking loudly and clearly, the way we’ve taught her, she asked, “What’s ‘happy whore’?”

Man, for just a second I was flat shocked. What could inspire my empathetic big girl to use such a harsh word? My eyes jerked around, looking for … something. I wasn’t sure what, but it wouldn’t belong there. What I found was the sign advertising the restaurant’s happy hour, and the most interesting mix of emotions arose.

The strangers filed past, one after the other, on their way inside. Had they heard what had just happened? Did they recognize what an incredible thing it was for a kid not yet in school to get so close to reading something that began with a letter that’s just there for decoration and has that difficult “ou” in the middle?

Of course, what she came up with was kind of a dirty word.

Lisa practically vibrated with suppressed laughter. Chuckles escaped through my nose.

That night we had a brief discussion with our daughter about why she shouldn’t say “whore” even though Mommy and Daddy found it such a funny word.

Really, she can embarrass me like that anytime. I doubt anyone who passed us actually thought I was raising a foul-mouthed 5-year-old and anyone who did can go jump in a lake. It’s nothing like the time I pointed out the great big fat lady who once shared a department store elevator with Mom and me.

Young minds also produce unexpected things when no crowds are around. Sometimes they do it when they’re asleep.

Lisa and I can only guess what was going through our potty-training 2-year-old’s mind when she woke up crying early, early in the morning last week.

As always, Lisa was the one to get our little girl when she woke (no matter how exhausted she is, Lisa can rouse herself at a moment’s notice if the girls need her, while you practically have to pry me off the bed with a spatula). It was obvious right away that this wasn’t a typical discomfort wake-up. Our girl was wailing about something, seriously distressed.

What’s wrong, Lisa asked, what hurts? She kept asking until she figured out the reply mingled with the cries.

“I have to go potty,” our daughter was saying, “and I have a tail!”

Gee, no wonder she was upset.

Funny as it was, it must have been a powerful dream, maybe so strong that she actually still believes she temporarily had a tail. Every night since then, around bedtime, she shakes her head at me and says, “I don’t have a tail.”

No, sweetheart, I say. You don’t have a tail.

Then her big sister reads her a storybook. Sometimes a word comes out wrong, but we don’t worry about that.

The stuff that’s finally funny on a golden anniversary

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Originally published in December 2005, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

For my parents, these are the years of looking back and laughing.

Sue and Joe Powell have lived under the same roof without strangling each other for 50 years this month. They’ve spent all but 11 months of that time as parents, proof that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

Between the three of us, my sisters and I put them through plenty they can be happy to remember even though the actual experiences ranged from harrying to unpleasant.

The best of it would make others laugh too … but I can’t have that stuff getting out. In fact, if my folks wanted to, they could probably fund part of their retirement by blackmailing me into paying them “hush” money over some of the stuff I did when I was young.

But to give them some grins and a couple of eye-rolls for their golden anniversary, I’ll throw out some quick reminders of things they can enjoy knowing they survived:

  • Firecrackers – two of them in the same night! – blowing up in the boy’s hand because he took too long to toss them away.
  • Two daughters getting engaged in their late teens.
  • The camper door stuck closed, a son and two friends trapped inside, desperate to get out. Kicking the door fails to open it but does manage to turn a temporary problem into a permanent one.
  • A boy’s broken bedroom window in a practically brand-new house.
  • The saga of the son’s blue Plymouth Duster. First a vandal throws a hammer through a side window. Then the teen driver loses control of it on a steep, icy road and crumples the door on a late-model Thunderbird’s fender. Miraculously, the T-Bird isn’t damaged. Weeks later, a school bus driver loses control on another steep, icy road and crashes into the Duster, which was parked. So much for the Duster.
  • A camping trip, and a little girl who manages to slide from the tent trailer’s bed and land outside.
  • Dealing with some disgusting illness on virtually every family vacation.
  • Discussions about the injustice of requiring wearing T-shirts and carrying hankies.
  • Battles over hair length.
  • Battles over cough syrup.
  • Report-card shame.
  • Weird-looking friends.
  • Countless runny noses.
  • A trip to the emergency room with the boy who busted his chin on the porch step. The scar on his chin where the stitches were sewn.
  • A trip to emergency room with the boy who woke up with stomach cramps.
  • A trip to the emergency room with the girl who crashed a mo-ped.
  • A trip to the emergency room with the boy who shook a glass Pepsi bottle until it exploded in his face. The scar on his forehead where the stitches were sewn.
  • Karate lessons. Piano lessons. Roller-rink excursions.
  • Fights between the boy and younger girl. Fights between the boy and older girl. Fights between the boy and both girls.
  • Bullies.
  • Tattling.
  • These are also the days of Mom and Dad getting last laughs. Particularly, it seems, with me.

