Fifty-Five Months

My Family

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty-five months old today.

In the past month you rode out your first hurricane. When we decided to stay in place for Isaac, my main worry was that you might have some sort of traumatic experience. We had an interesting talk about about the many faces of Gaia. But the only real tragedy in your mind was that you missed cartoons Saturday morning because we still didn’t have power.

You had a much worse experience one week later. It was just a typical Friday morning, but for some reason you were out of sorts. You didn’t want to get out of bed. You didn’t want to eat breakfast. You didn’t want to go to school. Your mother and I could not discern any cause for your foul mood. You were grumpy and uncooperative. It got ugly. It was truly a morning from hell.

Such moments highlight your usually sunny disposition.

By contrast, allow me to mention one of your finest moments. Our neighbor Olivia Rose turned two recently. You attended her party and gave her a small gift. A short while later you got a thank-you card from Olivia Rose. This inspired you to make her a thank-you card in turn β€” a thank-you for the thank-you. “And then she’ll send me a thank-you card for that, and then I will send her a thank-you card, and she will send me one and I will send her one and back and forth and back and forth until it runs out.” Meaning the ink in your respective markers.

Oh, and I just wanted to note you are still in the “why” phase. I thought you’d have outgrown it by now, but no. Sometimes I think “why” is your favorite word. It’s not even a question anymore; it’s just something you state in reply to virtually anything. “It’s Tuesday.” Why. “Look, it’s raining.” Why. “Good morning.” Why. And so on.

And now some assorted tidbits.

  • “I can tell what people are feeling. Just by touching them. I have more power than grownups.”
  • “That lightning made my heart jump!”
  • We were listening to a scratchy old Thelemic chant one morning, a recording from 1914: “The Call of the Second Γ†thyr.” You thought the voice sounded familiar. “That’s you, right Daddy?” No, babe, that’s Aleister Crowley.
  • We caught our first flat ont he way to school one morning. We still made it to on time, though, as we got a lift from a neighbor who’s daughter happens to be in the classroom next door to you. Funny thing is we’d never met these folks before, but they live just a couple blocks up the street from us.
  • The Saints lost their first game of the season. I said, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints.” You said, “The Redskins bwhahaha!”
  • A morning question: “What do clouds taste like?”
  • You invented a new word, “indecorgeous,” but you aren’t sure what it means.

Four and a Half

Donation

Dear Persephone,

You are four and half years old today. We have continued our tradition, now well-established, of giving away stuff for your half-birthday. This year you didn’t need any explanation; you’ve absorbed the concept from years past. Over the last few weeks you’ve been selecting from amongst your possessions. You filled up a bag, and this morning we dropped it off at Goodwill on the way to school.

Ah yes, school. That’s probably the biggest news in your life over the past month. You’ve started at a new school, a public school much closer to home than your old school. It’s my hope that this school works for you and us. If so you will be there for the next ten years. Wow — an entire decade, that just dawned on me. I hope they are happy years.

Also of note, you were fascinated with the Olympics, and watched gymnastics, swimming, volleyball and sprints. I gather there were more women in these games than ever before. You certainly got into the spirit of competition. After watching the American gymnasts, you exclaimed, “When I grow up I want to do that, but I will be from New Lorlens.” (You still say it that way. You also say “lellow” instead on “yellow.”) After the first week of Olympics all week, you started saying things like:

  • “I may look small, but I’m very strong! My hands are very powerful!”
  • “Dada if you tickle me I will kick you in the face. Because I don’t like tickling.”
  • “I can see through walls. I can see through walls a hundred miles away. And you can’t.”
  • “I’m almost so powerful I can pull my hand off. I’m almost that strong.”

You’ve also asserted, more than once, that you grow more powerful each time you win a race. Far be it from me to point out that you’ve never really won a race. You talked about how you wanted to race your two best friends, Lala and Lily. You were certain of victory. “I’ll just get ahead of them.” They are both quite a bit bigger than you; getting ahead would be a challenge. I didn’t point this out either. Your confidence in your own abilities is inspiring.

One night before bed, you told me your stuffed tiger was going to race some Russian tigers after breakfast the next morning. “They’re very fast and mean,” but you were sure you’d win the gold. “I’ve got hundreds of gold medals, and twenty more. If the Russians don’t win I’m going to give them mine.”

At least once a day you amaze me with a bizarre or unusual idea. For example, one evening around dinnertime you asked me: “Dada, what if someone put on a mask that looked like their own face?”

Also, you’ve started to get into zombies lately. I’m not sure where you even learned about zombies. Anyhow, it’s quite amusing to see you lurching around the house, arms outstretched, moaning “Braaaaains…” One night all your stuffed animals became zombie animals. “They can help us look for brains.”

Fifty-Three Months

Dramatic Exit

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty-three months old today. Yesterday, technically, but cut me some slack.

After our long summer vacation, I finally understand what people mean when they talk about children being “spoiled rotten” by their grandparents.

Actually that’s not fair to your grandparents. They are indulgent (I’m looking at you, Susie) but I can’t really blame them for that. I’d indulge you too if I only saw you briefly from time to time. Besides which, you’ve been developing a few unpleasant habits which were already in evidence before our visit to the Midwest.

Unpleasant habits? Well, yes. Lately your stubborn streak has taken an extreme turn. You decide that you don’t want to do something, or that you want to do something you shouldn’t, and when we clash, it gets ugly.

Everyone says parenting has many challenges, and I guess this phase is one of them. I call it a phase, and I hope it is, but it’s probably also an extension of a basic personality trait which began a couple years ago and has continued on and off since then. So this is just the latest manifestation.

The challenge is finding a balance. On the one hand, having a strong will is a virtue we’d like to promulgate. On the other hand, when you make up your mind to do something in defiance of good common sense, or personal hygiene, or safety β€” well, then, we have a problem.

I’ve read some of parenting advice that stresses the need to be understanding and compassionate, which I agree is important, but so far I’ve seen very little that explains how to deal effectively with such problems. I suspect that’s because there are no easy answers.

Your current mean streak could be a factor of being off your routine over the summer break, and the further unsettling stresses of travel, to say nothing of indulgent grandparents. During the school year I tried to keep you on a pretty regular schedule, so you’re probably not getting as much sleep as you need, and you may be under the weather a bit too. We’ve both suffered from a lingering cough this summer.

Still most of the time you are delightful. Just this morning, you said to me, “You’re the bestest dad I ever had.” I pointed out I’m the only dad you ever had, but I still took it as a compliment.

Fifty-Two Months

Persephone & Mary

Dear Persephone,

You are now fifty-two months old. Our family vacation hasn’t allowed much time to sit and write, so in addition to being late, this letter will be abbreviated.

One highlight of the past month was your dance recital. Since we live in New Orleans, this was a major outdoor party with food and cocktails and a wonderful community vibe. Your class performed the same routine twice, because of technical glitches with the audio. On the first go-round, just when you hit the hula section, some guy in the audience started yelling, “Take it off!”

Despite the fact that we live in a city where exotic dancing is a semi-respectable profession, I thought this was highly inappropriate. I lunged across several rows of seated parents, knocking over at least one bowl of steaming hot beans and rice, crunching someone’s sunglasses underfoot, and accidentally bumping a grandmother’s nose with my knee. I laid into the guy, scraping my knuckles up pretty badly on his incisors.

OK, that didn’t really happen, but I thought about it. I’m glad I exercised restraint. A few days later, upon review of the video recording, I realized that he was actually yelling, “Shake it off!” — encouraging you and your classmates not to let the audio difficulties throw you.

