Lost in Translation

I remember spending time with parents of toddlers before having kids  Their kids would pull on their pants mid-conversation and out of their mouth would come, “Dada whatta misa nuufus?”
“I think he’s in the bathroom sweetie.”

They’d tear off, and I’d say, “What just happened?”
“Oh, he was just asking where his Snuffleupagus stuffed animal was.”
“Bullshit,” I’d think, but sure enough here comes a beaming toddler out of the bathroom holding his Snuffy.

This fluency in toddlerese isn’t immediate, but the immersion is total so the learning curve is steep.  I’ll call bullshit on a parent who claims fluency with an average 18 month-old, but by 24-30 months I’ll believe them.

Hampering fluency is toddler insanity.  I remember for a couple weeks ago Josie kept using the word ‘Cah-row-ree.’  She’d say it mostly while playing in the car.  I could make out that cahrowree lived up in the clouds, but that was about all.  Eventually I figured out that she was saying ‘coyote,’ which is kind of hard to figure out when your toddler is emphatic that coyotes live in the sky.

Josie is still somewhat unintelligible to the unpracticed ear, so I still act as translator for our friends.  To help out, here are some translations for her more common nonsensical words and phrases.

Toddlerese / English

Cahrowree / Coyote
Yet / This
Allbody / Everybody
Up the road down the road / Beyond the house
Fro / Throw
Rant you / Thank you
Cock / Chalk
Fuck / Truck
Turkey / Twisty
Facebook / The Internet
Luten / Josie’s cousin Lucian
My / I
Foon / Spoon
Arf arf / Dog
Coo / Chew
Fireworks / The tops of carrots, or real fireworks
Want not want / Don’t want


She’s not a Tomboy

This morning Josie has interspersed the phrase “my baby” about three hundred times into her two year-old pidgin English.  Her sad excuse for a baby doll is a little black and white monkey stuffed animal.  She’s made it clear that her baby’s favorite toy is a plastic sandwich bag.  Most of the time its wrapped tight around baby’s face.  She’s obviously a little unclear on maternal responsibilities toward infants, but still, I think her heart’s in the right place.  The point is this little girl, now just over two and a half, is going full throttle into a girliness.

Before having a kid I used to fall more on the ‘nurture’ side of the debate.  Not anymore.  Since watching this little kid, and others, from day one, it’s pretty clear to me that there is A LOT of programming that comes pre-installed.  Gender identity is one of those, and through no encouragement of my own Josie took a liking to horses before she could say the word.  I believe in encouraging a child’s interests, regardless of my own, so we have many stuffed animal horses.  I even bought a book on carving wooden rocking horses.  Her interests have evolved though.

One morning Josie asked me about ballet.  Ballet was in a picture book of hers (Angelina Ballerina).  So I turn the computer on and we’re watching the Imperial Russian Ballet perform Swan Lake.  My mother calls at this time, asks what we are doing.  I tell her, and she tells me she is at Costco currently, and would it be okay if she bought her a ballerina tutu?  This is now Josie’s most treasured object.  If I don’t hide it from her sight, she will demand to wear it every day.  She has x-ray vision though, so she finds it most of the time.  When we look back through our photos of this period, I’m sure we will refer to it (in the past tense I hope!) as the “Tutu phase.”  I think my transformation from a construction worker to a full-time dad was completed the day I carried her into a grocery store with this get-up on.  Uh, that was little unclear – she, SHE, was wearing the tutu, not – oh, never mind.

IMG_7772She also, at least once a day, will go to the car and demand that I drive her to her ballerina lessons.  Josie does not go to ballerina lessons.  She’s two.  I’ve informed her that she has to be at least four to go to ballet lessons.  She, in return, confidently informs me that she is four.  She uses her fingers for emphasis.  Usually she only has three up.

With Sarah’s pregnancy, it seems Josie is now practicing to be a diminutive mother.  When we go to story time at the library now, Josie’s MO is to immediately hoard the two dolls in the circle.  She spend the rest of the hour ignoring the stories and songs in favor of undressing and dressing these two interracial doll sisters.  Which is to say, since she can’t physically undo their snaps, that I spend the next hour undressing the dressing dolls.  I’m beginning to suspect that having a stay at home dad as a caregiver isn’t making her more butch, but making me more effeminate.

I’m totally okay with this (her being a baby caregiver, not me becoming more effeminate).  This kind of affection toward babies can only be for the better when the baby comes in the fall.  What I’m desperately trying to defend her from is anything Disney that will ignite the pretty pink princess syndrome waiting to explode inside her.  Ballerina?  Okay, so maybe you’ll grow up to be a member of a backstabbing group of girls with bulimia.  At least you’ll be cultured and artistic.  Princess?  No, I’m not going to have you fall victim to being an insecure appearance-based pink nightmare with entitlement issues and fairy wings.  Hmmm.  They actually don’t really sound all that far apart.  And she’d likely grow out of the pink princess thing, while I could be stuck paying for ballet lessons into her late teens….I may have to rethink this.