    Mom in particular loves it when I tell her about some irritant involving my girls. She greets my complaints with glee and reminds me that what goes around comes around. I can practically hear her sticking her tongue out at me on the other end of the line when I tell her about my 2-year-old’s continuing inability to master this whole “sleep” thing.

    Yuk it up, Mom and Dad, you’ve earned it. Happy anniversary, I love you both.

I think I’m gonna plook…

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Originally published in May 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

“Plook” is a new word in the Powell family vocabulary, one I first heard about a week and a half ago during my family’s latest bout of illness. The word is the creation of my 2-year-old, who made it up while she was the first of us laid low by stomach flu, and I’ll bet you can guess what she meant when she turned purple and announced, “I’m gonna plook.”

Viruses are the inspiration for so many neat verbs.

Before my first daughter was born in late 2000, the only person I worried about being sick was me. Well … that’s probably not altogether true, it did concern me when my wife caught something, but I’m afraid I regarded Lisa’s illnesses as inconveniences and my own as catastrophic. Ain’t that just like a man?

I didn’t know how lucky I was that it didn’t come up often.

Now I’ve got two little girls and a third on the way (presuming the midwife wasn’t pulling our leg at the ultrasound), and these girls, inconveniently, want to get out and be around other people. Particularly children.

Do you have any idea how many of the kids you cross paths with are carrying nasty, plook-boiling viruses? A LOT. If you see a playground with 15 kids, odds are good four of them are carrying something you don’t want, and they’re happy to share it.

I might get annoyed about it if I didn’t know that my own little angels are occasionally the ones spreading germs like Rain Birds. We don’t take them into crowds of kids when we know they’re sick, but do sometimes find out later they had some crud that was simply waiting for a more inconvenient time to make them plooky. To the children who have picked up some nastiness from our kids, and particularly to their parents, I heartily apologize.

The stomach virus of a week and a half ago hit hard, but in a way it was more considerate than most. It struck our 2-year-old first, on a Thursday.

As she usually does, especially on work nights, Lisa took the lead in caring for our plooky little girl. I suppose I helped … well, I hope I did, but I can’t really remember doing much.

Next day, our little one felt better and she looked skinny. Kids that small have so few reserves. So Lisa and I made the big mistake of letting her eat one of her favorite foods at lunch: hot dogs.

That night, Lisa – 5 1/2 months pregnant – got plooky. Not long afterward our younger girl showed us how wrong it was to feed her hot dogs. I figured my priority had to be taking care of our kids so Lisa could at least be left alone, but I was only moderately successful. When she heard me scrambling around in the middle of the night, working on cleaning up our sweet-tempered, plooky daughter, Lisa got up to help, which was a big relief to me and I feel like a heel for that.

On the bright side, it wasn’t a work night, so I didn’t have to worry about how tired I was going to be when the phone at my desk rang the next day.

The last one to suffer a bout of plookiness was our 5-year-old, on Saturday night after her mother and sister were mostly finished. It was a relatively mild bout. She was pretty much out the other side by Sunday morning, by which time I was looking around at a house littered with cracker crumbs, tissue scraps and laundry.