Standing on the Moon

Now that you and your mother are both done with school, your summer break has begun in earnest. Here are some random things you’ve said or done recently.

One night, at dinner, you were pretending to be a princess and had a slight food mishap, which led you to state, “My crown has ketchup on it.” And I wondered: How many times, in the history of humanity, has that phrase been uttered?

On another evening, you informed me that you were pretending to be Barbie, who in turn was pretending to be you. The mind reels.

You made up a riddle: What do you call a pineapple in disguise? A disguised pineapple.

The Sewerage & Water Board provided us with some free entertainment on one Saturday evening, with an emergency dig right across the street. We sat on the porch with your friend Lala and watched. Lala thought they were digging for treasure. You thought they were digging for worms.

And finally, these words of wisdom: “Dada, there’s nothing better than love.” Out of the mouths of babes and children.

One last thing, actually. You mixed up a potion. Later, you put the potion on your altar and cast a spell over it. Despite my interest in contemporary paganism, I’ve never gotten into magic(k) and witchcraft, so I’m not sure where you got these ideas. Just from the popular culture I guess. I must admit it sent a chill down my spine to hear you chant: “Persephone power will arise…”

Potion

Fifty-One Months

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty-one months old today.

It feels like it’s been an epic month in your life. But aren’t they all epic at your age? And in this city?

Two big things: You finished your first year of school, and you got into a new school for the fall.

For the past year you’ve been attending Pre-K3 at a certain Catholic school in Jefferson Parish on the West Bank. Given that I’m not Catholic, and we live on the East Bank in Orleans Parish, I never dreamed that you’d be going to that particular school. However, that’s where your mama works, and Pre-K3 programs are in short supply. So it made sense for you to got there.

And it’s been good. The extra time with your mother has been nice for both of you. It seems you listen to the radio together and pick out favorite pop songs. And the school curriculum ain’t bad either. You’ve come home every day full of songs and rhymes and an endless number of hands-on projects and activities. Despite having been married to a teacher for the better part of two decades, I was frankly astonished by the work your teacher put into it, and I knew I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Before your last day we sat down and made “thank you” cards for your teacher and her assistant.

Thanks

Actually you made them yourself. I didn’t touch them. I did have to provide some coaching on how to write their names.

(Speaking of letters, you read a sign on the street, just a few blocks from home. It said, “No” and had a picture of a dog. I think that was a first.)

As that chapter of your life drew to a close, a new one has just been beginning. After your final half-day of school, your mother took you to enroll at your new school. You see, we won the lottery. No, not the state lottery. We won the lottery that allows us to enroll you in the school we wanted. I sincerely hope that by the time you read this we’ve found a better system, such as guaranteeing decent educational opportunities for all children, so that kids don’t have to compete in a lottery to get into a good school. But that seems unlikely.

Your class staged a performance on your final day of school. I wasn’t able to attend. I wasn’t able to make it to your old school once during the school year. With a single car and given the distances involved it just wasn’t possible. Your new school is closer to home, and I am looking forward to being more involved.

That’s plenty, but there have been some other interesting developments.

One morning you said to me, “I wish my stuffed animals were alive. I think maybe they come alive when I leave, like in Toy Story 3.” This filled me with a sense of melancholy and nostalgia. It reminded me of my childhood, and also of a yearning that suffused much of my childhood. Later that morning, at my book club, a friend described searching for “portals to Narnia” in a large decrepit mansion when she was young. That yearning again β€” a yearning for something, a yearning almost painful. Is it a yearning for companionship? Adventure? Transcendence? I don’t know.

Speaking of which, we finished Prince Caspian, then read Persephone the Phony, from the Goddess Girls series. We’re now reading The Voyage on the Dawn Treader. Every time there’s a reference to the poop, you grumble: “Oooh, yuck.” I explain it’s not that kind of poop, but you definitely prefer the forecastle.

You built an altar in your room.

And then there’s Devonte. He’s one of a trio of boys who’ve been stopping by on an almost daily basis. Together they can be kind of rowdy, but alone he is very well behaved. He even joined us for dinner one night, with his mother’s permission.

Devonte & Persephone

Devonte is five years old. He joined us when we were making the thank you cards, and he made some for his teachers. I was very impressed by his handwriting.

You like Devonte. The funny thing is, you think he’s a girl. When I told you he’s a boy, you disagreed with some vehemence. I think maybe you’re confused because he has braids. We argued about it a couple times. Finally you asked me, “Does Devonte sound like a boy’s name?” Well, yes, it does, but I didn’t push the issue. Wow, when you think you know something you can be very stubborn. Nobody can tell you otherwise.

I wonder where you inherited that trait?

Fifty Months

Stick

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty months old today. To celebrate we counted to fifty together.

The month got off to a rough start. You had a couple severe meltdowns while playing with friends. You’ve not had big issues with sharing before, so hopefully that was just a phase.

We read A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. That took about a month, reading a chapter most every night before bedtime. Sometimes we split long chapters in two. Though it’s clearly aimed at children, I would say it’s the most adult book you’ve read so far. There were some concepts that were new and I daresay a little disturbing to you, such as overt classism or an orphaned child starving on the streets with no one to care for her. It was frankly kind of heartbreaking to behold you encountering such harsh possibilities for the first time, and I seriously considered shelving the book, saving it for a year or two. But we toughed it out. All for the best I think.

Now we’re reading Prince Caspian, which is closer to your speed. Last night I was amazed that you’d already identified Nikabrik as “a bad dwarf,” even though we only just finished chapter six. Granted, the clues are pretty obvious, but you’re only fifty months old after all. What was even more astonishing was the way you put it: “My brain is killing me.” You meant that you kept thinking this thought to the point that it was aggravating. I can relate! Perhaps you’ve inherited my hyperactive mentality. That lead to an interesting discussion of how we can moderate mental events. I pointed out that you generally can’t force yourself to stop thinking about something. But if you “step back” and observe, it tends to help.

Speaking of books, there’s a popular one called Hunger Games which has just been made into a movie. You saw a picture of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen drawing back a bow and exclaimed: “It’s Artemis!” I used my phone to post your remark on Twitter, which is a popular social media service, and as I did so I read my post to you. The problem was that I’d specified Athena rather than Artemis. You swiftly corrected me. Which just goes to show that you know your ancient Greek mythology better than me now.

Some weeks ago I instructed you to say “Send in the clowns!” if your hear someone say something silly in a serious voice. Then I forgot about it. But you remembered, and you used it on me. I forget what I was saying, but it was well-played on your part.

On a similar note, here’s a transcript of a conversation we had last week:

Me: “Are we a part of Mother Earth?”

You: “Yes but we’re a funny part.”

Me: “A funny part?”

You: “Yes because we can forget that we’re a part of Mother Earth.”

I was about to fall out of my chair until you reminded me that you were repeating back something I’d said myself a couple weeks ago. Still I hope you can hold on to the idea.

One day, after a discussion of what meat is, you swore you were going to be a vegetarian from now on. Your resolve did not last, however. You ate some chicken a few hours later. Given how many vegetarian friends we seem to have, I won’t be surprised if this comes back up again later. I wouldn’t mind going back to a vegetarian diet again, but I think your mother might have different ideas.

On April 12 we celebrated Yuri’s Night with some friends and neighbors. It was a trip to hear you lecturing us about Yuri Gagarin.

Last week you announced that you want to get married to one of your pre-K classmates, a boy named Joshua. His qualifications? “I’ve never played with him.” Hopefully your standards will elevate with time.

