Category Archives: Conversations with Liza

To Liza on Her Third Birthday

For your birthday this year we let you pick what you wanted to do and where you wanted to go. This led to us celebrating your birthday on Friday at Chuck E. Cheese with Mumsy, your friends Josh, Kate, Jordan, and some scary clanking animatronic animals. I watched you climb up the kid habitrail all by yourself and marveled at how coordinated you are and how much you’ve grown in the last year. On Monday you demanded lunch at McDonald’s and Red Robin. Then you went home, fell asleep, and woke up to discover that you had been transformed in your bed into a monstrous hamburger.

You got many cool presents. I bought you a shirt from ThinkGeek because I’m that kind of dad. Mom got you a bag. But your favorite gift of all was a bug catcher. It’s a clear plastic container with a magnifying glass built into the lid, so you can scoop up bugs and stare at them while they cower, frightened by your giant magnified eye.

Liza wearing her "Self-Rescuing Princess" shirt

This year you’ve grown to love stuffed animals in a way that would make your uncle Andrew proud. Ellie the elephant is by far your favorite, but you also love Big Ellie the other elephant and Pinecone the other other elephant and Two the puppy dog. You named most of the animals, though I’m responsible for you calling one baby doll “Scary Baby”. It turns its head and makes frightening crying noises and clacks its eyes open and shut and it freaks me out a bit. If this were an 80s horror movie then it would be into the knives in no time.

You enjoy drawing and reading. Sometimes you wander into your room and pull books off of your shelf to read them. When I sit down in my overstuffed red recliner you take that as an invitation for me to read to you. You grab a book and run to me, crying, “Read to me, daddy, read to me!” You throw the book in my lap and climb up my legs like they were a ladder. I read the book to you and you toss the book aside, climb back down, and run to get another book.

Liza wrapped up in her quilt

Nothing, though, dims your overwhelming love of Dora. “I wanna watch Dora!” you shout. “Dora Dora Dora the exploraaaaaaaah. DORAAAA!” Sometimes you dally with other shows, like Team Umizoomi. “Pattern Power!” you say as you run madly around the house in no discernible pattern.

You’re extremely active and sometimes frighteningly coordinated. In your mind you’re a six-year-old boy, which gives you courage beyond your years. As soon as we open the back door you’re climbing up onto the trampoline of death and jumping and jumping, your blond hair spreading around your head like a dandelion puff, before swinging yourself down. You climb up the side of our jungle gym and clamber around its exterior in ways guaranteed to take years off of my life.

Liza swinging on our jungle gym

You’re an “I can do it” child.You want to dress and undress yourself. You go to the bathroom by yourself, which gives us hope that your potty training will be so easy that maybe it will happen without us noticing. One day I’ll look up and say to your mom, “Huh, I haven’t changed Liza’s diaper in a week. What about you?” She’ll shrug, at which point angels will descend and everyone will war no more.

After talking at a very young age, you’ve decided that words are overrated. Sometimes you’ll stick your tongue out just a little, like a small pink flag, and say “Thaa thaa thaa thaaaaa” instead of talking. You also screech a lot. When you spill your milk, you screech. When Eli takes your toy away, you screech. When an episode of Dora ends, you screech. It’s much funnier when you deal with your anger by talking. When Eli thwarts you, you clench your tiny toddler fist and say, “Eli! That makes me so angry! That makes me angry, Eli!”

Liza sticks out her tongue while she concentrates

Some words you say in an unbearably cute little kid manner. “Yellow” comes out as “lellow”, which means it’s easier to understand you singing the first verse to “Lellow Submarine” than the chorus. “Water” comes out as “wah-tuw”, something I hear most any night that I put you to bed. “Daddy, I want some wahtuw. I want watuw, daddy. I want watuw.”

Your sleep issues have returned, though in a new form. When we put you to bed you sing or talk loudly to your stuffed animals. Some times we come back into your room and tell you sternly, “It’s bedtime now. No more talking.” That works about half of the time. The other half of the time you ignore us and go back to singing shortly after we leave.

Liza (with scraped-up face) and Misty

You also have occasional nightmares. Every few weeks or so you wake up crying. Oftentimes I’m the one who goes in to comfort you. You sob and throw your arms around my neck. I help you sit all the way up and give you a drink of water. “Do you want to hug Ellie and go back to bed?” I ask, and you nod solemnly. I wasn’t sure whether or not you remembered those half-asleep moments until you told Mom one time, “I miss dad. When I’m scared he makes me feel better.”

I’ve been traveling a lot this month, which means I’ve seen you far less than I’ve wanted to. But even when I’m away, I can close my eyes and see you. You’re running in the sun, arms swinging, your face alight with the joy of being alive, and I’m reminded how privileged I am to be your dad.

Liza and me

Eli Loves Technology, while Liza Gets Specific

I’ve joked before that Eli is a child of technology. For instance, he doesn’t understand why only some TVs can serve up hot and cold running Imagination Movers. He does read books, but he views even that activity in a computerized light. He was engrossed in a book one morning, and I had to tell him, “Eli, it’s time to go to school. Put up your book.”