Considering that mess, I spent awhile fantasizing about burning the place down instead of cleaning it up. As usual, though, Lisa did the bulk of the cleaning. Ain’t that just like a man?

The most glorious thing about this round of plookiness: I didn’t catch it. That probably means the next round of yuck will hit me twice as hard.

Familiarity breeds confusion

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Originally published in November 2005, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

How is it possible that knowing someone so well makes it harder to figure out what to get for her birthday?

Household clutter has been driving my wife up the wall lately – possibly because our walls have more open space than our floors.

All the little things we’ve picked up and brought home over the years have grown into a significant pile. Toys and shoes alone create the most amusing obstacle course between our bedroom and our daughters’ and the closets are so stuffed we rarely get the doors closed.

As a healthy, mobile human being, Lisa enjoys being able to move around the house whenever she pleases and she’s disturbed that she can’t do so without tripping over some obstacle … or bumping her head on one.

That’s fine, I understand the claustrophobic feelings our home can inspire. Still, I remain dedicated to not throwing away anything with the slightest potential for future usefulness or sentimental moments, and we both avoid storing things in our shed because the mice will move in and make an awful mess (eight years of battling these nasty invaders has cured me of the notion that mice are cute).

So now, with Lisa’s birthday approaching, I wonder: What does a surface thinker like me get for the wife who can’t use any more trinkets?

The process of figuring this out should probably begin with reminding myself of the many things I’ve learned about this woman in our years together – 16 of them so far – and trying to recognize what has changed.

I don’t have to close my eyes to remember Lisa as she was in 1989; her light blond hair, her walk, even the clothes that are long gone from her (our) closet come to mind easily because I was paying serious attention to them. I’ve mentally memorialized items she probably doesn’t think about much anymore, such as the dark pink dress that looked great when she wore it and the old record player on which we used to stack vinyl by Nanci Griffith, Cat Stevens and the like.

Her apartments – she had three of them before we married – were sparse. She seldom attached herself to material things and places to sit were at a premium.

That young woman, my Lisa, liked her french fries with an unpalatable dusting of pepper and ached to travel the world. Her smile made my heart race.

The smile (and all the teeth that make it) remain and I still like seeing it, especially when it’s directed at our children. Her hair is still blond but darker, while our daughters’ hair is more like hers was back then. The pink dress and the record player are gone; the records are crammed onto a shelf in our bedroom, still played occasionally. She rarely puts pepper on her fries anymore.

And, as I said, instead of her own apartment with few places to sit, she now lives in a crowded little home, with chairs buried in the rejected bits of a hundred daily art and dress-up projects.

Lisa manages this chaos while taking care of the kids, shopping for groceries and paying bills at the same time, but all too often getting one mess under control means letting three others grow.

My gifts to my wife over the years have ranged from mundane to mildly interesting. Videotapes, music, jewelry, books … plenty of stuff. Some of it I look back on and know, “Yep, I did all right that year.” More often I wish I’d put in a little more thought.

So, what kind of present would she truly enjoy for her birthday this year?
Well, we need a new vacuum…

Halloween shouldn’t be in living – or dead – color

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Originally published in October 2005, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Halloween is best in black and white.

On the screen, the Universal monster movies of the 1920s to 1940s are my favorites; classic creepiness with lots of cobwebs, skulls and shamelessly melodramatic overacting. PG-rated stuff that most kids can share.

The best of these movies include Lon Chaney in the silent “Phantom of the Opera”; Bela Lugosi in “Dracula”; Boris Karloff in “Bride of Frankenstein”; Lon Chaney Jr. in “The Wolf Man”; and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”

Yes, “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” One of the most popular comedy duos of the era in a film built around the best-known beasties of the ’30s and ’40s. It’s more slapstick than the other Universal monster movies, but many of those films (particularly “Bride of Frankenstein”) have a healthy dose of comedy.

