Stone Mountain Vacation

Georgia Aquarium

The first stop was the Georgia Aquarium, reportedly the biggest in the world with over ten million gallons of water in their various tanks. The kids were fascinated with most of it, but the highlight was the dolphins, both in their display and during the dolphin show. With the way the trainers were hugging and kissing the dolphins between the tricks, it was surprising the kids were begging for a pet dolphin afterward. Instead, they were begging for a stuffed dolphin at the over-priced gift shop.

“We can order one online and it will be cheaper,” K and I explained to no avail. They had already decided: they would split the cost between them and buy the dolphin, sharing it for all eternity.

We all knew where that was headed…

Stone Mountain Day 1

We arrived at Stone Mountain on Tuesday, which would have technically been our first day, but we spent the evening setting up camp and fixing dinner, so I don’t count it as day one here. The first full day at the park was packed: the line park (such as it was — nothing in comparison to the challenge of the line park in Babcia’s region) followed by a train ride, a trip to the top of the mountain (which is the largest deposit of granite in the world, with only 1% visible — the rest of the deposit stretches ten miles into the earth and spreads to five states under the visible ground), and the famed laser show in the evening.

Stone Mountain Day 2

The second full day got off to a slow start due to the late hour we all made it to bed after the laser show. But somehow, I look at the pictures I’d loaded earlier and think, “Wait, these are from when we returned Friday, the final day, day three.” So what of day two? Not sure — such is the nature of a good vacation: it all blurs together in one’s mind.

You Might Have To

I go home to learn about life from my daughter. I learn what goes on in her school, what her teacher says, how her teacher teaches.

L, like any good story teller, doesn’t simply tell us, though, she shows: she begins incorporating various phrases from school into her own speech.

“You might have to” becomes the key phrase. “You might have to do this.” “You might have to move that.” I can imagine L’s teacher helping her with this or that task, explaining, “You might have to try it a different way, like turning it the other direction.” “You might have to wait. I believe someone else is using those crayons.”

“That’s okay” is another. I spill a little milk and mutter “Shoot” under my breath. L consoles me: “That’s okay.”

You Have Five Minutes

Clock Top by laffy4k (Flickr)It’s amazing the number of confrontations and tantrums we’ve avoided by giving L a time frame. Simply establishing a temporal structure allows us all to avoid frustration. She knows what to expect and, more importantly, when; we know that we’ll have a much more compliant little girl.

It works for almost everything. When L is watching a movie, it’s referenced in terms of the film’s scenes: “When this scene is over, we’ll go for our bath.” The scene finishes; she toddles off to the bathroom when requested to do so. When L is reading a book before bedtime, a reminder that she’ll be going to be in five minutes elicits “Okay”; saying, out of the blue, “Okay, put the book up. It’s time for bed!” is likely to produce nothing but conflict.

It would if some parts of life had more pre-established time frames.

Photo: “Clock Top” by laffy4k


Photo by wili_hybrid (Flickr)

Photo by wili_hybrid (Flickr)

“Shhh! There’s a monster in there!” says L as we walk toward her room. She’s at that age where she sees monsters, tigers, and bears everywhere. A “smoky, smoky dragon” is a common visitor at night, and right after a bath, an alligator — simply named Alligator — comes looking for her as she hides under her big bath towel. Saturday mornings she likes to jump in our bed (even if it’s made up — she’ll willingly unmake it) and hide under the covers.

“Shhh, shhh, shhh!” she’ll proclaim. “Monster’s coming!”

I play along sometimes, but it creates a problem: she gets genuinely scared sometimes, and it’s because there’s an alligator under her bed or a dragon right over there, in the corner. I reassure here that there’s no such thing is monsters, but it’s difficult to do if I’ve just been playing along with her imagination earlier in the evening.

It’s difficult to balance her developing imagination with her developing fear.

Will she learn there’s no such thing as dragons before she learns Santa doesn’t exist? I’m helping create both illusions, feeling slight pangs of guilt about it, and wondering if it’s all avoidable.


Kupa is Polish for “poo-poo”, and it’s pronounced, “koo-pa.” Siusiu is Polish for “wee-wee”, and it’s pronounced “shoo-shoo.”

When you’re nearly three years old, everything has a proper method. There is no gray area; there are no acts or activities that don’t have strict rules, regulations, and expectations.

Rituals abound, and often, the adults don’t even realize there is a ritual for this or that, let alone what the various elements of a given ritual are.

L’s morning rituals are set. We wake Her Highness up, and the first stop is the kitchen bar. We get out the milk; she opens it. We bring her the cocoa mix; she opens it. We pour the milk; she adds the cocoa. She stirs and tastes; we stir and taste. She closes the sippy cup; we check that it’s tightly screwed on.