I can’t close without noting one of the most touching things you said to me this past month:

Dada, once I see you I sort of smile, and I don’t know why.

I feel the same way.

Forty-Nine Months

Face

Dear Persephone,

You are forty-nine months old today. I thought after your fourth birthday you might slow down, but no. You continue to develop at an astonishing rate.

A few weeks ago you drew your first real representational drawing. As a would-be cartoonist and visual artist, I consider this a huge milestone. I know I mentioned something similar last month, but that was a virtual drawing using an iPad app, and I coached you pretty heavily, drawing shapes first and then undoing them and letting you try. This time you drew with marker on paper, and I didn’t touch anything. I only suggested what to draw, “two circles for the eyes,” like that. And the result was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

I tried to teach you to draw a cat, but that requires triangles, and you don’t seem interested in mastering that technique yet.

A couple days ago I took you to the doctor for your annual checkup. You were due for a round of vaccinations, the last you’ll need for seven years. A dilemma: to tell you up front about the shots, or to wait until the last moment? The latter would seem to spare you some dread, but perhaps there’s value in confronting fear, facing it down. I kind of hinted that shots were a possibility beforehand, and then when we were waiting we discussed that more explicitly. And you handled it very well. You were brave, and only really cried after the fourth and final needle stick. And you so charmed the nurses neither of them wanted to be the one to administer the shots. But you got over it very quickly. In fact, you were mostly excited about the stack of stickers the nurse gave you.

Speaking of being poked and prodded, we recently had you tested by a couple child psychologists. It’s not something we would have done if left to our own devices. Nope, it’s just an attempt to grapple with the bizarre school system(s) in this city. And here’s where this gets tricky, in terms of knowing what to write here. I have to consider your privacy. So let’s just say we had you tested for smarts, and you came through with flying colors. In the end I’m glad we did it, no matter where you go to school, because it’s assuaged some of the fears I’ve had relating to lead poisoning. I take such tests with a grain of salt, but at the very least it’s an indication that you do well at tests. Perhaps you take after me; I’ve always done well on tests, and it’s made life much easier.

I do have to agree that you’re pretty quick on the uptake. For example, we’re now reading A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett. It’s a bit over your head but you love it all the same. In the first or second chapter we came across the word “pupil,” which I figured you wouldn’t recognize, so I defined it for you. You’ve heard the word again in subsequent chapters, and apparently you’ve learned it, because last night you casually mentioned that “there’s a pupil in my class named Christian.” That led to a discussion of the word “vocabulary,” how each person has their own vocabulary, how it keeps getting bigger each time you learn a new word.

Finally, I wanted to mention that you asked me a question I’ve been anticipating, and also kind of dreading, for quite some time.

“Is the Tooth Fairy real?”

“That depends. What do you mean by real?”

“Real means that something is real.”

“Well, what do you think?”

“Well, I think the Tooth Fairy is not real.”

“I’m so proud of you for thinking about these things and asking these questions. Let me ask you this: Do you like the story of the Tooth Fairy?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a fun story, isn’t it? Sometimes that’s what really matters. Did you notice I never actually answered your question?”

“But Dada, will you tell me, is the Tooth Fairy real or not?”

And so forth. I never really gave you a straight answer. Maybe when you’re old enough to read this you’ll understand why.

Four Years

P4

Dear Persephone,

You are four years old today. So: Happy Birthday! But also: Happy Mardi Gras! The last time Mardi Gras fell on the 21st of February was in 1950, which was not only before you were born but well before I was born. These dates will line up again in eleven years, for your 15th birthday in 2023. It happens again in 2034 and 2045, eleven year intervals. Beyond that I’m not sure; I haven’t found any calendars that calculate beyond 2050. I don’t know what’s up with the eleven year intervals either. Weird stuff.

So, how does one celebrate a birthday on Mardi Gras? We tried to tie in with the number four for obvious reasons. We thought about the four seasons and the four directions but ultimately settled on the four ancient elements. You know the elements pretty well. After all, they’re in the lyrics to one of your favorite songs:

Earth, water, fire and air
We may look bad but we don’t care
We ride the wind, we feel the fire
To love the earth is our one desire

(The astute culture critic will have no trouble identifying the origin of these sublime verses as that eco-goth trio par excellence, namely The Hex Girls, as seen in Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. Only a pedant would quibble that we’ve changed the word slightly. The actual lyric references “earth, wind, fire and air,” which of course conjures images of a certain funk-soul act from the 70s. But wind and air are pretty much the same thing, and everyone knows water was one of the four ancient elements. What’s up with this blatant anti-waterism?)

So for this Mardi Gras you masqued as Air, you mother was Fire, I was Water and your virtual uncle James was Earth. Of course reality was a little more complicated; we were joined by an additional Water, played by Catherine, not to mention your grandmother (my mother) who didn’t dress as anything particular but was a most welcome addition to the festivities.

As for this last month of your life, you’ve accomplished many firsts. You composed your first poem, drew your first representational drawing, and sent your first e-mail.

Yyrpppiiuuyrwqweyqs
Aasfuillzzzzcvnmm,nvcvqwertttyyyuuiiooop..,mvnmmmmkkjjjdsssaa
Poiuuyttrreewwcccqpiugdaommnxxz,poyttq

Loigfftyuiiuuuoppghhffdsaaawwwqwrrrtttyuuioopp
Llhrewcvbnnnzzcvbnmmmmmmbvhklljgfdsqqeu. Β  Vbbbbbbb jkkhfssaaaaaaaaassss,lllkjjjjhhhhhhjjjkppouytreeewrrrrrrrrmjjhbgnhhhhhj,kjuyytt chhgggffffffddsaadllgf bvvcbbbvbvvvvvccccfddfvggnnhgasgjjopptrrropplhxxghjkooyf
dppoutreaddfggghjjklllllmnnvvcxzzaadfffgggkjgghpotrewwqq
qwrfkklgdaqqrtyuioppqddd,cxnmoiyfiopppooputreeewqqasdghhjjkp

So much more to relate, but I’m exhausted from a full day of traipsing round the city in costume. Perhaps I’ll come back and edit this later. For now good night and lots of love.

Continue reading Four Years

Forty-Seven Months

Dear Persephone,

Happy Dreams

You are forty-seven months old today. A few weeks ago I mentioned to you that I was writing these letters, and you were intrigued. What are they about, you wanted to know. I told you that, in part, I try to record some of the things that you’re doing so that you’ll be able to know about them years after you’ve forgotten. You started listing some of the things that you do, so I wrote them down. The rest of this letter was composed by you, with very little prompting on my part. I merely transcribed your words.

  • Swimming.
  • Watching TV called the Wiggles. Watching cartoons
  • Helping Mama make pancakes.
  • Helping Dada bake bread.
  • Cutting scissors at school.
  • Drinking.
  • Do work at school with pretty colored markers, and they don’t have any brown, and they don’t have any gray, and gray is your favorite color right?
  • Praying at school.
  • Helping Mama and Dada going to the grocery
  • Take colored baths with those little fuzzy tablets.
  • Pretend I’m sailing in the bathtub.
  • Going to ballet class.
  • Go to a ride at the mall.
  • Riding in the car with Mama and Dada.
  • Smacking the washcloth. I’m giving it a spanking. The washcloth is being bad, Daddy. He doesn’t know it’s bath time.
  • Washing my hair without soap.
  • Praying to Jesus and to baby Jesus. We even got a colorful statue of him at school.
  • Make projects β€” letter people projects on paper that have already been lined.
  • Praying to Mother Earth.
  • And one day I saw Dada get his hair cut. I just peeked my head in. No one saw me but you Dada.
  • Coloring Brigid.
  • Watching TV called Dora.
  • Taking a snowflake bath one in my sparkling purple seltzer water. The snowflake made that.
  • Sleeping with Quiet Bunny.
  • I don’t want to put anything about Lala and Lily.
  • Always I say why, why, why. I don’t know why. Ha ha. See, I’m saying why now.
  • My favorite letter is P. I don’t know why I’m saying why.
  • I’m making up my own recitals, Dada. Some people even make fun of my recitals. I’m pretending you make fun of my recitals.