Want a really good movie scare? Ignore the jangling, stylishly stupid 1999 remake of “The Haunting” and check out the quieter, creepier 1963 original directed by Robert Wise, who died last month. If you have any imagination, the creak of a bulging door in that film – a door subjected to pressure from some stomping entity on the other side – will have your jaw trembling.

Both versions of “The Haunting” are based on the 1959 novel “The Haunting of Hill House,” which reminds me that the printed page is another great black-and-white way to enjoy Halloween. The book is spooky, populated by fascinating characters and elegantly written by Shirley Jackson. It inspired other authors to create terrific ghost stories, such as Richard Matheson’s “Hell House” and Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

It’s hard to make real life a black-and-white experience, but it happened for me way, way back in my days at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

That year, Halloween started out as a dud even though I lived in a fraternity house. I was too old to trick or treat, too broke to go out to one of the bars and no parties had materialized by midevening. In short, it was boring, and I blame that in part on the color movies some friends and I had chosen to watch on video: “Day of the Dead” and “Cat’s Eye.” Both are decent 1980s horror flicks, but not classic Halloween fare.

Disappointed, I headed off to my room fairly early, not at all tired. One of the Denver stations had programmed a night of classic Universal monster movies, and sure enough, the fun began while the black-and-white picture flickered on my secondhand TV’s screen.

Because that’s when the power went out and the picture blinked off.

For a couple of minutes, things were as quiet as they ever got in that house full of young people. Sitting in the darkness, I cursed my luck, wondering what to do next since I couldn’t even read. Then I heard the laughter of guys and screaming of girls that indicated the true Halloween celebration was on.

The power stayed off long enough to allow all kinds of stupid games involving males showing off and females allowing themselves to be impressed. It was easy to hide in the dark and shout “boo” at girls passing by, so we did. We went to particularly dark corners and begged for help we didn’t need. We pretended we were corpses in the kitchen.

At one point, I looked out a window at a field across the street from the house, and the pale white glow of the moon on that gray field revealed the black shape of one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen: Someone running with a cow toward the campus. I have no idea where that cow came from, nor where it was being taken.

Girls become complicated people in a hurry

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Originally published in October 2005, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Last week, our older girl cried while I read to her. The bedtime book had taken a distressing turn, but she didn’t want me to stop.

The book was “Anne of Green Gables” and we’d finally reached “The Reaper Whose Name is Death.” That’s the second-to-last chapter, when the course of our energetic heroine’s life is dramatically altered by the passing of her adopted father.

Never read the book? Neither had I, and we also hadn’t seen whatever “Green Gables” movies and TV shows there may be, so the century-old story was full of surprises. It charmed us right from the beginning, when Anne Shirley is adopted by the lonely Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, aging siblings who intend to take in a boy to help with chores around the house, but end up with a freckle-faced, flame-haired girl instead.

Matthew – who feels almost immediate affection for 11-year-old Anne at the book’s start – is a quiet, amiable character and my daughter was fond of him. Marilla, on the other hand, is hesitant. She resists taking Anne into their home, then treats her more strictly and stand-offishly than her brother. Even though Marilla soon grows to love Anne every bit as much as Matthew does, my daughter remained suspicious of the character’s harder edge.

So when Matthew’s heart gave out toward the novel’s end, my daughter soaked a cloth while crying.

I was glad I’d scanned ahead and warned her about what was coming – having that chapter hit her by surprise might have kept her up all night – but I still wondered whether I’d made a mistake reading this book at all.

My girl was crying not because she’d been injured, not because she was in trouble for breaking some rule, but because she felt bad that a character in a book had died. How could this be a good thing?

Stopping would make it worse, so I slugged through the chapter and her tears had tapered off by the end. Then she went to the living room, hugged my wife, and we returned to her bedroom to read the book’s final chapter so we could finish the night on a more upbeat note. Toward the end, she was laughing in all the appropriate places.

Wow. You girls sure develop into complex beings in a hurry.

