The Interpreter

Over the last couple of months the girl has really started speaking a lot.  Now whether what she says is understandable depends on if you're me, the wife, the parent of an almost 2-year old, or anybody else.  Those of you who fall into the first three categories have a fighting chance.  Anybody else would probably have better luck understanding the clicks and clacks of the Kalahari Bushmen (go rent The Gods Must Be Crazy if you haven't seen it).  Even for the wife and me it's usually pretty difficult to comprehend what she's saying the first time she says a word or phrase.  It's only after asking her several times "What?" or "Excuse me?" that we get it.  And we often must have her point to what she's talking about (if applicable).  Lately I've felt like we are speaking in tongues and live in the Tower of Babel.  You can call me Nimrod.

What we really need around here to decipher what the girl says is a baby-talk version of the German Enigma machine (it's probably a safe bet to say that Google is already working on such a device).  A tool like that would be useful to us because, in addition to speaking like her mouth is full of animal crackers (which is often the case), the girl has a slight lisp (which by the way is very cute) and understandably can't yet pronounce all the letters of the alphabet.  So the "k" sound becomes a "t" sound and the word "book" is "boot", "cookie" is "tootie", "milk" is "milt", and "Corn Pops" become "Torn Pops".  And hilariously "Okay!" becomes "Otay!", which every time she says it makes me think of Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat character (yes, another Eddie Murphy SNL reference).  Another one she can't pronounce is the "g" sound, which becomes a "d" sound.  So "Goldbug" is now "Doldbud".

Compounding our miscommunication is the fact that the girl sometimes omits the first syllables from words or even skips entire words at the beginning of phrases.  For example, "oatmeal" becomes "meal" and "again" becomes "dain".  Her favorite show, The Backyardigans, is "Dens".  The book we currently read 17 times per day is Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.  Our friend Doldbud is hidden somewhere on every page, similar to Waldo in the Where's Waldo books.  So when trying to locate him and asking where he is, the girl says "Doldbud, are you?".

One word that nobody has trouble understanding her say is "no", or more often "NO!".  And recently "no" has morphed into "no way".  Last night we had a friend spend the night at the house.  The hope is that one day our basement will contain a guest room, but since it's still unfinished the girl's room currently doubles as our guest room.  When people stay with us, the girl gets the boot and sleeps in her Pack 'N Play in the TV room while the guest or guests sleep in her crib (actually we have a double bed in there).  In the past this has never really been an issue.  We go through our usual bedtime routine and the girl sleeps just fine.  For some reason she would have none of it last night.  When it was time to hit the hay, the girl refused to lay down and repeated "No way!" over and over and over.  The wife and I tried all of the usual tricks - singing songs, giving her more milk, playing the "Pointing Game" in which we mention an object in the room and the girl points to it.  Nothing worked.  I even tried responding with "Way!" a la Wayne and Garth, but the girl was not amused.  Eventually she calmed down and went to sleep (after we moved her back into her own room and relegated our guest to the couch in the TV room), but then she woke up and 2:00 a.m. and I sat with her for another 45 minutes of "No way!"s before she went down for the rest of the night.

The word games are all very cute but can sometimes be frustrating, even more so for the girl when she's really trying to tell us something.  But I know this won't last forever, so for now I'm just enjoying it.  She probably won't even want to talk to me in a few years.  As for those of you who should engage her in conversation over the next few months, if you can remember the key points from above, you may actually have a shot at understanding the girl.  Otherwise bring your Enigma machine.


Most people are familiar with European countries' penchant for brewing and drinking beer.  According to the New York Times, a southeast Asian country is now a formidable beer-drinker's travel destination.  Surprisingly (at least to me), that country is Vietnam.  This article highlights the history of beer in Vietnam and lists some of the brews available there.  Particularly intriguing is the bia hoi ("fresh beer"), which the article states is unpasteurized and unpreserved and normally drank the same day that it's produced.  Interestingly, it's often sucked down first thing in the morning before, the locals say, the flavor begins to decline.  And how about this - a pint costs less than a quarter!  Sounds like a trip to Hanoi is in order.

