PATERNAL BRIEFING
"Decidedly a Lady"

Sep. 20 - I don't understand where last week went. It just suddenly got busy. It was Monday morning (the 12th) and I was sipping my second cup of coffee, wondering whether I should write an Almanac or just post some idiot notion I'd had on the blog. Then all at once it was last night (the 19th).

We saw Joe Cocker up in Hillerød last Monday night. We haven't been getting out much lately—hardly at all, really—but it was Trine's birthday.

I like Joe Cocker. I enjoyed the show, but there was this one discordant thing. When he sang "What's Going On," the visuals on the big screens behind him started showing pictures of (a) civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, either suffering, angry, or pursuing daily life amid rubble, (b) American or Israeli military forces conducting operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, and (c) Yasser Arafat, sometimes close-up, sometimes being thronged by adoring crowds.

I may have missed a topic or two, and I welcome anyone else who was there to correct me, but I'd guess that nine-tenths of the visuals fell into one of the three categories above.

I actually drafted a whole blog on the topic of that montage and my inability to get the actual point of it, but who cares what I think of a Joe Cocker slide show?

Decidedly a Lady

One afternoon last week Trine and I picked Molli up from daycare together. Trine spoke to one of the teachers while I followed Molli around the grounds and discouraged her from sticking things in her mouth.

"I don't like what the teacher was saying," Trine said as we made our way home.

"What'd she say?" I asked. "I only heard something about Molli being a little lady."

"Being what?"

"She kept saying en bestemt dame," I said. "Doesn't that mean 'decidedly a lady,' or something like that?"

Trine grasped my failure immediately. "I guess bestemt could mean decidedly, or definitely," she said. "But that's not what she was saying. She was saying Molli's a determined lady. She was being polite. She means Molli's stubborn."

"We knew that," I said. We did. I've said it before in this very space. "So what was she saying? It's a problem?"

"Not exactly a problem," Trine said. "But she's going to be difficult. She's very stubborn and curious. She has to get into everything."

I pondered this for a moment.

"I was difficult," I said.

"Me too," Trine said.

Molli's grandparents must be savoring their revenge.

# # #

The American term for "a determined little lady" seems to be "spirited." I don't know if it's a clinical term, or approved by any pediatricians, but if you Google the literal string "spirited toddler" you get 12,700 results. "Curious toddler" only gets 10,400. "Stubborn toddler" drops down to 1600. "Willful toddler" returns only 213 results.

I don't actually think Molli is "spirited" in the sense I see it being used on all the parental websites, where it seems to be standing in for violent, volatile, or obnoxious. (I use the terms lightly.) But I've learned a lot from skimming these websites and bulletin boards—not about raising kids, but about my own inadequacies as a parent.

I always knew there were a few overzealous parents who wanted their kids to be tossing polynomials around and speaking six languages before age two, but I had no idea how zealous even "mainstream" parenting had become. Apparently, for example, it's not unusual to teach pre-verbal kids American Sign Language—especially if they're "spirited," which is apparently often simply a sign of their frustration at not being able to communicate their wants and needs.

When Molli wants something, she points at it and makes some kind of sound. "Muh" is almost always used for food or milk (mad and mælk in Danish), but other objects elicit apparently random sounds. One moment "dukka dukka" might mean, "give me that big yellow Lego piece," but at another it might mean, "I'd like you to lift me up and hold me in front of the light switch so I can turn the lights on and off." At still another it mean, "Holy crap, did I just pinch a nasty loaf! How about a fresh diaper?"

I can appreciate that she gets frustrated at our inability to tell the difference, but that frustration is important. It makes her want to learn how to communicate the subtle differences between, say, Lego pieces, light switches, and crap in her diaper. If she knew how to "sign" that she was hungry, tired, thirsty, soiled, or wanted to play with this, that, or the other thing... well, what would that do to her incentive to learn actual spoken language?