I know she won’t last though.  You can’t raise kids in a vacuum.  Plus they just won’t fit in one after they get to be about three months old.  One day the doctor’s office waiting room will be playing Aladdin or Nana will babysit and bring a copy of Cinderella.  Something in her head will explode.  I know this because while shopping recently for a birthday present for one of our friends’ kid the other day Josie found the Barbie aisle.  The pink was so overpowering it dilated her pupils like someone taking their first hit of cocaine.  Those social psychologists Mattel has on staff are brilliant.  Without ever really seeing Barbie before Josie told me repeatedly, very clearly, “I like this one.”  It was the barbie riding a pink horse.  God help me.

See you at the recitals.

Toddlerhood: a Prescription for Anti-Psychotic Drugs

Living with a toddler is like living with a senile manic depressive.  You are a captive social worker belted into their emotional roller coaster.  They can deliver you, with a kiss and a “I really love you Dada,” to the clouds, and in quick succession they can send you hurtling toward the earth in a death spiral of banshee-like screaming at the back of your friend’s wedding.  When the ride stops, you are a crumpled emotional carcass while they are smiling like a cherub, handing the ticket man another token.

I heard someone once say that if an adult treated you the way a toddler does, you would probably punch them and call them a jerk.  You’d probably also swear at them, with the most common refrain being, “What the hell is wrong with you?”  There is a lot “wrong” with them from the adult perspective, so much so that if a toddler were treated as an adult by a psychiatrist, I think they could be prescribed the following four anti-psychotic drugs.  I will provided evidence for each of these drugs’ associated conditions using examples from our recent camping trip to Mt. Rainier National Park.

Lithium (for bipolar disorder). If I could choose only one drug for my toddler’s mental first aid kit it would be Lithium.  If toddlers were an emotional landscape they would look like the Himalaya.  Adults, on the other hand, mostly look like the Midwest.  This causes friction.  Iowans don’t acclimate well to being dragged up frigid 8,000 meter peaks and run back down to the sweltering Indian paddy fields over and over again.  It is exhausting and gives them severe headaches.  Lithium smooths things out.

Sarah and I like to hang onto the delusion that we are still hardened hikers without a two year-old on my shoulders and a baby growing in her tummy.  So we do not eat at picnic areas set up by the NPS.  No, we hike 0.3 miles up to a ridge, lugging our camp stove, water and noodles and cook our dinner like real thru-hikers on the trail.  While I’m boiling water, Josie tells Sarah she needs to go “poop poop.”  Uh oh.  Josie is not a seasoned outdoor pooper.  She is also tired and hungry.  It is a Saturday in July and there are literally hundreds of people on this trail.  Sarah valiantly scoops her up and departs for the small grove of alpine firs nearby.  As I’m stirring penne, I begin to hear screaming.  So do about 30 other people walking down this section trail.  It sounds like a cougar is mauling a small child in the woods.  I’m thrown back to a sociology class in college, learning about the murder of Kitty Genovese.  Five minutes pass, and Sarah emerges.  Aside for some reddened eyes and uncooperative sphincter, Josie has emotionally recovered completely.  Sarah and I, on the other hand, are a little ragged.


This is five minutes after the code red shitfest in the woods. Also note the hallucinatory behavior she is exhibiting, mistaking Sarah for a pot.

Valium/Xanax (for anxiety).  Traveling with toddlers is the worst.  The reason why is that change makes them anxious.  Routine is their friend, so in a way they’re a little autistic too.  Therefore, taking down the tent in the morning is a rife with trauma.  After a number of meltdowns, we finally got it right by having her “help” with undoing the clips and collapsing the tent poles.  Then again, she didn’t collapse the tent poles.  They became play things and I eventually had to take them away, which led to more banshee screaming.  Thirty seconds late she was fine.  Look – a squirrel!

I wouldn't call toddlers monsters, but then again they do seem to possess an innate fear of fire.

I wouldn’t call toddlers monsters, but then again they do seem to possess an innate fear of fire.

Haldol (for megalomania)  Megalomania is characterized by four conditions, where individuals believe themselves omnipotent, have a deluded sense of possessing extraordinary power, or exhibit grandiosity, which is a view of personal superiority and disdain for others.

Mt. Rainier is a massive stratovolcano 14,411 feet high, and possess more glacial mass than all the rest of the glaciers in the continental United States combined.  When Josie first saw it up close from her car seat she declared it “My mountain” and referred to it in this way for the rest of the trip.  Enough said.

Narcissism is also a marker of megalomania.

Narcissism is also a marker of megalomania.

Of course I wouldn’t recommend giving a toddler Valium.  If, however, I could get Josie a prescription I can’t say I wouldn’t pilfer her stash the next time she devolved into a convulsing jelly of screaming.  Just to smooth things out a little.  Then again maybe I’ll just break out that ear protection again – probably less habit forming.

Month one. 2:30am. 120 decibels.