Postscript: For more daughter-authored content, see the Tea Party video.

Forty-Six Months

Gingerbread

Dear Persephone,

It’s the holiday season. But and also (to paraphrase David Foster Wallace) you are 46 months old today.

On this night, the longest night of the year, you are fully expecting Santa to pay us a visit. Santa is tricky for me, as a parent. He reveals certain weaknesses in my ontology. How do we relate to and understand mythical beings? On the one hand, Santa is fun, and a good story. On the other hand, the very way we define “real” vs. “imaginary” in our culture seems a little messed up. It doesn’t leave room for myth and other ways of being that are, perhaps, somewhere in-between, or something else entirely. I’m still thinking through this. Tonight I told you a story, inspired by my old friend Brad Wilhelm, about a man who played Santa and visited a family in need. The point, I think, is that Santa is a spirit we can all enter, a spirit which can enter into any of us. In other words: Thou art Santa.

On a related note: One month ago we were celebrating Thanksgiving. This is a holiday which has troubled me for years, but this time round we offset that by delivering meals to people in need, on behalf of the West Jefferson YMCA. Your mother even got in to the act. I’m not trying to imply that we saved the world, but I do hope we did some good, and I hope we’ve taken a first step toward something more meaningful.

Also on Thanksgiving, you saw the 610 Stompers in the Macy’s parade on television. A few days later you put on a headband and said, “I’m gonna be a Stomper, aren’t you?”

Forthwith, a random sampling of memories from the past month. I’m sorry if this seems a little scattered. It’s the holidays, and my mental fabric inevitably gets frayed.

You had your first taste of mustard. You liked it so much, you swore off ketchup – forever!

Here’s something I never wanted to hear my daughter say: “Dada, can you shave your butt?” That one took me by surprise. “Can you put shaving cream on it?” Upon further investigation, I learned you were repeating something you’d heard on the radio, some morning drive-time shock jockery.

One night you drew a picture for your mama. “These are ornaments for our mind.”

Your friend Lily had fake snow at her fifth birthday party. It was so bizarre to me to see kids (and adults) have to be taught how to make a snow angel. That’s just something I take for granted, having grown up some 800 miles north of here. Kids love snow, and I sometimes feel bad that you will grow up with a snow deficit. Nevertheless on cold days here lately you have said, “I don’t like winter. I can’t wait for summer.” You take after me that way.

You spent a few perplexed minutes one evening trying to look at your teeth without a mirror.

I am reading you The Magician’s Nephew, chapter by chapter, as a bedtime story. I tried The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe about half a year ago, I think, but it was over your head, and we gave up after just one chapter. I wasn’t really sure you were ready for this now, but you seem to understand just enough to stay interested. Now we’re more than halfway through.

You’re almost finished with your Halloween candy. I think your favorites have been Dum-Dum suckers, Sour Patch gummies, and small boxes of Nerds. Your parents are not such big fans of these last, because a lot of them inevitably end up scattered across the floor. Upon eating your last box the other night you offered the following statement: “The Nerds are dancing in my mouth. It’s like there’s a fairy in there. Every Nerd has a fairy inside, and if you drop it on the floor it dies.

And then tonight just before bed you asked: “Dada, can I call you Big Goofy Face?” Uh, OK.

Finally, here is my solstice present to you and your mother and myself β€” a family portrait from the incredibly weird imagination of Matthew Allison.

Family Monster (color)

Forty-Five Months

Forever

Dear Persephone,

You are forty-five months old today.

It seems like you’ve packed a lot of living into the last month. Especially around the holiday: We had fun making simple skull garlands out of paper and decorating the house. You had a blast on your first real round of trick-or-treating. (Afterward you wanted to wait up on the porch to see some “real goblins,” scratching their heads, unable to find you in costume.) You also enjoyed our Ancestor’s Dinner and now have some idea who at least one of your great-grandparents is. And on DΓ­a de los Muertos the whole family visited the neighborhood shrine to Santa Muerte and left some candy.

You’ve been very disciplined about rationing out your candy. We generally limit you to one item per day, after dinner. You’ll often select your desert in the morning and look forward to it all day. But you derive great pleasure simply from sorting through all that candy, again and again. I think you enjoyed that as much as actually eating it.

Candy

However, you have gotten even more picky in your general eating habits. I know it’s perfectly natural, even healthy in some ways, but it still bugs me. You wouldn’t even take a single bite of my kumquat chutney.

And then there was the morning when you threw up in bed. No wonder your appetite wasn’t so good the night before. You were quite distressed. I don’t think you’d vomited once since that time when you were nine months old. Three years is a pretty good run. We got you cleaned up, and you seemed to be feeling better. Only, oops, not quite. Let me tell you for future reference: Nothing beats stepping out on your front porch on a Sunday morning with a toddler in your arms who then vomits all over herself and you. Yuck. You had a fever for a couple days, and then, just as you were feeling better, I got sick myself. There’s a stomach virus going around your school and the city.

The biggest development of the past month, by far, is that we dismantled your crib. (Many thanks to the indefatigable R. Stephanie Bruno for the extended loaner.) You slept in your own “big girl bed” for the very first time after three and a half years. We didn’t exactly plan it, but this ended up being on the same night as the time change. We set our clocks back an hour, meaning the natural proclivity we all have to stay up and sleep in a little later gets authorized for a brief humane interval. This worked out very well.

It didn’t take you long to discover that you can now get out of bed all on your own. It’s been a pleasure to wake in the morning to the patter of your little feet running from your room to ours. Once or twice you’ve even managed to get out of bed, go to the bathroom, and get back in bed, without any assistance.

That’s all well and good. What I’m dreading is when you start wandering out at night, when you should be drifting off to dreamland. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. A couple nights ago, as I was trying to fall asleep, I kept imagining that I heard your footsteps. Three times I thought I heard you, but it was just my imagination or a dream. Then I heard your steps again, and I swear I saw your shadow at our door. You weren’t actually there, but I was convinced you were.

So obviously I have some anxiety around your increasing mobility. Just imagine how I’ll feel when you get a driver’s license.

Xy had a conference for a couple days and that meant you had no ride to school. The easiest thing seemed for me to take the days off work, and so we had a couple days together. I thought we could see a movie. Turns out IMAX Under the Sea in 3D was the only G-rated flick in the greater metro area. Amazing but true. We took the streetcar downtown and checked it out. At first you didn’t want to wear the funny glasses, but once you got comfortable with them you had a blast, and so did I. A pulsating jellyfish is a perfect application of this technology. I think the eel garden was my favorite part. And the streetcar ride was every bit as much fun as the movie.

On the next day you joined us for the Mystic Toast of Eleven Times Eleven. I made you a “kiddie” version of the No. 11 Cup cocktail. Afterward we stopped by Goodwill so you could donate a toy pony, a duplicate handed down by a friend. It was your own idea.