Đũ má mày!

The Profanity

Several nights ago the wife claimed that she heard the girl say "damn" or "damn it" and gave me a scowl implying the girl picked up this term from her beloved father.  Why when kids do something wrong is it always the dad's fault?!  So what if it's the dad who spends 90 percent of the time with them and influences most of what they do?  In our case, the wife has been a bit stressed at work of late and curse words broadcast from her mouth for one reason or another on a not infrequent basis.  I contend that if the girl were to learn colorful new language from me, it would be much more crude.  I'll admit I have been known to let loose with a barrage of obscenities while driving, particularly when another %*&$#@ driver pisses me off (which happens all the time).  Among other unwritten rules of the road, nobody in Minnesota understands the concept of slow drivers keeping to the right and fast drivers passing on the left.

Other instances in which I also may let slip a curse word are while viewing Michigan State football or basketball games on television (you try watching them without getting incredibly frustrated and angry!).  However, I really try to not swear around the kids.  Kids repeat things, and profane kids might be funny in the movies but not so much when you're in line at Home Depot (I may have once said something while searching for the wife and the boy may have repeated it - I plead the 5th).  I will admit that since watching the movie A Christmas Story in December, I have been quoting one of my favorite lines bellowed by the father.  I just think it's hilarious and it cracks me up every time.  If the girl has caught on, I'll take the blame.

Back when both the wife and I were working and before we left Minneapolis, we had a nanny who watched the kids during the day.  She had raised 3 kids of her own as well as operated a home daycare for many years.  So she was much more practiced than me at using faux expletives.  I almost died laughing one day when playing Yahtzee with the boy and he yelled "THUNDERBUGS!!" after a poor roll of the dice.  I asked him where he learned that word and he responded that the nanny had taught him.  Unfortunately every time I remember to say "Fiddlesticks!" or "Fudge!" or "Gosh darn it!", it's already too late.

At least when writing this blog, I have the advantage of being able to put down my thoughts and then proofread and edit before posting the final versions.  So despite sometimes initially using language that's a bit colorful, the end product should generally be pretty clean.  I've found that's not the case with the blog written by Julie of Julie & Julia movie fame.  If you haven't seen it, she's a woman who set out to cook everything in the first edition of Julia Child's book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in only one year.  In the movie, Julie is disappointed that her idol Julia is not a fan and does not appreciate her culinary efforts.  I had heard that was the case in real life as well, and after reading some of the blog I can understand why, as Julie drops F-bombs left and right - not very lady-like.  She has quite the potty mouth.  I'm guessing that at one time she was employed as either a prison guard or a fisherman on a Russian whaling vessel.


With the Olympics upon us, I'm reminded of my final year of college when one of my roommates and I participated in a kind of Olympics ourselves, only our "competition" had to do with beer.  With about a month and a half remaining in our undergraduate careers, we made a pact to try to visit all of the bars in East Lansing that we had never before patronized.  After having gone out several nights in a row, we upped the ante and decided to see how many consecutive nights we could go to a different watering hole, new or not (apparently neither of us had very taxing course loads that last semester).  After hitting the random, lesser-known bars we had never set foot in, we moved on to MSU mainstays such as Rick's, Landshark, The Riv, etc.  And 40 days and umpteen gallons of beer later, we graduated.  To this day I'm very proud of that effort and count it as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, ranking right behind winning the 4th grade spelling bee and leading my squirt hockey league in scoring when I was 10 years old.

The "1993 Graduation Bar Tour" as we called it was no small feat.  It spanned the Easter holiday, and we both kept up the circuit in our home towns for a couple of days, returning to campus late on Easter Sunday and stopping by Bilbo's for a couple to keep the streak alive.  Looking back, I probably had as much fun during those 40 days as I did the entire rest of that school year.  Or at least I think I did - I don't remember much about it.  One thing is certain, my GI tract would not recover until well into 1994.