Josie with Gigantic Fruit and Vegetables

Like many parents, it’s important to me that my kid understands where her food comes from.  There’s not a day that goes by during the growing season when Josephine doesn’t pick and eat something from our backyard.  One of my proudest moments as a new father happened when Josie was one year-old and still signing for most of her language.  She went to the door that leads to the garden and gave me the sign for “food.”  She was hungry, so I let her out to feast upon the strawberries.  Success.

A year has passed and the strawberries and and now the cherries are waning.  I’ve turned the snap peas under, but soon the raspberries will peak, and then it it will be carrots, gooseberries, currants, blackberries, tomatoes, pears, apples, and grapes.  She’s two and a half-years old and may not be able to count past four, but she can identify the difference between a garlic and an onion, spinach and lettuce, or kale and swiss chard.  I’ve also tricked her into thinking that she’s playing with water by watering the raised beds

Like a fisherman with his catch, it is hard not to fall into the temptation to glorify your blue-ribbon winners with photos.  Being a fisherman, as well as a grower of vegetables, I know a thing or two about how to pose with a two-pound trout: namely at arm’s length toward my buddy’s camera to make it look like an 18-pound steelhead.  So I’ll admit it: posing my diminutive daughter beside these fruits and veggies does flatter my gardening prowess with an optical illusion of gigantism.  But seriously folks: those bunny ears of hers are spinach, not swiss chard.  And that turnip-induced hernia of hers?  I’ve never heard such screaming.

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Top ten things that happen in your thirties that you thought happened in your fifties

10.  You begin to say ridiculous things like, “When I was your age you didn’t have to cut english muffins, they just tore apart!”

9.  When you push your kid on the swing, you’re the one who gets queasy.

8.  Switching sides of the bed with your wife is CRAAAAAZZZZZZYYYYY.

7.  To your wife at a party you utter the sentence, “I don’t know, I’d rather get home before it gets dark.”

6.  A friend at work has a genuine conversation with you about prostate health.

5.  You see a pair of New Balance shoes in a store and think to yourself, “Huh, those look pretty cool.”

4.  You brag to a friend about how you fell asleep the night before at 9:15pm.

3.  You’re still at the bar when you start to feel hungover.

2.  You buy a half-day ski ticket at 9am.

1. You look at a picture of yourself from before having kids and think to yourself, “Damn, I looked GOOD back then!”  The picture is from two years ago.

Josephine “Danger” Axling Volume II

If you missed the first one, this is part two of a photo essay where I try to have perfect strangers (or my mother-in-law) call Child Protective Services on me.  For the first volume click here.


Traversing a Sharp Field of Lava

Band Saw

Playing with a Rod of Plutonium

Hanging Out on Top of a CliffNew York trip 159
Jumping Off the Roof (thank God I was there to catch her)



Bear Spray




and finally my favorite…

Playing with the Garbage Disposal Switch* Underneath the Thickness Planer, While Holding a Box of Rat Poison

041*The planer stand doubles as our apple grinding station during the fall when we press cider, and a garbage disposal makes easy work out of crushing apples into sauce prior to pressing – just to head off all the questions.

Top 10 Childrens’ Books

I read A LOT of books – at least 20 a day.  Mind you, they take on average between one to three minutes to complete.  For the sake of my own sanity, I augment my toddler’s stockpile by visiting the Children’s Library pretty much every week.  These books go to the book holder in the bathroom, where I do most of my reading to Josie now that we’ve gotten into potty training.  Somehow I’ve gotten it into my head that reading new and exciting books will lubricate her GI tract, as if every time I picked up a bestseller at Barnes and Noble I suffered from an explosive case of diarrhea.

There are three types of children’s books:

1.  Books neither of us likes
2.  Books only one of us likes
3.  Books we both like.

The latter are rare, not because a toddler is picky (they will sit with rapt attention as you turn the pages of Fruit by Sara Anderson, listing off different fruits as your brain slowly turns to pudding).  They are rare because too few children’s book authors understand that their writing must concurrently reach the parent on their own level.  Movie studios like Pixar have this down pat.  They know that 8 year-olds don’t drive themselves to movie theaters.  You can sell a book with a nice cover, but if your goal as an author is have that book be so beloved that it’s worn spine is held together with duct tape, an adult has to be willing to read it literally hundreds, if not thousands, of time.

So here is Josie and I’s top ten in no particular order.  If you are looking for a birthday present for a little one you’ll soon learn shortly after stumbling into a bookstore that thereare a bajillion children’s books out there.  Without recommendations, you are more likely to feel confident in your decision-making process in the wine aisle at the supermarket than you will in the children’s book section of a book store.  So if you’re looking for a book for a toddler (and a parent) I can guarantee that they’ll both enjoy at least one of these, just as I can assure you that their parents probably already own it.

Naturally, if you have a go-to book that isn’t on this list, I would love to hear it.  And if you’ve notice it possess any significant bowel-loosening properties, all the better.