Unhappiness is a pretty good motivator. After all, if you were completely happy with your existence, what would you change?

* * *

I think the preceding few paragraphs are a good example of the kind of parenting I've found best suits my own temperament: PBR, or Parenting By Rationalization. (I realize the preposition shouldn't be capitalized, but I wanted a three-letter acronym.)

There are two foundational rationalizations behind PBR.

One
Humans have been raising their young successfully for a pretty long time. We've got better post-natal care, medicine, vitamins, and dental hygiene these days, but behaviorally speaking we're still the same hairy primates we were ten thousand years ago. If all those pre-literate hunter-gatherers could raise their kids well enough to raise the kids that raised the kids that raised the kids (and so on) that raised us, then it stands to reason I ought to be able to raise my own daughter on sheer instinct.

Two
The world is a bitch of a place, and it's important not to give our children false expectations about the kind of place we've brought them into. If I can't give her everything I want to, I shouldn't feel too badly about it because she's probably better off in the long run.

These are important points, because if you take them the right way they allow you to believe that (a) you already have it within you to be a good parent, and that (b) even if you're sometimes a lousy parent, it's all just part of preparing your child for this imperfect world.

The best thing about PBR is that I don't have to buy any books, watch any videos, or retain any high-priced tutors. I don't have to worry about special meal preparation, shop in special stores, or learn any new tricks. I just have to do the best I can with what I've got, comfortable in the conviction that my daughter is better off with my flaws than someone else's perfections.

Dih Deh?

Anyway, Molli's getting more conversational every day. Her vocabulary is still limited to a handful of mostly Danish words that she doesn't fully understand, but that doesn't diminish her enthusiasm. She babbles away incessantly at people, animals, and inanimate objects. She likes to point at things and ask what they are. She'll wait for an answer but she never seems to learn anything.

"Dih deh?" she asks, pointing at a car. She stares at you, awaiting your elucidation.

"Car," you say.

She jerks her hand twenty degrees to point at something else, often without even taking her eyes off you.

"Dih deh?" she asks anew.

You follow her finger, which is now pointed over a shrub toward the roof of a house, on top of which sits a big antenna, beyond which clouds are drifting across the sky.

"Well," you say, "there's a bush, but you might be pointing at the house, that's a roof, and that thing on top of it's an antenna, unless you're asking about the clouds—"

"Dih deh?" She's pointing at the car again, probably.

"Car," you say.

"Dih deh," she concludes, and either points at something else or rams the inquisitive finger stright up her nose.

As near as I can tell, "dih deh" spoken with an interrogatory inflection means "what's that?" Without the inflection it's "that's that," or "this is something," or "okay, got it."

I don't know if she's shooting for the English "what's that?" or the Danish "hvad er det?" It could be either—or maybe she's inventing her own hybird. She can seem quite lucid in the way she uses the little phrase: sometimes when she sees someone she knows she's seen before, she'll scrutinize the person carefully, then look at Trine or me and ask, "deh deh?" I'm pretty sure it means, "Isn't this that person I know from before?"

Just recently—toward the end of last week—she finally got a grip on "hi!" (Or possibly the Danish "hej," which is pronounced identically.) When she's in a good mood, she calls out a hearty "hi!" to every human being she encounters. I think that's a normal phase in development, and it seems to be happening at a more or less appropriate time. What's much more interesting to me is the way she wrenches acknowledgment out of people. After saying "hi" (or "hej") toward someone, Molli will stare at them expectantly until they reply—and they almost always do.

She sometimes says "hi" to inanimate objects, as well. She seems to have developed an especially good rapport with doors. She likes to swing them open and shut while talking to them about whatever it is a 14-month-old child thinks a door would find interesting.

She's even learned the Danish "hej-hej," which probably translates best as "bye-bye." It is very disconcerting when you first arrive in Denmark to have people saying "hi hi!" at the ends of your encounters with them, especially on the phone, but you get used to it. (Quickly, too—my nieces mastered it in a few days when they came out for our wedding in 2003.)

