Finn says lots of things that nobody else can understand without help. Here are a few that I enjoy:

  • Agackle: motorcycle, most often said while inviting me to lie down on my side and provide my arm as a handlebar or while riding me when I’ve agreed to strike that pose. He can say motor and cycle independently and with chronological proximity, but he never puts the two together.
  • Dursh: Fish.
  • Garp: Grape. This is a new one. He first calls them berries, and then when I tell him they’re grapes, he says garp sort of from the back of his mouth. Maybe he’s just a fan of John Irving’s fiction.
  • Abbey: Sometimes his aunt’s name, sometimes his cousin’s name, sometimes “up please.”
  • Dooce: Juice.
  • Holmp. Help.
  • Shoon. Shoes.
  • Atide: Outside.
  • At: Hat.
  • Ath: Ice.
  • Mao mao: This is the sound a cat makes, often substituted for the word cat.
  • Beebow: Baseball. Lately, instead of a snuggly furry animal or blankie, he sleeps with a baseball glove complete with grass-stained old ball from my childhood.
  • Annie: Andy (as in his uncle)
  • Uh Lah Doo: I love you (copycatting).
  • Adone: All done.
  • Nennie: Lennie.
  • Ulla: Ella, or sometimes just “somebody else.”
  • Yedldlow: Yellow, sort of shouted, usually in response to having it sort of yelled out to provoke him to say it. The “dldl” part is a general rattling around of his tongue in his mouth and takes different forms at different times.
  • Bone. Phone.

Although I am an atheist, there’s a whole lot of religious music I really really like, from holy music to old time spirituals to the Statler Brothers (select songs) to Christmas songs. I don’t think I sing a whole lot normally, but get a soaring rendition of O Holy Night going and I find it really hard not to ruin it with my own caterwauling. Lennie got a little kid’s karaoke machine type thing from her granddaddy for our early Christmas gathering, and in anticipation of this, Mleeka had been practicing Christmas songs with her in the week or two preceding our visit. On the drive to Dad’s, we had the music going, and everybody was enjoying it (Finn even does a pretty good Deck the Halls Fa la la la la). At a break after Away in a Manger, Lennie piped up and asked who Little Bo Cheeses was. It was really hard not to laugh (in a “that’s so precious” way), but it also kind of hit me in the face with the fact that she’s getting old enough to begin to be exposed to this whole side of our culture — a very dominant part of it, no less — that we haven’t introduced her to overtly before. We’re not interested in teaching her that the stories in the Bible (and particularly the ones that we take to be supernatural) are all true, but it would be a real disservice to her not to provide at least a fair history and culture lesson.

This turns out to be tricky when you’re trying to do the following things:

  • Provide an unbiased report of what most people in our culture believe to be true
  • Not do too good a sales job when telling her about it (she can figure out what she really thinks when she’s a bit older)
  • Explain why we don’t believe this stuff when, for example, her granddaddy does, without being patronizing or painting Granddaddy in anything but a positive light
  • Accomplish all of this using language and concepts that a four-year-old can understand

So, who’s this Little Bo Cheeses guy and why are people always singing about him? Here’s more or less how we handled it (given in something resembling a monologue).

The name is actually Jesus, and he was this baby that a lot of people believe was very special. Well, not just special, because all babies are kind of special, but it’s almost like he was a magical baby. (Here I get a little uncomfortable because this could very well be construed by an adult as our making sort of a mockery of what people believe about Jesus, when we’re really honestly just trying to find a way to explain it that a little kid can grok.) And so people think this baby is so cool and special and almost magical (really, we didn’t want Lennie to show up at her granddaddy’s asking what’s up with this magical Bo Cheeses because that could really come off as if we’ve been denigrating the belief, and that’s no good way to kick off your Christmas gathering), so they think about him a lot and even write songs about him. Now, we don’t believe the baby Jesus was magical or anything. We think he was just a regular baby, special like all the others. But we grew up with the stories and songs, and the songs are very pretty, so we like to sing them. It’s sort of like the stories we read. Do you think Liza Lou (a story from Mleeka’s childhood that we still read from time to time) is 100% true? But we still enjoy reading it, right?