“Okay,” he said, putting it down while open, creasing the spine and making certain breeds of book-collectors wince. “I’ve paused my book.”

On Monday Geof visited and brought his new iPad. He was brave enough to let Eli play with it, and in minutes he was selecting pictures, zooming in on them and panning like a high-speed Ken Burns, before he discovered he could play Bejeweled on the iPad. I’d heard people joke that the iPad interface was simple enough for a child to use; now I’ve seen that that’s true. I guess that’s why Geof bought on. Ha, zing! Take that, Mac-lover!

Liza is doing well, though she’s going through a spell of night terrors. We’ll hear her knock on the wall, and when we go in she’s crying and whimpering. Thankfully she settles down quickly.

She’s reached the first age of defiance, which I understand should last until she’s 90 or so. She’ll ask Misty a question, like “Where are we going?” If I say, “We’re going to Ari’s house,” she’ll say, “Nooooo, dad, I’m asking mom. Mom, where are we going?”

That bothered me for a while until Misty told me what Liza said while I was at work. “I miss dad,” she said. “When I’m scared he makes me feel better.” So I can’t provide information, but I can make people feel better.

Liza Loves to Sing

This is a fine example of how Liza will sometimes say “I dunno!” reflexively.

[audio:liza-identifies-turtle.mp3]

Turtle is a small plastic turtle who “swims” in a tiny bowl thanks to magnets and a small child’s belief in magic. Liza likes Turtle a lot.

[audio:turtle-is-my-best-friend.mp3]

Despite her loud protests, though, Turtle isn’t really her best friend.

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Liza is a big fan of bugs. She likes beetles.

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She likes butterflies.

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She likes ladybugs and bees, though with some reservations about bees.

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In fact, she liked the dragonfly on Misty’s necklace.

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When she’s not obsessed about bugs, Liza likes to sing. She sings Happy Birthday.

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She sings Jingle Bells for hours at a time. Jingle Bells is the toddler song version of water torture. Imagine putting this next clip on repeat all day and you’ll have a terrifying glimpse into my life!

[audio:liza-sings-jingle-bells.mp3]

The best part about Liza singing Mary Had a Little Lamb is how quickly she dives into the final consonant in “lamb”.

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One night when I was bathing her, Liza suddenly launched into “Yellow Submarine”. “Where did you learn that?” I asked, surprised. “Pop taught me,” she replied.

[audio:we-all-live-in-a-yellow-submarine.mp3]

Liza is willing to go anywhere we want to take her.

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Hey, Liza, did you have fun talking into the microphone?

[audio:liza-says-absolutely.mp3]

Everything is Different Now

As usual we spent our Christmas vacation in Arkansas. You may recall that Liza had her first milkshake last year in Arkansas. Her reaction?

Liza, tired yet still drinking on her milkshake

We didn’t go back to the Purple Cow, but we did go to Cheeburger Cheeburger, another retro diner that serves milkshakes. What was Liza’s reaction this year?

Liza still loves milkshakes

At least Eli did different things this year.

Eli in a dog cage

I hope your holiday season was full of exciting new experiences as well!

Daughter of Curse You, Opposable Thumbs

When we first moved Liza from crib to toddler bed, everything went well. In fact, it went amazingly well: she slept through the night, and when she woke up and was ready to come out, she knocked on the wall until we came and let her out.

Then she discovered that she can open the door herself.

We found this out last week, when at 4 in the morning Misty and I woke up to discover Liza standing beside our bed, staring at us like she was auditioning to be one of the Children of the Corn With Optional Pacifier Attachment. She was no longer content to wake up and wallow in her luxurious bed. Now she wanted to be up and active!

Since she and Eli are binary stars, doomed to orbit about each other, she now gets up at 5:30 or so and goes into his room. She wakes him up and they both get in his bed to “sleep” some more, where by “sleep” I mean giggle incessantly. Then they start playing, soon shrieking loudly. Just this week at 6 AM I awoke to Liza’s high-pitched cries of “¬°Arriba!” and “¬°Abajo!” If the live Dora the Explorer show ever comes to Huntsville, I’m going to buy a ticket just so I can punch Ms. Marquez in her nose.

We’ve got a bunch of those doorknob covers that are supposed to make it hard for toddlers to open doors. Is it wrong to put one on the inside of her door? Because right now I’m thinking I need to correct evolution’s egregious mistake of giving her thumbs.

Liza Loves Bugs; Eli Loves Puzzles

Liza still loves her some bugs. These days she has her pick of them, as we’ve had so much rain that beetles and cockroaches have fled indoors to escape it. More fools they, as that puts them at Liza’s mercy. Liza finds them, picks them up, and carries them around by one of their teeny legs. She’s like a giant toddler God to these bugs. When she’s done playing with them she lets them run away, so I can only imagine the religion that has sprung up around these events.