So Molli seems to have figured out that one "hi" means hello, and two mean "goodbye." She usually waves when she says "hej-hej." That's her big gesture. Actually, she only really has the two: waving and pointing. No, three: she claps a lot, too. Especially when she's excited or hears other people clapping, even if they're just on tv.

And I think I've already chronicled her achievements with mad, kat, and ging-gang.

Those are her big communication achievements at fourteen months.

No, wait—she also spells.

The previous tenant of her bedroom (the daughter of the previous owners) had her name spelled out on the bedroom door in clown letters. When the outgoing owners removed them, they left their shadows on the door. When we moved Molli into the room this winter, I wrote her name on a piece of A4 paper and hung it over the shadow letters as a stop-gap measure (yeah, that was about nine months ago, but you'd be surprised how hard it is to remember to buy clown letters). I wrote "MOLLI" using thick and colorful magic markers. I even overcame my own cringes and dotted the "i" with a little red heart.

One day a couple of weeks ago I heard Trine reading the letters and sounding the name out to Molli as she brought her by the door. I thought that was clever, so I began doing it too.

"Molli," I say very slowly. "M-O-L-L-I. Mmmm-ahhhh-llllll-eeeee. M-O-L-L-I. Molli." Then I tap her little nose and tell her that's her: she's Molli.

Trine does the same thing, but in Danish (and I don't know if she taps her nose).

Molli has now apparently concluded that this is how to read a sign, and when she sees a handwritten sign, or a printed sign that looks handwritten, or really just about anything with recognizable letters on it, she'll often issue a staccato burst of little sounds—strangely enough, it almost sounds as though she's running down the English vowels: "ah eh ee oh uh."

That's a lot of Molli for a single Almanac, but I had some catching up to do. For those of you who enjoy the Molli blogs, there you go. For those of you who don't—what the hell is wrong with you?

Bewitched, Bothered, and Besplattered

Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft in 1692. This put him in a difficult spot. If he pleaded guilty, he'd be burned alive at the stake. If he pleaded not guilty, he'd have to take a lie-detector test.

The state-of-the-art lie detector of 1692 wasn't any less accurate than today's models, but it was significantly rougher on its subjects. It was called "dunking." The tightly bound subject would be dunked repeatedly into a pond or lake until the truth emerged.

One of the primary symptoms of demonic possession was immunity to water, so those who survived the process were rewarded with a warm, dry burning at the stake. Those who drowned, on the other hand, were clearly innocent and received a favorable ruling.

Giles Corey wasn't eager to be burned at the stake, but he wasn't keen on posthumous vindication, either. A plea of guilty meant the stake; a plea of not-guilty meant drowning (or the stake, depending on the results of the lie-detector test). Mr. Corey therefore did what any reasonable person might have done: he claimed his Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution and said nothing.

This was a foolish and costly blunder, as the Constitution had not yet been invented.

Baffled by the accused's refusal to enter a plea, the court pressed him for an answer. Literally. On September 19, 1692, Giles Corey became the first, last, and only American ever to have been pressed to death by his own government.

* * *

On September 19, 1947, the U.S. conducted its first underground nuclear test in the Nevada desert. This caused a major disturbance in the natural order of the fragile desert eco-system, ultimately resulting in Las Vegas.

The 19th was the birthday of Alison Sweeny (1976), Joan Lunden (1950), Leslie "Twiggy" Lawson (1949), Jeremy Irons (1948), "Mama" Cass Elliott (1943), Paul Williams (1940), and William Golding (1911). It was Liberation Day in Luxembourg and Independence Day in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Today's birthdays include Sophia Loren (1934), Dr. Joyce Brothers (1928), Arnold "Red" Auerbach" (1917), Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton (1890), and Upton Sinclair (1878).

Happy Tuesday!

© 2005, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Discuss]
[Daily Briefing Archive]