You certainly keep busy with activities at school. It seems every day you are coming home with worksheets and art projects. Last week you showed me a brown cone you’d made, exclaiming, “A cornucopia is a horn of plunty!” I was mighty impressed to discover you are now able to draw a decent circle, and I got a further demonstration of your abilities at Where Y’Art last Friday.

Comp

Both of these pieces are inspired by the site-specific mural “Forever,” by Odili Donald Odita, now on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The top piece was created as an example by one of the art teachers at the Friday night activity table; the bottom piece was created by you, with a little help from me.

I drew some initial guide lines in faint pencil while you positioned and held a ruler. Then we colored it with markers and pencils. It was in making this together that I discovered you can now trace lines with a modicum of accuracy, something you could not even approximate a short while ago. Your fine motor skills and manual dexterity are improving by leaps and bounds at Pre-K3.

Finally, a word on meditation. I’ve been encouraging you to meditate with me some mornings when you’re not rushing off to school. It made me very happy a couple weeks ago, when you said, “Let’s meditate, Dada. I love to meditate!” A few days ago your take was quite different. “I don’t like meditating because we have to sit quietly.” At your age I can hardly fault you for a lack of constancy. To show the variety of contemplative techniques, we’re chanting now instead, a very simple chant based on the four ancient elements. Yesterday’s element was air, today was fire, tomorrow will be water. We just repeat the name of the element while visualizing it. Keeping it simple.

Forty-Four Months

A Song for the Dead

Dear Persephone,

You are forty-four months old today. I am forty-four years old. I guess that means I’m roughly twelve times as old as you.

Your big dramatic moment of the last month came when you locked yourself in the bathroom. It was on a Saturday morning. You went into the bathroom, insisting that you can do it all by yourself. “I don’t need any help, I just need some privacy.” This has been your habit lately. I’d noticed the day before that you’d actually shut the bathroom door, and I thought to myself, not a good idea, but I didn’t do anything about it. Saturday morning you also shut the door, but this time it was locked. Your mother tried everything she could to spring you, but to no avail. You were pretty upset. Finally she called me; I was out giving a walking tour of the Lafitte Corridor. I ran home as fast as I could. In the end we had to send your mother in through the window. Afterward we has a lesson on how to operate the thumb-turn, and also on the wisdom of leaving the door ajar.

A couple weeks ago, when it was time for bed, you protested that it was “not fair!” It was the first time I’ve heard you complain about fairness. You must have picked that concept up at school because I don’t think we have ever talked about fairness at home. I smiled to myself, because I know this is a refrain I’ll be hearing repeatedly in the years ahead.

Speaking of bedtime, we have been reading from Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book just before lights out. Actually, just after lights out: I use a flashlight for the reading. This book was a gift from local artist Jane Brewster. (When we were at Fall Fest at the Botanical Garden this weekend we saw Jane and she let you pick out one of her artworks as a gift. You chose Moon Over Bywater.) I thought it would be over your head, and while it’s a stretch, I think you’re just old enough to enjoy it. You do interrupt sometimes to ask questions about terms you don’t recognize. I think the fact that you don’t completely understand what’s going on helps lull you into sleepiness.

A couple nights ago, as I was tucking me in, you offered the following:

We love our bread,
We love our butter,
We love each other,
But most of all,
We love our blankets.

You’re having a good time in pre-K3, but it’s already time to start thinking about next year. We’d like to get you in a public school. Earlier this week we went to an open house for a local school, a public charter with which your mother and I are fairly impressed. We toured the facility, met some teachers, and really liked everything we saw and heard, and everything we’ve been hearing for the last year or two. The only bad news is that there will be a lottery, and the odds are against you (or any given child) getting in. We will apply and hope for the best. We will also be applying at a number of other schools. They all have a different application process, even though they are all public schools in Orleans Parish. Such is the state of our school “system” after the floods of 2005. It’s going to require a good amount of research and preparation, but it’s worth it, considering how much of the next phase of your life will be shaped by your school. I’m trying to stay on top of this without getting too anxious about it.

After the equinox, we revived our habit of cemetery picnics. You love them. I was surprised to learn that this was once a popular activity in Victorian times, and may be making a comeback. We sought and found the grave of Maunsell White, and took a photo to fill a Find A Grave request.

As we prepared to head home, we heard birds singing in the trees. “Maybe they’re singing a song for the dead,” you said. We went home and listened to FaurΓ©’s Requiem. It was a beautiful day.

Forty-Three Months

Lumps

Dear Persephone,

You are forty-three months old today.

You’ve just completed your first full month of school. Every day you are coming home full of songs and dances, art and ideas. You learned a new favorite phrase there too: “Everyone makes mistakes; that’s how they learn.” I had to point out that your mother learns a lot.

The only real sticking point has been lunch time. One day you wouldn’t eat the pasta that was served in the cafeteria. “It’s not Tuesday, and I only eat pasta on Tuesdays.” Since then the situation has deteriorated. You rarely eat much of your cafeteria lunch. It seems most of the three-year-olds are in the same boat. I’ve been offering you stickers as a reward β€” stickers are like gold to you β€” but so far no dice. If you don’t start chowing down soon we’ll have to start packing a lunch for you.

Speaking of mealtime, one evening at dinner I stretched to pick something off your plate, and you were amazed. “I didn’t know you could reach all the way across the table!” Out of sheer curiosity we got out the measuring tape. My arms are still more than twice as long as yours: 17″ vs 36″. That bears out the general principle that armspan is roughly equal to height. I’m 6’4″ while you are just half an inch shy of three feet.

Also on the topic of eating, one evening at bedtime you told me that “I don’t want to eat and drink anymore because I’m tired of going potty.” Fortunately you forgot about that resolution by the time breakfast rolled around.

One morning you ended up sleeping in our bed. I noted at one moment you were sound asleep, and then the next thing you were smiling and giggling. But your eyes were still closed. You were having a dream. You were laughing so loud I had to wake you up and ask what the dream was about before your forgot. You told me you were dreaming of a chipmunk. The funny part? Her name was Pencil.

You still love singing nonsense songs. You also like speaking in your own special language. You tried to pass this off as Spanish at first, but you’re actually learning Spanish at school, and this is distinct from that.

Special Language by Editor B

You’ve also started inventing your own exclamations. The first one I heard you say was “Oh, suckers!” But you’re happy to incorporate anything in your line of sight. “Oh, bicycles!”

Your favorite game right now is, without question, pretending to be lost. This follows a pretty strict formula. You’ll hide somewhere, under the table or in the bathtub usually, and start calling, “Help! Help! I’m lost.” When your mother or I come to your rescue, you’ll explain that you left your old home because your mother was mean. That’s standard fairy tale stuff β€” lots of mean mothers in those old stories. We offer to take you in and let you live with us. In your scenario, I’m a fisherman and Xy is the fisherman’s wife. I think you got that from the myth of Perseus.

You had a day off school recently, but Xy did not, so I took the day off work. We made a picnic lunch and took it to City Park. That was great fun. While we were eating, I saw an animal climbing in one of the huge live oak trees. I thought it was an anteater at first, but I didn’t say anything. I just pointed to it. When you saw it you exclaimed, “It’s an anteater!” Of course, it wasn’t. But it sure looked like an anteater, or else we have a shared congenital propensity to misrecognize raccoons.

Later, you asked me to tell everyone that you’re brave. “I’m not afraid of coyotes or werewolves or African wild dogs.” You are aware that I use my phone to send messages “to everyone,” i.e. the public internet, i.e. Twitter. So I posted that on your behalf. My network was very impressed.