The Negotiations

We never thought we'd have to stoop to such levels, but often in order to get the boy to do certain things that the wife and I request, we must haggle and strike deals.  Instances in which these negotiations occur include meal time, toy pick-up time, and homework time.  For example, it has been well documented that the boy has a very limited palate and only eats about 10 different kinds of food.  The wife and I do our best to get him to try new things.  And it's not like we're offering up fish heads and chicken livers.  We simply want him to eat a hamburger or a piece of chicken (not in nugget form) or any fruit or vegetable not called a banana or carrot (incredibly he does eat those).  So we constantly try to entice the boy to try something new or finish his meal with the promise of a "treat" upon completion of the tasting or meal eating.  Treats include cookies, fruit snacks (FYI, these are NOT fruit, but they do contain 100% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C), a piece of chocolate, etc.  After the first treat is consumed, a request for a second one is undoubtedly made and generally denied.

Similar covenants are made between us and the boy for other reasons:
"Pick up these books and toys and then you can watch Max & Ruby."
"Do your reading and then you can go to Friend X's house."
"Get ready for your bath and then we'll play Uno."
"Shovel the driveway and I won't make you sleep in the garage tonight."
Without striking these deals, the requests still get done (the wife and I are the bosses after all), but their completion is often preceded by bouts of whining, pouting, and general pissyness.  While the boy might appear to be a perfect angel to those of you in different area codes, that's not always the case.  The thing is, he seems to be impeccably behaved in school, at friends' houses, and with his grandparents as well as other people.  He only acts like this with the wife and me.  I have no idea where he gets it (his mother), but lord knows I never gave my parents a hard time when I was growing up!

Now you folks without kids are probably thinking to yourselves, "Why don't you just lay down the hammer?  Tell the boy he'll have to shape up or ship out."  Yes, that's the natural reaction of people who don't have children, as well as those who do have children and are better parents than us.  My wife and I used to have similar thoughts before the arrival of the kids, particularly after witnessing our friends "deal" with their children.  During one visit with friends whose obnoxious kids were out of control, we stifled smiles, winked, and just knew that our future parenting skills would be far superior.  HA!!  We're now wheeling and dealing on a daily basis.  I feel more corrupt than the Afghan government.

I've been pondering (other than bribery) ways to address the situation.  I've tried threatening the boy by saying that I won't take him to school unless he finishes breakfast, but that doesn't seem to have any effect.  Lately I've contemplated constructing a rack in the basement.  You know what a rack is - one of those medieval torture devices frequently seen in movies with knights and castles and dungeons.  The rack is used by the racker to slowly stretch the rackee, in this case the boy, until his behavior improves or his appendages are pulled off, whichever occurs first.  After a few behavior modification sessions, I figure that even if his attitude isn't improved, he'll at least be several inches taller.  That should be greatly appreciated on his part since his chances of being tall are not good having myself and the wife as his parents.

If anyone out there has suggestions on dealing with this phenomenon (short of the infliction of excruciating pain), please let me know.


A friend recently posted on Facebook a link to this article about beer being good for your bones and helping to prevent diseases such as osteoporosis.  The article goes on to say that light beers provide the least benefit while those with higher levels of malted barley and hops are the best.  Hallelujah!  That's further justification (in addition to the abject lack of flavor) for me to drop light beer altogether.

This news comes at the perfect time as this Saturday the August Schell Brewing Company is hosting its annual Bockfest.  What a perfect opportunity to drink some bone-preserving Schell's Bock beer, which I just learned contains "10 different types of malt and noble hops".  Sounds good to me.  Now I just need an excuse to get out of the house for several hours on Saturday afternoon (and probably a ride home too).