“The God lifted me high into the air, and I heard peals of laughter like thunder!”

“You failed to sacrifice a bread crumb to Her yesterday! Be glad She did not crush your pitiable carapace!”

She found one in the kitchen this morning. All the way from our bathroom I could hear her yelling, “Buggy is running! He’s hiding from me! Come out, buggy! Come out!” A few minutes later she wandered into the bathroom. The beetle she’d found waved its legs feebly, trying desperately to pull one leg out of Liza’s grasp.

“This is buggy! He says hi!” Then she said, in a voice even more high pitched than normal, “Hi, daddy! I want to watch a show!” “Buggy wants to watch a show! He likes Dora!” she added in her normal tone of voice.

“How lucky he likes the same shows you do,” I told her.

Eli, meanwhile, is obsessed with escape-the-room games. He’s grown bored of Kingdom Hearts II: The Cut-Sceneing, so I’ve turned to free online Flash games to occupy him at night. He enjoyed titles like Little Wheel, but it’s the escape-the-room games that have captured his heart. He can’t really help with them, but he loves seeing me struggle to find the hotspots that, when clicked, will show a lever that, when pulled, reveals a substitution cipher that I then must solve.

In playing these games, I’ve filled sheet after sheet of paper with codes, ciphers, and doodlings. The other night he came up to me and said, “I have a piece of paper here. It needs to have codes on it.” So off we trundled to Jay is Games to find an escape-the-room game that wouldn’t frustrate me too much. I’m afraid if I get too stressed out I’ll only be able to calm myself by stepping on all of Liza’s bugs and hearing them pop like bubble wrap.

Rules I Never Expected to Make

“We’re going to the gardens, but don’t roll around in the sand.”

“Noodles go in your mouth, but your plastic snake doesn’t.”

“No shrieking while dad’s on the phone.”

“Sure, grab some pretzels from the pantry while we sleep in.”

“If you’re going to squash your sister, do it gently.”

“Get off the couch with your peanut butter hands!”

“Don’t wake us up from our nap, just go play on the computer.”

“Don’t carry the dog ball around in your mouth.”

“Dad’s underwear doesn’t go on your head.”

“Please, just let me go to the bathroom by myself.”

The joys of parenthood are often countless.

Children’s Antipasto

Occasionally I’ll let the kids pull up the step stool to the cart/island in the middle of our kitchen and we will eat a meal there. That meal is sometimes breakfast: homemade donuts where they get to dip or roll the donuts in their choice of toppings. When it’s lunch or dinner I put out a variety of meats, cheeses, fruit and crackers for them to munch on and in my head I call it antipasto. (I know, I know, antipasto is really an appetizer but sometimes you just have to eat only appetizers and desert.) Eli and Liza love to eat off of the cutting board and assemble their own food. We have a lot of fun and the kids talk and we all laugh. Since my kids rarely eat the same things, it’s a chance for us to gather and truly share a meal. Here’s a list of the items I pull from but it can be changed around to suit your kids.

Antipasto for Kids
pepperoni
cut up chicken nuggets (we always have leftover nuggets in our fridge)
ham
cheddar cheese
mozzarella cheese
swiss cheese
raisins
blueberries (we always have dried but fresh would certainly work)
strawberries
pears
carrot sticks
cut up grape tomatoes
Ritz crackers
Triscuits (Quattro Formaggio are my favorite)
cheese crackers
french bread (when we have it)

Dips
pizza sauce
ketchup (it is Eli we’re talking about here, so of course, there’s ketchup)
mustard
ranch dressing
Everybody gets their own dip bowl(s) so I get to use my tiny dishes!

Fourth of July Snapshots

We ended our Fourth of July vacation as we began it: driving in the car. We were half-way between Little Rock and Memphis, an area slightly less populated than the middle of Wyoming. As we sailed past the only rest stop in miles and miles, Liza sang out, “I’m stinky!”

Misty confirmed that, yes, her diaper needed changing. “Look at my poop hands!” Liza said, displaying her mighty poop hands while I looked for the next exit. About three years later I found one and pulled off the interstate. The only place to change her was on a gravel road leading to a field.

We plopped her on the side of the road and performed our best Bo-and-Luke-Duke fast-change routine. We were partway through when I looked up at a tractor that was patiently waiting to drive into the field. We finished up and got in the car. “That’s a John Deere tractor!” Eli said as we drove away.

That wasn’t the most surreal vacation moment. The most surreal moment came during lunch on Saturday. We were following the American tradition of having sushi for the Fourth of July. Liza was tearing through a cucumber roll while Eli picked daintily at his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The restaurant’s TVs were showing ESPN, which was carrying the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest.

Have you ever watched this thing? It’s like a train wreck involving pallets of Wonder Bread and the wienermobile. At one point I stared at contestant Joey Chesnut, whose mouth was encrusted with bits of hot dog bun as if starring in a porn movie sponsored by the Food Network, and wasn’t sure I could finish my meal.

So in conclusion: USA! USA! USA!