After lunch, we went to the playground and you frolicked with some other children. You seemed to have a great time, but on the bike ride home you told me one of the girls shushed you. Apparently you’d made a loud noise that scared away the pigeons. “She said shhh!” You kept repeating this story. I asked how it made you feel. “Rotten,” you replied. It’s the first instance of social anxiety I’ve seen from you. There will probably be a lot more of that in your future if I know girls.

One day I got home from work, walked in the door and announced, “I’m home!” Your immediate reply: “Thanks for the warning.” I laughed pretty hard at that one. This could well be your first expression of sarcasm, though I’m not sure you really understood what you were saying. You might have just been repeating something you’d heard at school. Nonetheless it’s heartening. We have a friend who calls you “sassy,” and though she means it in a good way, it reminds me of how often I got called out for “sassy backtalk” as a kid. I honestly never understood why I was getting in trouble. I don’t think “talking back” will ever bother me. In fact I encourage it. The challenge for you will be to understand that not everyone feels the way I do.

Three and a Half

Donation

Dear Persephone,

You are three and a half years old today. Last year, on your half-birthday, I cajoled you into giving away two of your toys to Goodwill. I thought we should revisit that concept, so I showed you some photos from back then which I hoped would serve to get you in the spirit. Unfortunately, your immediate reaction was a longing for the stuffed lamb you had given away. You burst into tears. “I want my lamb!” But eventually you came around. Once again I drew pictures for you, showing a girl who had too many toys and a girl who had none. You picked out three toys to give away, and we made a run to the neighborhood Goodwill just before bedtime.

So, now it’s a tradition.

The idea I’m trying to promulgate is not benevolence or philanthropy, fine as those might be. Rather I’m hoping you can learn a bit of detachment from material things. On the way to the Goodwill, we talked about how so many things are more important than physical possessions. You wanted to know, “What is more important?” People, I said. Living things. Beauty. Relationships. Ideas. Love.

I also figured you’re now tall enough to ride the boats at Big Lake in City Park. You’re technically not quite 36″ yet, but with your favorite pink cowgirl boots on, no one can tell. Alas, even though it was my idea to celebrate your half-birthday with a paddle-boat ride, we had Daisy and Lavender along, and there was no room for me in the boat. I stayed on shore. I did catch a nice sunburn though.


Our neighbor Olivia Rose celebrated her first birthday with a big party. All on your own, you picked one of your toys, a plush flower, to give to her β€” a rose, very appropriate and very sweet.

While we were at that party, you met a woman who admired your name and asked you if you knew about the story behind it. You were very quiet and shy, giving off a distinctly nonverbal babyish vibe, almost like you hadn’t learned to talk. She continued to coax you. “Do you know the story of Persephone?” At last you cocked your head to one side and said, “I have a book of Greek myths.”

Which is true. I’ve been reading myths to you over the last couple weeks, usually before bed. Our nighttime routine hasn’t changed much, but we have made one significant adjustment, at your behest. Instead of book/story/song, the sequence is now book/song/story.

I told you the story of Cinderella one night, substituting you in the title role. I’m not a big fan of the Disney princess phenomenon, but you do love to be “in the story.” However, what with your mother dying and your father disappearing, you found the whole premise rather upsetting, and you burst into tears. Sorry about that.

After your bedtime story, I almost always leave you with a promise to check back in a little bit. You almost always protest, “I’m not tired.” You are usually asleep within the next five minutes. Sometimes you do call me back. One night a few weeks ago, you called me back into your room to say, “Dada, tonight don’t check on me, because I’m asleep now.”

Another night I heard some strange howls coming from your room. When I checked back you told me, “I’m pretending to be an owl. Whoooo! Whooooooooo!” You still like to give a good hoot from time to time.

Owls are cool, but your favorite animals over the past month have been jaguars and opossums. One morning after we got the newspaper, you told me the headline read “Possums Today.” That meant we had to pretend to be an opossum family all day long.

I’ve been baking bread pretty much every Sunday. You like to help and pretend that you’re the Little Red Hen. My first batch of dough on Lammas was a little on the wet side, leading you to exclaim, “My feathers are so sticky!”

I took you to what I believe was your first-ever Sunday morning church service, at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Lakeview. The highlight for you was getting to put a couple quarters in the offering plate.

I occasionally give you my pocket change, which you keep in a little metal box. I think you’ve got about 45 cents in there now. But as you put it, “I have so much money, I’m going to be a princess teacher movie star when I grow up.” A little later you added, “I have to work hard so I can be the world’s bestest girl.”

I think the cutest thing you’ve said all month might be, “You’re going to send me to strawberries!” I believe you meant, “drive me bananas.” But i think I prefer your version.

Let’s see, what else? Oh yes, you also had your first day of school ever. No big deal. Actually you’ve only had two half-days so far, but the transition has been very smooth. Next month I can give you a full report.

Forty-One Months

Peeking

Dear Persephone,

You are forty-one months old today. You are developing into an amazing person. Here are some indications.

Your favorite phrase over the last month is, “I changed my mind.” For example, after much deliberation, you changed your mind about your favorite colors. For at least a year, you’ve maintained that your favorite colors are purple and black. But about a month ago, you announced that you changed your mind. Your favorites are now purple, black and blue.

You often wish that your hair was purple.

For a couple weeks you reported having dreams of a dragon. A nice dragon. The dragon was, of course, purple, black and blue. This phase seems to have ended a couple weeks ago.

Speaking of phases, you went through a period of wanting your sandwich crusts removed. I think you learned this when you were in Fishville in June. Personally I found this very annoying, and I didn’t want to indulge you, but your mother didn’t see any harm in it. I’m not sure, but I think this phase may be over now.

One day you said, “I want to move to another planet.” I’m still not sure why.

One of your most endearing traits, to me anyhow, has been that you’ve started to sing nonsense songs. Funny, you used to babble nothing but nonsense, but it was because you didn’t know any different. Then slowly you learned to speak and all your efforts were focused on communicating. But now you’ve reached the point where you can babble nonsense for the sheer joy of the sound. I love that.

Once after dinner your mother remarked that some food could be saved for later. You asked, “Is that a leftover?” And when Mama confirmed, you were beside yourself β€” overjoyed β€” ecstatic. “I was right! It is a leftover. I was right!” I guess you take after me in some ways.

Another day you complimented my shirt. “I like your short, Dada.” Then you schooled me about how one should say “thanks” upon receiving a compliment.

On yet another day, our departure to the park was delayed slightly because you wanted to say goodbye to all the furniture first.

Your latest fixation is being first. You’re into racing to an extent, but your main concern is the order of procession. You are constantly asking, “Why did you get ahead of me?”

You went through a phase of wanting bedtime stories about rocketships.

What if our friend Daisy had a sister named Whoopsy? You thought that joke was just about the funniest thing you’d ever heard.

One evening you said, “Dada, I like the smell of your drink. What is it?”

Whiskey, I said.

You asked for a taste, and after that you decided you did not like it so much, not at all.

And then there was the day when you asked me, “Dada, do you still love me even when I do something wrooooong?” You’ll stretch the last word of a sentence out like that, sometimes.

Yes, I said, we all make mistakes. I make mistakes too.

You followed my logic. “But even when someone has dood a mistake, we still love each other.”

That’s right. Even Crybaby.