The Shows

For shorts periods during the day I allow the girl to watch television.  As with the boy when he was younger, the wife and I don't want her sitting in front of the TV all day, but we think an occasional show or 2 (or 4 or 6 on a bad day) won't hurt and are probably even educational depending on the programs.  At her age the girl enjoys pretty much constant interaction with me, either through reading books, playing games, eating meals, or doing Sudoku puzzles, you name it.  So the TV serves as a sort of surrogate dad at times and allows me to get things done, such as preparing meals, cleaning the house, working on this blog, or catching up on back issues of National Enquirer and Better Homes and Gardens magazines.

I can tell you that television programming options today blow away the shows I was able to watch as a toddler.  If memory serves me correctly, I believe my TV staples back in the early 70s were Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mister Rogers, and Columbo.  These days there are too many to keep track of, including the PBS shows (the aforementioned Sesame Street, which just started its 40th season; Clifford; Curious George; Super Why; etc.), as well as a ton of them on Nickelodeon/Nick Jr. (Dora the Explorer; The Backyardigans; Ni Hao, Kai-Lan; Wonder Pets!; Max & Ruby; etc., etc.).  Other channels that broadcast children's content include the Cartoon Network, The Disney Channel, Discovery Kids, and Boom.  I thinks it's Boom that has a lot of the older cartoons like Hong Kong Phooey, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Speed Buggy, etc.  Despite the variety of options available, I have yet to find Looney Tunes or The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour on any channel.  That's probably a good thing, because if I did, I have a feeling the girl and I would be glued to the TV all day, 1 or 2 show limit be damned.

The girl's favorite shows at the moment seem to be Max & Ruby and Ni Hao, Kai-Lan.  When I ask if she would like to watch one of them when they happen to be on, she replies with an emphatic "YAY!!" and nods her head furiously up and down.  On the other hand, she appears to be growing a bit tired of Dora and simply says "yep" with an air of indifference when I suggest that she watches the world-traveling, bilingual, do-gooder and her sidekick monkey Boots.  While I sometimes watch with her, it doesn't really matter to me which show she prefers as long as it's not Wonder Pets!, which I despise beyond belief.  I'd just like to squash those cutesy, cuddly little schoolhouse pets and never hear from/about them again.  Particulary the baby chick Ming Ming with her awful lisp and fake Chinese accent.  Boy that show annoys me.  I'm starting to get irritated just thinking about it.

The wife and I are big fans of chef/author/travel guy Anthony Bourdain.  He has a young daughter himself and last year wrote in his blog about the Nick Jr. (formerly Noggin) programs that she watches.  It's a hilarious summary, and I generally agree with his opinions on the various shows.  So to save myself from having to type out my thoughts here, I'll simply refer you to Mr. Bourdain's sentiments.  One show I do want to mention is a new one called Team Umizoomi.  Yes, it is as bad as the name suggests.  I've only seen one episode and didn't really pay attention, but it appears to follow the Wonder Pets! template (I'll go as far as to say that it's worse than Wonder Pets!) and involves two sickeningly-delightful tiny superheros and their pet robot who fly around solving math problems.  I'm all for kids learning math, but the girl will have to pursue other opportunities to attain her addition and subtraction skills.  Team Umizoomi will not sully our television screen.


The light beer experiment is over after one beer.  I bought a six of Rock Green Light (Rolling Rock's light beer) and had one with dinner a couple nights ago.  It was not good.  Let's see - low on calories, check; low on carbs, check; low on flavor, double check.  I think this is the stuff that the Germans, Belgians, and Irish are referring to when they tell jokes about watered-down, tasteless American beer.  Despite any enthusiasm I may have relayed last week when launching the weight loss adventure, I just cannot do it.  I will not do it.  I refuse to drink light beer.  It provides no satisfaction - kind of like eating pizza without the cheese.  This "revelation" really isn't much of a surprise to me.  Having previously drank Michelob Ultra once or twice, I was immediately skeptical of my plan.  However I thought I had to a least give it a shot.  But what I've learned (again) is that good beer is not low in carbs or calories.  I'll just have to limit my consumption and enjoy the good stuff.  The eating better and working out more regimen continues.