Bad Mothering Moment Number… Um, A Lot

Recently after dinner Dave was cleaning the kitchen, I was talking with him and holding Ryan, and Nathan was busy shuttling blocks from the living room to the sun room. And then Nathan paused next to me, and pointed up toward the ceiling. “What’s that?” he said.

He was pointing at a bundle of dried peppers hanging from a hook in our kitchen ceiling. They’d been there for a year and a half, leftovers from my insanity of planting six hot pepper plants one year. I’d strung some of the leftovers, thinking I’d use them up over the winter. Trouble is, I don’t cook a lot of hot food. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy food. And I know that peppers are supposed to get hotter as they dry, so it didn’t take all that long before the idea of plucking one of those bad boys down and putting it into our dinner was… well, rather intimidating.

Thus they remained as decorative elements, with me occasionally glancing up at them and thinking that I really ought to just send them to the compost.

So when Nathan pointed them out, all those thoughts coalesced. “They’re hot peppers,” I told him, “and I really ought to get rid of them.” I hooked down the two strands, tossed the larger one onto the counter, and, at Nathan’s insistence, handed him the smaller one. “Remember, they’re hot peppers,” I warned him, and went back to talking with Dave.

Now in retrospect, handing my child a bunch of dry hot peppers was a bit like handing him a canister of pepper spray and saying “Ok, but don’t push this button on top.” But for some reason, immersed as we were in our conversation, neither Dave nor I recognized that.

It wasn’t until Nathan came crying into the kitchen, rubbing desperately at his face, that the light finally dawned — and Dave was the first to catch on. “He got it in his eyes,” Dave told me, swinging Nathan up onto a chair in front of the kitchen sink. He started to flush Nathan’s face with water. Within in a few minutes Nathan managed to get across that his lips were what really hurt, and Dave started feeding him peanut butter, which soaked the sting out pretty quickly.

I looked into the sun room and saw the half-decimated string of peppers, pulled apart and with many of them broken open. Seeds were scattered over the carpet. Ryan was going over to investigate. I grabbed Ryan, went for the vacuum, and set aside for a moment the mother-guilt exploding in my brain. There would be time enough later to reflect on how a three-year-old doesn’t necessarily make the connection between “hot peppers” and all the rules that my own brain associates with that phrase, like “don’t get it on your skin,” and “for heaven’s sake, don’t touch your eyes!”

Once the clean-up was done I headed for the bathroom. Dave had transferred Nathan to the tub, the better to douse him, and it appeared that the worst of it was over. But oh my word — sure, I’d heard that hot peppers could hurt you, and I’d experienced enough mild irritation to take the warning seriously. But I’d never seen anything like Nathan’s poor little face.

Someday Nathan will look back on experiences like this from a safe distance. Hopefully he’ll laugh, because he’s turned into a healthy, well-adjusted person despite my moments of insanity. Hopefully.

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Chatter Revisited

As though galvanized by my previous post about his language, Ryan has been adding words at a tremendous rate over the last couple of months. It started slowly, with vaguely word-like syllables bubbling up from the primordial soup of his baby-talk. But he has accelerated like a steam engine falling off a cliff, and now has far too many words to keep track of.

There are differences in some of the specifics of how Nathan and Ryan have dived into language, but the similarities seem to me to vastly outweigh these. They of course have chosen different words for specific things: “ni-ni” was “drink” for Nathan, while Ryan uses “ee” for “drink,” and reserves “ni-ni” for nursing. Nathan showed a clear tendency to reverse the end-syllable of a word (as with “ni-ni”) where Ryan really hasn’t; and where Nathan absolutely insisted on two-syllable words for a long time (“lo-lo” was “loader” while “ba-lo” was “backhoe-loader”), Ryan uses repetition much more freely, sounding a word anywhere between one and about twelve times. I have noticed that Ryan is particularly proud of his two-syllable words (“app-uh” for “apple” was his first, and he also does a very good “ung-gee” for “hungry”), but he doesn’t try to lengthen one-syllable ones out.

But these are just fun details. What is similar is that they both have worked on their language like fiends, experimenting with sounds and the limitations of their own ability. Like Nathan, Ryan’s word sounds have drifted over time. “Truck” at one time sounded almost like “car,” but then they began to move apart so that we could distinguish between them. At the same time, though, “truck” started to get closer to “bug” and “rock,” and now I’m watching Ryan struggle with making himself understood whenever he uses the “guck” sound. It’s a beautiful, sophisticated learning algorithm, trying to find an optimal arrangement of a complex search space.

(I have this suspicion that Ryan is actually using different sounds for each word, but that we can’t identify the differences because we’re so embedded in the English speech patterns. I forget what this phenomenon is called, but it’s the reason that native Japanese speakers have trouble hearing the difference between “l” and “r” in English. I highly recommend The Language Instinct to anyone who hasn’t read it.)