Any violation of these sacrosanct rituals is troubling. Try to open the milk and L cries, “I do it! I do it!” Try to screw on the sippy cup lid before she has a chance and she cries, “I do it! I do it!” It has become so problematic that we introduced a ritual of our own: “L’s Magnificent Mornings.” It’s a sticker-bribery system, basically. It works, but it has only added one more ritual to our ritualistic lives.

Most of the rituals appear without warning. A new ceremony concerns entering the bathtub. It is not to be done at one end or the other, but precisely in the middle. Galaxies collide and gravity dissipates otherwise.

Occasionally, we get to watch a ritual being born. Slowly, it develops and moves from the status of “occasional addition to an existing activity” to full-blown sacrament.

This afternoon, I might have witnessed it.


20 sec, f/8.0, 55 mm

L came to me asking for help in the bathroom. This can only mean that baby wipes will be necessary. After L created her “awful smell” (as she once referred to it), I suggested that we flush it down.

“No, I need to siusiu,” she replied solemnly.

“Well, we can flush and then you can siusiu,” I suggested.

She shook her head. “No, no! Kupa needs to swim!”

I suggested that kupa might have more room in the big potty and she reluctantly agreed. If I were to place a wager on it, though, I suspect it won’t be the last time L tries to protect kupa‘s right to exercise.


The room was dark; L and I were in the rocking chair, just moments before she went to bed. A time to calm down, this time of day often brings out stories about how L’s school day went.

L began telling me about the order they sit in during circle time.  She’s in a new group, and most of the children in there are new friends, so there were lots of new names floating about. She hardly finished one name when she started another. Then a pause.

“And beside Alex…” her voice tapered off.

“Who’s beside Alex?”

“I don’t know.” We rocked for a few moments, then she amended it. “I don’t know her name.”

“Why don’t you ask her.”

“No,” said L in a quick, clipped voice: it’s how she’s shortened “I don’t know” for many months.

“You just have to introduce yourself. Walk up to her and say, ‘Hi. My name’s L. What’s your name?'” A few more rocks, then I suggested we practice.

Within a few moments, she began improvising — “What’s your name? My name’s L.” — and adding a handshake with, “Nice to meet you.”

The following night, I asked her how it went. “Did you meet that girl from your circle time?”

“No,” she replied, and then gave a meandering explanation that only a toddler could come up with. Still, we practiced again.

Miss Hyde

“She’s so easy-going!” I’ve heard several people at L’s school mention this, and I’m certainly pleased about it. When I hear this, I’m also a little confounded about the Miss Hyde that appears on a daily basis at our house. “Easy-going” is not how I’d describe her distressingly often; “high-maintenance” and “tiring” are the words I’d choose.

Familiarity, in this case, truly leads to a sort of contempt (though that really is much too strong a word). She’s lately taken to behavior that, while I knew was possible irrespective of the quality of parenting, I never really believed would appear. Not being clairvoyants, we are unable to peer, or even peek, inside her head to find out what’s causing this. Exhaustion is certainly part of it, as she’s not getting enough sleep; stress is definitely a component, for she’s moved into a new group at her preschool and all that was known and comfortable has disappeared. But there must be more to it than that, and, as with the classroom, we’re left wondering whether we’re doing everything we can.

The Wisdom of Seuss

An occasional selection for my nightly bedtime reading with L is One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. She sits on my lap, commenting on pictures, asking with every pause, “Turn the page?” We make our way slowly through the book — it’s not one we read often and she can’t recite any passages from rote as I read, like she can with Fox in Socks or Green Eggs and Ham.

I’m always taken aback at the appropriateness of the ending:

Today is done.
Today was fun.
Tomorrow is another one. …

If we could only keep that in mind daily.

Hit or Miss Language

At school, everyone is “Miss.” Miss Karen. Miss Cathy. Miss Deborah. Miss Brenda.

Miss Cathy — L’s favorite — works in Toddler I. L no longer sees her on a daily basis, but her eyes light up when she sees Miss Cathy coming.

Miss Karen, Miss Deborah, and Miss Brenda work in Toddler II, where L spends her days now.

I wondered whether L thinks “Miss” is just part of their name, but it’s become obvious that L has separated the “Miss” from the name. She understands it as a prefix, but she still doesn’t understand its significance. It’s a term she uses with individuals she really likes.

Hence, I am often “Miss Tata” now. K is “Miss Mama.” Our cat, “Miss Bida.”