At some point, I think Lennie asked why Granddaddy believed the stories when we didn’t, and I think we said that it was just the way he’d grown up and that we simply developed different opinions as we got older.

She seemed to sort of understand it, and I think and hope we were pretty sensitive all around (to friends and relatives who are religious, to our own desire not to indoctrinate our kid into religion, to our desire to maintain Lennie’s innocence and openness).

When we got to Dad’s, she pretty quickly found a nativity scene and announced that the baby was Little Bo Cheeses. Over the course of the evening, Mleeka taught her the names of the other figures, and it wasn’t at all traumatic for anybody. She hasn’t recounted the tale to me yet, but I understand she knows the basics of the whole Christmas story now.

It’s kind of a hard line to walk. I do want her to understand the culture she’s rooted in. I don’t want her to get saved or whatever at a young friend’s church before she can really understand what it means. And I’m in fact very iffy on the notion of letting her go to any church while she’s young. But on the other hand, I don’t want to stunt her intellectual and social growth by refusing to expose her to the stories even at a young, impressionable age.

I think for the moment we’ve done well.  I understand that people I value whose beliefs are at odds with mine may recoil at some of what I’ve said here and will think we’ve done anything but well, surely having consigned our daughter to the fires of Hell. Within my own context (which I know those folk would say is irrelevant, for the only context is God’s; which I call out here not in order to argue against or anything but merely to acknowledge that I understand the schism between worldviews and that providing my own context isn’t useful to all), I’ve done what I wanted: I was fair to a belief system I don’t buy; I exposed my daughter to something of a pillar of our culture; I didn’t compromise my own beliefs in any way; and I believe I explained things in a way that was sensitive to the fact that most people around Lennie do believe the Bible to be at least largely true and often literal.

basagna.jpgSometimes your kid says something so cute that even though it’s incorrect in a couple of ways, you can’t bear to correct her. Lennie is a big big fan of sweet potato casserole. I knew she would be the moment I saw her cramming marshmallows into her mouth when helping to layer them in on top of the sweet potato puree. This seemed to her rather lasagna-like, and she has for a long time called lasagna basagna. It’s not that she can’t make the ell sound. It’s simply that this is how she heard it at some point, and it’s how it stuck. On its own, it’s kind of cute and harmless, but when said with glee and repetitively and with “marshmallow” as a prefix, it’s just the best. When she’s 30 and learns that this stuff isn’t actually called marshmallow basagna, I guess she’ll hate me, but it’s a risk that for now I’m willing to take.

It’s my impression that by the time Lennie was Finn’s age, she was already speaking a ton of words, mostly the names of animals from an animal book we’ve also shared with Finn (though probably less often — having two kids is harder than having one, and you wind up short-changing both in lots of ways that make you feel really bad). Finn is turning out to be a little more sluggish with words (it’s pretty common for boys, I believe), but he’s finally started to show an interest in words and other linguistic feats. For example, he’s pretty good for saying “dog” now. He routinely says “mama,” but he tends to use it in a pretty general sense, usually barking it whenever he wants something. After some work with the animal book, he’ll volunteer “neeee” if you ask him what a horse says, and with a little prompting, he’ll do a chicken sound. The most impressive thing at the moment is that he’s picked up “bite, please,” which is what we croon at him when he’s insisting “maMA” and reaching for food. He’s not terribly consistent about it yet, but it’s not uncommon for him to say “bite, please” when he wants food or drink, though it comes out more like “Bobby” with a big pause in the middle.

Not to be outdone by her little brother, Lennie has started reading and writing on a limited basis. She’s been increasingly curious about letters, and we’ve been helping her learn their sounds and doing the old “duh, ahh, guh” drill to show her how to string them together to make words. The other morning, she had written “cat,” and neither of us had explicitly drilled her on that one. When we asked her how she had come up with it, she said that she had just worked it out based on the sounds. I’m not entirely sure I believe her, but it’s certainly not beyond the realm of what’s possible.