And what’s also similar is that Ryan is absolutely thrilled when we comprehend something he’s saying. Nathan by now takes it so much for granted that he is only peeved when he don’t understand him, but Ryan is delighted each time he makes himself understood. He is in the phase where every truck we pass on the freeway has to be commented upon. “Guck?!” he says, over and over again, and I must (must, or he’ll keep commenting until I do) respond with something like “Yes, that’s a truck!”

Nathan’s speech, and the cognition that it implies, is also very interesting, but I’ll hold off on it for now. I will point out, though, that he just today made a very passable stab at “antecubital fosse.” That’s for you, Dad.

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MS Walk

Family and friends:

Next Saturday I’ll be walking in the Portland MS Walk. As always, if anyone is looking for someone to sponsor for the event, I’d be happy to accept donations! My event page can be found here if you’re interested.

This year I also completed a small quilt to auction off for the benefit of the MS Society. Please visit the eBay listing for it if you have any interest in that piece. I assume that only family and friends will be interested in bidding, and am looking forward to sending the quilt off to a good home.

Thank you, and much love to everyone!

Piscine Recovery

For anyone waiting with baited breath on the state of our fish: you will be glad to know that they are improving rapidly. They are all more active, even the little lame one, which still lists to one side.

By the way, we are not against having pets — we were simply hoping to match any pets we acquired to the age and interest of our children. So far the fish (currently housed on the kitchen counter, for lack of a better location) have provided them with some small amount of entertainment, but a much larger number of new rules:

  • Don’t drink the fish water.
  • Don’t salt the fish water.
  • Don’t poke the bread knife into the fish bowl.

…well, you get the idea.

Adventures In Ecosystems

As many of you may know, we have eight 330-gallon totes set up to collect rainwater from our house and shop roofs. We use this water primarily on our garden. Last year, even with only the two by the house actually hooked up, we were able to go most of the summer without paying for water for our garden.

There has been some buildup of slime inside the totes, as that insidious, persistent thing called life has found its way into them. This hasn’t been a huge deal, because the water still comes out clear (the slime seems to stick to the walls of the tote) and anyway the water is destined for the garden. Our plants haven’t seemed to mind having less-than-pure water poured on them. Still, we’ve discussed ways to maintain the totes with yearly draining and scrubbing, etc.

And occasionally we’ve also discussed whether some helpful organism wouldn’t be willing to clean the totes for us, like the fish and snails that help clean the walls of aquariums.

Thus it was that we recently found ourselves in a pet shop, buying five 27 cent “feeder” goldfish, as well as a couple of moss balls. The moss balls (actually a form of algae) were to help get oxygen into the water and clean up the fish waste, and the fish would feed on the organisms already in the tote, and a happy state of balance would be enjoyed by all. We hoped.

We let the fish equilibrate in a bucket of tote water. We set them loose in the bucket, to make sure that the tote water wasn’t instantly fatal to them. After a day in the bucket, we introduced them into one of our totes, along with the moss balls (tied to strings to facilitate removal if necessary).

All appeared well.

A week later, Dave went out to check on the fish. He reported that only four were visible, one of those almost certainly dead, and they were all looking pretty lethargic. After some observation, we decided that they were starving — that whatever life was in our tote water was not food for goldfish.

I suppose we could have left them in there, but then there would be little goldfish corpses in our tote water. Besides which, we both felt a certain obligation to these little life forms. This was true even though they had been referred to as “feeder fish” at the pet shop, implying that their expected fate was not to be a treasured pet for some young child, but to provide nourishment for some other treasured pet. So we decided to pull them out of the tote.

This was both easier and harder than it sounds. The tote was equipped with a two-inch spigot, plenty large enough to fit a 27-cent fish through. The more lethargic of the fish weren’t too hard for Dave to herd toward the spigot with a long stick. “Now!” he’d say, and I’d open the spigot quickly to let out a gush of water and (hopefully) fish. I would then scoop the fish out into a smaller bucket for safe-keeping, and we’d go to work on the next fish. (The smaller bucket turned out to be only marginally safe, as Ryan at one point decided to dump it over. He is generally against water being contained, believing it to be at peace only when free.)

The most active of the fish was a bit more challenging. For some reason it failed to realize that its only hope of salvation lay in accepting Dave’s direction, and devised all kinds of clever plans to evade him. Eventually Dave was up on the ladder with two sticks of different lengths and a mirror, and with the superior cognitive abilities of his species, was able to finally direct the last fish into place. “Now! Now!” he commanded.

During the course of the fish-herding, Dave also discovered what appeared to be small traces of goldfish skin floating around in the tote. We decided that the fate of the fifth fish had been to further the survival of its brethren, or at least the two stronger-appearing ones. So they did find something to eat; but as Dave put it, an ecosystem in which the only thing for goldfish to eat is other goldfish is simple not sustainable.

So: after a quick trip to the thrift store (for a $7 bowl) and to the grocery store (for fish food nearly that expensive) we’ve turned our original $1.50 investment into an indoor pet that we neither needed nor wanted. Also we don’t know where to put it. And one of them appears to be lame, perhaps because its back fin got a little nibbled. We’ll see if he perks up once he realizes that food is available and he’s no longer the next course on the menu.

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