Last night, as I was putting you to bed, you asked, “Why can’t people be something they’re not?” Huh? That’s not the case, baby. You live in New Orleans. People can be something they’re not at least once a year. That’s why we have Mardi Gras.

Tonight I offered to tell you the story of how Barack Obama got to the White House. Turned out to be a tough story to tell, as I had to explain things like nation-states and voting. I explained the White House is where the president lives. “Is that you Dada?” No, that’s not me. “But you are the president of something aren’t you?” I was amazed to realize you know about FOLC.

Midway through you asked me to work you into the story, as you now do every night. (“I don’t want to be in any plain stories, Dada. I want to be in the special stories. Only tell me special stories.”) So I told how you ran for president. “But,” you protested, “I don’t want to be president!” Can’t say as I blame you. I started to rig the election so that you would lose. But then you changed your mind. You decided you could govern if you had help from your friends Lily and Lala and Malaysia, and of course your parents.

Forty Months

Midsummer

Dear Persephone,

I meant to take notes on all the crazy things you’ve said over the last few weeks. But time got away from me. I remember you said “Trust me!” when we were playing Alphabet Farm. I wrote it down, because it seemed remarkable, but now I can’t remember anything more about it, except that I’d never heard you say that before, and somehow that seemed profound.

One morning when the car wouldn’t start I carried you across the street to Tommie’s shop. After I explained the situation to Tommie, including how you mother got to work that morning, you had one question: “What’s a damn cab?”

I don’t remember a whole lot more, but in my defense you were gone with your mother for roughly a quarter of the time since I last wrote. You spent a week at a friend’s cabin outside Fishville, Louisiana. When you came back I swear you looked and acted bigger. Just like last year.

Just before that we had the countdown to your last days of daycare ever. But I already told you about that. Since then you and your mother have been on summer vacation. I continue to work, but I get a vicarious sense of leisure from you two.

Maybe this would be a good time to mention something you said a couple months ago, which I never recorded. While I was putting you to bed one night, the topic of human mortality came up somehow, and you said, “But I don’t want to die!” I’ve never tried to hide the concept of death from you, the idea that all living things pass away, but I felt for you right then, and deeply. You sounded genuinely afraid. That old fear of death is a universal, and it’s been a mighty emotional force in my life. In fact the only thing that’s taken the edge off that fear, for me, has been you. After your birth, death and dying has seemed a little less scary to me. But that’s hardly something I’d expect you to understand at your tender age. So I said to you, “It’s OK, baby. Nobody wants to die. But it’s not anything you need to worry about for a long time.” I hope that was a good thing to say.

We made a return trip to Vero, Florida, with your maternal grandparents. I can’t begin to describe how magical it seemed to play in the surf with you. There’s something pure and purifying about the action of the waves. So many other distractions are forgotten, and we’re challenged to be most fully present, when a surge of ocean water is threatening to knock you down and wash you away. Actually you still get distracted and you’d have washed out to sea if left to your own devices. But I tried to get you to pay attention when a big wave was bearing down. Seemed like a valuable life lesson.

You were excited to celebrate the summer solstice, which we did today. I was thrilled that you seem to understand the idea of the solstice. “It’s the longest day of the year!” I’d promised we’d make a wreath, Bohemian-style, but travel and lack of planning on my part put that idea on hold. Instead, we frolicked on the beach and constructed a giant sun symbol in the sand, which the rising tide soon washed away. So that was sort of poetic.

Happy Midsummer, baby.

Thirty-Nine Months

Chart

Dear Persephone,

We’ve been counting down your last days of “school.” I’ve been taking you to daycare starting when you were five months old. The morning time has been our special time together. Since you don’t have to be there at any specific time, and my workday is usually flexible, we’ve had the luxury of taking a leisurely approach, and this has been a responsibility that I have relished. We take our time, we talk about all manner of things, and we share the joy of starting our day together.

All that’s about to end in a few days. You’ll have the summer off with your mother, and then in the fall you’ll start going to school for real, to “Mama’s school,” where they have a pre-K3 program. Instead of riding on the bike with me, you’ll be riding in the car across the river. Instead of a leisurely beginning to the day we’ll be looking at an unforgiving clock and I predict a fair amount of chaos and stress.

So I’m doing my best to enjoy these last few days of the old routine. I’ll miss riding down the street while you ring the bell and call out, “Wake up, wake up, everybody, it’s morning times!” It’s the end of an era, and that makes me sad.

But just to prove I’m not an overly sentimental fool, I also have to report that this past month has been tough. You are really at the height of the so-called “first adolescence.” At least I hope it’s the height. You are stubborn to the point of pigheadedness. For example, tonight Xy was making a quick run to the store, and she was going to take you along. You wouldn’t put your shoes on, and so Xy left without you. That sounds simple enough in the retelling, but oh, the drama. The tears. The yelling. The hitting. After Xy left, you finally put your shoes on, but of course it was too late. I’d hoped you might learn something from this incident but I’m not sure you’re quite able to yet. It ain’t easy being three.

A week ago, after some long, drawn-out conflict (over what I can’t even remember) I told you that I love you, and you said that I didn’t. You maintained that you loved me, and you loved Mama, but that we didn’t love you. Now that you’re over that particular fit of pique, you still say from time to time, “Nobody loves me.” I don’t know that you believe it. I don’t think you do. But I think you enjoy the way it sounds. Anyway, you sure know how to hurt a guy.

So as not to end this note on downer, I’ll recount something you said to me at Aidan’s five-year birthday party last night. You got in the jumpy castle, and you were jumping up and down with the other kids, and you turned to me and said, “Dada, can you sing that song that goes, ‘Bounce for the Juvenile?'”

That Magnolia project keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Uptown villains who don’t mind dyin’
That Melpomene project keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Uptown villains who don’t mind dyin’
That Calliope project keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Uptown villains who don’t mind dyin’
That St. Thomas project keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of front of town villains who don’t mind dyin’
That 13th Ward keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Uptown villains who don’t mind dyin’
That 9th Ward posse keep slangin’ iron
A bunch of Downtown villains who don’t mind dyin’

Now bounce for the Juvenile, bounce for the Juvenile
Bounce baby, bounce, bounce, bounce
I said bounce for the Juvenile, bounce for the Juvenile
Bounce baby, bounce, bounce, bounce

I was happy to oblige even though I felt like Steve Zahn on Treme.

Oh, and several weeks ago you requested “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” as your bedtime lullaby.

Thirty-Eight Months

Trike

Dear Persephone,

You’re thirty-eight months old today.

I knew this month was off to a good start when you told me your own version of an old knock knock joke. It was the old “orange you glad” joke which I’d told you a month or two before. An old friend from college had reminded me of it. Here’s your version.

Knocky knock.
Who’s there?
Carrot.
Carrot who?
Carrot you glad I didn’t say banana?

Clearly you got the structure but the pun eludes you.

Knocky knock.
Who’s there?
Tangerine.
Tangerine who?
Tangerine you glad I didn’t say orange?

I love that.

This was the first April Fool’s Day you’ve been able to appreciate. You proved remarkably easy to fool. I could point to the window and say, “Look! It’s the abominable snowman!” And you’d look every time. You loved it, though. We even cooked up a plan to tell the people at your daycare that your lunchbox was full of poop. But you were overcome by modesty at the last minute.

You had some pieces of tomato on your plate one night. You said one looked like a wheel, one looked like a rainbow, and one looked like a Muse’s shoe.