She continues to be a good little artist as well, picking up things like perspective without any prompting. The other day, she drew one fish at sort of an angle and some other fish from the side; the sideways ones had only one eye (they were not flounder). This sounds lame and obvious if you don’t have small children, but it’s a pretty neat thing to watch happen.

Well, Finn is an eater now. About a month ago, I wrote that he’d nibble on a carrot if one was offered, but at the time, he still wasn’t very much into eating spooned food. The last couple of weeks have seen a lot of progress on that front. At first, I could jam a spoon of rice cereal into his mouth and he’d sort of gag but keep most of it down. This past weekend, he really turned a corner and started opening up his little bird mouth and even moving his head (like a cobra?) to get to the disgusting purees I offered. So far, his favorites are brown rice with peas (shudder) and sweet potatoes. He’ll eat a medium jar of the former in two meals, which still doesn’t represent too hearty an appetite, but it’s a big step forward. We also have these barley teething biscuits that are, post-teething, the nastiest thing I’ve ever voluntarily touched. They dissolve pretty quickly into a light brown sludge that coats his chest and hands. I’m not terribly squeamish, but even I wince a little to pick one of these slimy things up for him when he drops it. Once we’re through this box, I think we’re switching to Zwieback toast.

Finn is also a full-on crawler now. Mleeka and others wanted to allow that he was crawling long before I would accept his movements as crawling (I mean, c’mon, wallowing and spinning around on your butt to get to things within a 3-foot radius is impressive for a little tyke, but crawling it ain’t). Finally, a couple of weeks ago, he started doing real crawling, and now he gets around without any trouble, often making a bee-line for the cat’s water dish, which he delights in turning over. He also pulls himself up on things and can stand up assisted. This weekend, he woke up and crawled out of our bed and fell to the floor (which is a 3-foot-plus drop). We installed a gate at the top of our stairs and are trying to decide now what to do about his out-of-bed crawling, whether we can think up some sort of preventive measures or whether to see how long it takes him to learn a valuable lesson on his own about depth perception and exploring a bit more carefully.

A brief conversation I had with Lennie while going to the drive-through ATM today:

Lennie: Daddy, the bank is sort of like our house.

Me: How’s that?

Lennie: Well, it has bricks like our house.

Me: Do you think it has beds like our house?

Lennie: Yes, probably so.

Me: Do you think the money sleeps in the beds?

Lennie: No, money does not have mouths or eyes, so it does not sleep in beds.

No, it’s not a misspelling. For a couple of weeks now, we’ve sent Lennie to bed without a pull-up. She had been waking up with a dry pull-up pretty regularly, and then we just ran out of them, so I started dressing her in her most absorbent undies for bed and hoping for the best. She’s had accidents only twice so far, and one of those was a small enough accident that the undies soaked up all the pee anyway. It’s been only in the last few months that we’ve had any consistent success at potty-training, so this is a pretty big deal. She’s been a fully self-guided daytime pottier for a month or two, and now she’s mostly a non-bed-wetter.

Insert inspiring and graceful transition here.

When he was about 5 months old, we tried to introduce some non-boobie-milk food to Finn, mashing up some banana. He was very interested, having been in the habit for a while of watching us intently while we ate and lunging with impressive force and accuracy (and often success) to grab our dinner plates and pull them toward him. He’s like a little savage at the dinner table. But he wasn’t quite ready for solid food yet, and he choked a little and we had the necessary heart attacks and put solidish food of for another month. Last week, I got out a carrot for him and held it for him to let him gnaw on it while I ate my dinner. He would grab it and jam it into his mouth with gusto. Then he’d shave at it for a minute with his two bottom teeth, pull it out suddenly, and give it a puzzled look and repeat the process. Yesterday, we tried giving him some rice cereal, and he choked again (I don’t remember Lennie having so much trouble, and we got her started earlier than we did him), but I later gave him some more carrot, and he did ok with it, probably because he seems to have managed mostly to shave little bits off and get them all over his face and chest.

Insert inspiring and graceful conclusion here.