It was just five years ago – five years ago today – that I first saw my older daughter. Like every healthy newborn, she was purple and crying. She’d worked herself into the wrong position in the womb and spent the last part of her development with her legs pointing up instead of down, and for weeks after her birth they continued to point the wrong way. I’d have to hold them down to change her diaper, then they’d spring back up when I let her go and her toes would tickle her ears.

Today, she’s tall for her age and quite thin. She loves her ballet classes, princesses and friends, she’s got a head start on the three R’s and she’s almost endlessly patient with the little sister who functions as a second shadow. She navigates Mommy and Daddy’s inconsistencies with enviable adaptability.

As I recall, weekday repeats of the “Batman” TV series and G.I. Joes were my primary concerns when I was 5. I doubt I would have thought twice about the death of any character in a book; maybe not even a death in real life unless it was someone very close. My focus was squarely on whether I liked what was directly in front of me.

Somehow, despite my continuing shortcomings, I’ve got this blessing of a birthday girl in my home, whose biggest infraction is to continue defying me on one persistent demand: Stop growing up.

Potty training brings rewards you never expected

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Originally published in September 2005, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

For parents, there is a twilight zone of existence between the time of having a baby in the house and having a small child. It’s an unscheduled, undeadlined stretch made up of suspicion and repeated questions, then furious motion followed by deadening boredom. It’s a time that challenges what you call taboo as you reach for milestones you never would have thought mattered.

It’s called potty training.

My wife and I are experiencing the parental part of potty training for the second time in our lives. Our 2-year-old recently decided it was time for us to get serious about this with her, roughly a year after her older sister took the final step of rising at night to go to the bathroom instead of wearing “princess pants” to bed.

“Princess pants,” for those unacquainted with the term (which should be everyone), are Huggies Pull-Ups decorated with Disney princesses such as Cinderella, Jasmine and Belle.

Never heard of Pull-Ups? They’re heavily advertised non-recyclable blessings that were bestowed upon parents in the late 20th century. Basically, Pull-Ups are light-duty disposable diapers that can be put on and taken off like regular pants.

Our 2-year-old wants to do, say and think everything her big sister does, and caught on to the fact that she couldn’t accomplish this without learning how the whole “going to the bathroom” thing works. She let us know she was ready to learn by starting to sit on her pint-sized training potty after she’d finished filling her diaper.

Right concept, wrong execution. Lisa and I were happy to see she was trying, though, because we can finally envision a time when we no longer have to carry a supply of diapers and wipes everywhere we go.

Between nirvana and now, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Going to the bathroom with a potty-training child generally involves five steps:

  • Parental awareness of suspicious behavior (for example, a particularly pink face and half an inch of tongue puffing out between her lips).
  • The question, “Do you need to go potty?”
  • If she says yes, get her to a bathroom as quickly as possible.
  • Await success or failure. This step, which can sometimes take half an hour, is the hardest for a parent. Ever tried to find a comfortable place to settle in a bathroom while keeping a little one company (and preventing her from pulling all the toilet paper off the roll)? It’s SO BORING, but you’ve got to do it or there will be consequences.
  • Heavy praise. If you finish up with success, praise the child for her accomplishment. If it’s a failure, praise her for trying.

This process is hard enough at home. Experience with our older girl showed that it will get more interesting for me when I take the little one away from the house without her mother. No need to get into a lot of details. Let’s just say I went through a lot of pre-moistened wipes doing impromptu bathroom cleanups.

I’m 40 years old; not the oldest father of little ones you’ll meet, but older than many. I wonder, could I have handled this when I was younger and even more selfish?

My parents, my in-laws, my big sister and her husband, they all started having kids in their early 20s. When I was their age, I flew into a rage whenever my cat made a mess digging in the potted plants. Who knows how I would have reacted if I had a potty-training youngster demanding my attention? I might have thrown myself from the balcony of my second-floor apartment.

If age hasn’t mellowed me, then it has at least sapped me of the energy to throw fits.