You are beginning to ask more interesting questions. For example, a few weeks ago, a sermon came on our house mix and you asked me who was talking. When I said “a Christian preacher,” you thought for a minute and then asked, “What’s a Christian?” I replied, “Someone who follows Jesus,” which led to some more interesting questions. Now I’m bracing for the inevitable: “What is God?” I’m sure you’ll ask that some day soon. Perhaps I’ll draw inspiration from a recent blog post I read and say something like, “God is an idea that helps people understand the world around them.”

Another question you asked would seem easier: “What is Google?” But actually this one stumped me. How to explain Google in terms a three-year-old can understand? It’s complicated.

For a few weeks you had an intense craving for stories. It seemed you were asking me to tell you a story from the moment you woke up until bedtime. As soon as I’d tell you one, no matter how good or bad it was, you’d ask for another. But this seems to have subsided at last.

Your speech grows more sophisticated daily, but you still have lots of funny expressions. For example, You say “talk it” instead of unmute. Like when we have the TV on, and we mute the commercials, and the program comes back on but the audio is still muted. “Talk it!” Which makes sense. For what it’s worth, my spellchecker doesn’t recognize unmute either.

You remain a great lunar enthusiast. Last week, when playing with your friend Lala, you noticed the moon was out and very nearly full. Lala said, “It’s the sun!” You hauled off and hit her in the face. It wasn’t a nice thing to do, obviously, and given that Lala’s nearly twice your size you are lucky you didn’t get stomped. But eerily enough it reminded me of my admonition a few months ago to “strike a blow for the moon.” Have you been reading my blog?

Sometimes you pretend that I’m the Big Bad Wolf. “Can you get me a glass of seltzer, Big Bad Wolf?” Then you’ll wave your wand and turn me into a prince or a king.

Best of all you have begun to spontaneously say things like, “I love you.” Just a couple days ago you came up to me while I was sitting on the deck and, without any prompting, you said, “When I grow up I want to be just like you, Dada.” You said it twice. Amazing.

Thirty-Seven Months

Bunny Egg

Dear Persephone,

Thanks for sharing a wonderful Equinox with us yesterday. We decorated eggs and had an egg hunt and watered your tree (which we planted on the last vernal equinox) and went on a nature walk and you even put on some bunny ears (sent in the mail by your grandmother) and hopped around the house saying “boing boing boing” later in the day.

You have long passed the point where I can chronicle all your developments. Nevertheless I will try give little snapshots when I can. And so I present the incident of the grapes and the bowl. This happened a week or two ago.

One day after dinner you were promised some grapes for dessert. You were pretty excited and you covered your eyes in anticipation so you could be surprised when Mama served them. When you opened your eyes you were surprised all right: The grapes were in a bowl. Apparently you’d expected them on a plate. You began to cry and protest. You pleaded to have the grapes on a plate. Of course we could have put the grapes on a plate for you, but you have many capricious whims, and I often feel we are too indulgent already. It seemed to me that there was a learning opportunity here. We explained that grapes are round like balls, and they would roll right off a plate and fall on the floor. You weren’t having it. You were ready to throw the grapes down anyway. I put the bowl out of your reach, and I told you could have the grapes in a bowl, or not have them at all. Still you cried and cried. You clearly wanted the grapes. But that bowl was highly problematic.

After listening to you cry for a while, I finally got out a plate and put it on the table next to the bowl. I plucked a grape from the bowl and put it on the plate. I encouraged you to eat it, which you did, though still quite tearfully. Then I told you to take a grape from the bowl and put it on the plate yourself. You did, and then you ate that grape. Next I told you to get another grape from the bowl and simply touch it to the plate before popping it into your mouth. Your tears were beginning to subside now. The fourth grape went directly from the bowl to your mouth. See how they taste just as good whether from a plate or a bowl? You ate all the grapes in the bowl, followed by a couple more bowls full. On the next night you asked for your grapes in a bowl.

So now at least you know how to serve grapes properly. But did you learn anything about being flexible? It remains to be seen. But we’ve reviewed the incident together. “Do you remember when you wanted the grapes on a plate?” I hope that helps to seal the deal, helps you generalize the lesson. In any case, I thought this story kind of encapsulates where you’re at, and how we relate.

Three Years

III

Dear Persephone,

You are three years old today.

I just realized that your birthday is exactly five weeks after mine. That means when my birthday falls on Martin Luther King Day, yours falls on Presidents’ Day. I guess that will occur about every seven years or so.

One year ago, I was impressed by your emergent abstract thinking. That development has continued apace. The most recent manifestation has shown up just before you drift off to dreamland. While you’re in your crib, under your blankets, I tell you a story and then sing you some songs. I usually try to work the songs in to be a part of the story, a natural conclusion, but sometimes it functions more as a separate sequence entirely. You’re aware of the structure, and over the last month you’ve started to ask, when the singing starts: “Is the song a part of the story?” Doesn’t sound like much, perhaps, but I was thrilled because it represents a new level of conceptual sophistication.

You’ve also continued to assert yourself with greater vigor, demonstrating why this age is known as the “first adolescence.” I thought you could be obstinate and defiant at two and a half, but wow. I had no idea. You can and will disagree about anything, as the mood strikes you. The best example I can think of lately came just this past week. You woke up and, as per usual, asked me what day it was. I told you it was Tuesday. You replied with an emphatic, “No! It’s Friday!” That led to an interesting discussion on things we can change and things we can’t.

But you’re also very helpful, at least sometimes. You often help me empty the dishwasher. You help me cook, and I find involving you in that process improves your reception of the dish at the table. When we celebrated Candlemas you helped by shining a light on the candles.

After showing little interest in them for months, you recently got interested in your Madeline books again. Therefore I took particular notice when I saw John Bemelmans Marciano was slated to make an appearance at Octavia Books yesterday. He is the grandson of the original author, who has done a number of follow-up books. You were very excited. You got dressed up in a fancy dress worthy of Madeline herself, and you set off with your copy of Madeline and the Cats of Rome for John to sign.

But just as you pulled up around the corner from the bookstore, you barfed all over yourself. And that was the end of that. We were afraid you’d come down with the stomach virus that’s going around β€” and maybe you did, but it’s hard to say. You didn’t barf again, and this morning you woke up feeling better than you have in a week. Still I felt pretty bad that your big literary adventure ended in such a disaster.

You talk funny. You have particularly hard time with the hard “c” sound. Your crib is your “trib,” for example. It’s pretty cute. And speaking of cute, here are some cute things you’ve said over the past month:

  • Brandishing a marker and a map of the USA: “Can I color the statements?”
  • “Hey you got a fleur de lis on your hat. That means you’re the Saints game.”
  • Speaking of sports, a couple weeks ago you kept saying, “Black and gold to the superbowl!” I tried explaining that the black & gold didn’t make it this year, but you weren’t havin’ it.
  • “We’re in the country of New Orleans.”
  • You seem convinced that anything “spooky” is also “beautiful.”
  • One night you said you wanted to read a book with “pictures and conversations.” That’s a quote from Alice in Wonderland but I don’t know where you picked it up.

And finally I should say some words about your birthday party. We deliberately tried to keep it low key. We invited as few people as we felt we could get away with (sorry if we snubbed anyone) and we asked everyone to refrain from bringing presents. Nevertheless we had over a dozen people here for cake and ice cream and a ton of presents. Xy made a moon cake for you β€” round and white, not too hard. I bought you a moon globe and β€” surprise! β€” so did Michael Homan. The same exact damn moon globe. Pretty funny, right? And of course the reason for the moon theme is your inordinate love for “Sister Moon” which I hope will never die.

Continue reading Three Years