Power outlets, books, and CDs are the only things we really say “No!” to with the girl. Oh, and plants and hot things and climbing on the stairs and so on. And the cat, when we had a cat. (He ran away some weeks ago. Some say he’s supposed to come back any day now.)


Still, it’s the forbidden that’s attractive.

(I’m sure it didn’t help to send mixed messages by saying “No!” and taking the picture. But I just happened to have the camera and couldn’t resist.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of things in the house to hold her attention.



When the Girl is being put to sleep, she sometimes gets angry. Scratch that — furious. She can howl and scream and whimper endlessly when I’m the one trying to put her to sleep instead of K.

I usually just wait her out. She’ll literally scream and push and wiggle and cry until she literally passes out. While she’s doing this, I simply walk around the apartment, holding her close, and whispering sweetly (or as sweetly as I can manage while every last nerve in my body is being assailed simultaneously). There comes a time when she’s crying, then whimpering, then crying, then tumbling quietly toward sleep — until something disturbs her and reminds her, “Oh, yes, I am indeed irritated.”

That’s when toys can become landmines.

DSC_8934There are two beeping, flashing, musical toys that are particularly deadly. In one of them (a caterpillar that plays about four songs and flashes lights where one wouldn’t think caterpillars would have lights) has expired: the batteries are dead, and gosh darn it, I just can’t seem to remember to replace them. Touch it and it begins a loud, loud, loud symphony.

The porcupine is not much better. Give it a kick (as I did last night) and it begins talking to you. Nothing too intelligent, but you wouldn’t expect physics from a porcupine.

Last night, I kicked it dead center. I’m not sure which woke L: my sudden, frustrated gasp, or the porcupine.

Swimming II

We’ve been taking L to swimming lessons at the local YWCA. Within a few weeks, we’ve gone from calmly moving her about the pool (“Dig, dig, dig! Kick, kick, kick!”) to dunking her under water after blowing in her face. She doesn’t much like the former, and the latter sets her to screaming more often than not. The instructor suggests that it’s the water running down her face when we pull her back up that upsets her.

Still, we take her regularly and follow the instructor’s advice, on the hopes that it’s the unfamiliarity of it all that is bothering L.

There’s a progress report at YouTube.

Potty Training

Few things in life are more of a milestone for a child than to learn how to use the toilet. There’s tons of advice about when and how to begin. “Most children show signs of readiness to begin using the toilet as toddlers, usually between 18 months and 3 years of age,” writes one site. It continues,

These signs include staying dry for at least 2 hours at a time, having regular bowel movements, being able to follow simple instructions, being uncomfortable with dirty diapers and wanting them to be changed, asking to use the potty chair, or asking to wear regular underwear. You should also be able to tell when your child is about to urinate or have a bowel movement by his facial expressions, posture or by what he says. If your child has begun to tell you about having a dirty diaper you should praise him for telling you and encourage him to tell you in advance next time.

Well, L can’t communicate yet, and in fact she’s just learned how to sit up on her own. That doesn’t mean she can’t use a potty chair already. How do we know? Because she’s successfully used the chair several times.

Is this real “potty training”? I do indeed think so — we’re giving her an alternative to dirty diapers from an early age, and we’re showing her how “grownups” do it.

The key is knowing when she usually relieves herself. BMs are the easiest, because she announces it clearly and well in advance. But at least two times, we’ve sat her on the potty chair after eating when she wasn’t showing any signs, and within a few moments, she made use of the chair.

Our hope is that this will make “real” potty training more manageable. We’ll see in a few months…

Limits and Liquids

We went to visit family yesterday. This meant a lot of time in the car, which meant, for L, a lot of time in the car seat.

We discovered, much to our surprise, that L doesn’t really like the car seat as much as tolerate it. Imagine — she doesn’t like being strapped into a virtually immovable position for hours on end.

We think liquids might help, because she seemed to cry much less violently during that last hour when she was working on a bottle of tea.

In Poland, in summer, potatoes — those ever-present tenants of the Polish table — are always served with fresh dill. All told, I had to scrape of pounds of it during my years there, and no one could understand that I just don’t like the stuff.

“Tea!? You give your 5-month-old tea?” I can just hear the voices now. Well, to call it “tea” is really a stretch. It’s a special granulated herbal concoction J brought from Poland with her. It’s made specially for infants, and it’s made from dill and aniseed. To my nose, it stinks like the dickens, because I don’t like either one. But the girl likes it, and it eases her stomach, and it will undoubtedly ease time in the car.

After all, K and I buy green teas for the road. Why shouldn’t she have something to drink to?

Maybe it’s just one of those paradigms you slip into when your baby is breastfed. Additional drink is like additional food — unnecessary. What we’re learning is that that is only true — duh — for the first four or five months.