The rhythm of mornings on the Ridge

(I am spending two and a half months living on my parents’ place in the mountains in rural Eastern Oregon with my two preschool-age children. Shaye, who is five, insists on going to kindergarten, even during our short stay. This is a vivid slice of life.)

I rise out of deep sleep with the trill of my cell phone, which has been demoted to a glorified alarm clock out in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon with no signal.

First I inhale deeply before my eyes open. There is the pungent fragrance of the pellets that feed the little stove and the undertone of snow. My eyes open to the flickering light of the little orange flame at the foot of the big bed.

I reach over and fumble to turn off the alarm, so it doesn’t wake up Marik. Then I reluctantly role myself out of the froth of white blankets that cover the bed. I wish I had this nice of a bed at home in our little house near Prague in the Czech Republic. So much for roughing it in the mountains.

I stumble the few feet to the creaky ladder that leads to the loft and blink hard to clear the sleep from my head as I climb in the warm semi-darkness, lit only by the stove. Above is the tiny loft, mostly crammed with boxes my mother is storing. There is a small space that has been cleared for two pallets on the floor and my children sleep there – four-year-old Marik and five… almost six-year-old Shaye. I squeeze into the opening between a cabinet and the railing to reach Shaye.

I gently stroke her cheek in an attempt to wake her gently but she doesn’t stir. I can’t fit entirely into their tiny space without causing a fair amount of noise, so I resort to reaching down and lifting her by both arms as she sleeps. She wakes up as she is pulled out of her blankets but she doesn’t cry. She’s used to it and she loves kindergarten.

At first, her legs don’t hold her but I put her hands on the railing and guide her quietly through the little space. I have to hold her from behind as we slide down the ladder because she isn’t awake enough to be reliable.  Back down on the floor of the tiny one-room cabin, we dress silently by firelight. Shaye is usually done first, despite the fact that I have laid out our clothes the night before. My head is still full of fluff.

She opens the door as I get my boots on and the icy air of the still-dark morning blasts against my nose. It must be more than ten below again. We step outside onto the frozen path. There isn’t much snow this morning, just a powdery dusting. I close the door quietly. Marik is still fast asleep. Shaye and I make our way toward the big house  

I put my hand on her shoulder and let her bob against my legs as we walk. The moon is waning but still fat and bright, hanging among the pines that tower above us on the western slope. An owl hoots up there in the trees. Then another answers from down in the woodlot in the hollow far below. Something else cries out in the predawn, an animal I don’t recognize.

We step quickly toward the house. A light has been left on for us but otherwise it is still dark and silent. We bustle inside, shedding boots and coats. I put water on for tea, while Shaye snuggles with the two dogs and one cat that greet us. In thirty five minutes, I get Shaye through hair brushing and a small bowl of cereal, sometimes half a cup of warm fruit tea and a few minutes of reading. Sometimes I can salvage the coals of last night’s fire in the big hearth. But sometimes I have to build it up from scratch.

When my watch says exactly 6:45, we have to start putting boots and coats on in earnest. At 6:50, Shaye stands outside while I lace up my high tops and mash my hat into place. Both dogs barrel out of the door, growling and nipping at each other playfully.

“I hear the bus,” Shaye yells and we start down the steep quarter-mile mud track that serves as our driveway. I can see the lights of the bus far below, making its way up the road beyond our property. In three minutes, we drop down to the county road that runs through the bottom of the hollow. The sky is barely starting to get light but the morning as clear as the perfect note of a penny whistle.

We’re the furthest out on this school bus route. The driver, a sweet lady named Cindy, has to drive another mile up the road to find a place to turn around. Then, she comes back down the hill and picks Shaye up on her way back. That way we have the five-minute warning to get us down the hill and we rarely have to wait long.

When we hear the bus approach again and see the warmth of its flashing lights in the distance, Shaye burrows against me, suddenly demanding of comfort and multiple hugs. I hug her and put the required kisses on her face as the bus slows and the doors open.

“‘Morning!” Cindy calls.

“‘Morning,”  I reply, as Shaye bounds up the steps and disappears into the darkened bus alone.

I stand and wave, even though I can’t see her behind the glass or at that distance. The one time I forgot to pretend to exchange waves with her, she gave me a hard time about it for days. So, I wave and smile and pretend that I can see her as the bus pulls away. One of the absurdities of being a legally blind mother.

In a moment the morning is as still and peaceful as that clear note of music. The sky has lightened a little along the horizon, though it will be a half an hour yet before the sun peeks up.  The only sound is the yipping of the dogs as they chace each other out in the neighbor’s pasture. I turn back up the road and hike to the stop, pausing a few times just to admire the morning. The brightening skyline and the pink-hued clouds are blurry to me but still beautiful, something like an impressionist painting.

I take the grassier path back up the ridge. That one ends back at the little cabin where Marik is still asleep. I slip in as silently as I can and sit in the rocking chair reading for a few minutes as the sun comes up and slowly illuminates my mother’s paintings which hang close together on the walls. This is normally her art studio, when we aren’t here. I can’t actually see the paintings unless I stand on the bed and put my face a few inches from them, but the amorphous blobs of them on the wall are comforting.

At about 7:30, Marik snuffles awake and calls out to see if I have returned from the bus yet. Then he pads over to the ladder and climbs down. He sits in my lap for awhile and I read one of the new stories I’ve ordered online. I tuck our latest addition into one of the big duffle bags I’m packing for the long trip back to the Czech Republic, a land of limited English-language children’s books, and we head back into the house.

Most mornings we are alone. My mom and my brother stay overnight in town more often than not. So, Marik and I make a more substantial breakfast, carry a load of wood down a long flight of narrow stairs to stoke the fire, wash the dishes and try to call Papa on Skype. Then it is time to find something useful to do with the four-year-old-oriented part of the day. Sometimes we just go for a walk to visit a neighbor or one of the huge trees on top of the ridge. Other days we cook or make cookies for the holidays. About once every two weeks, we can finagle a ride into town to visit the library.

Such is the rhythm of our mornings on Pumpkin Ridge. There is peace to it along with hard work.


Coffessions of a Bad Blogger

It’s time for me to confess. I have been very very bad. Those of you who have subscribed to my blog are the sweetest, most wonderful readers that any writer could wish. And I have sorely neglected you for almost a year.

I do have an excuse. Do you want to hear it? It’s a good excuse, as excuses go.

Last fall I started the school year with an insane schedule, homeschooling kids, teaching 12 hours of classes, preparing classes, helping out one day a week at preschool, working on a video project, canning, bringing in the garden harvest, keeping up the urban homestead and all that. I had no time for anything, I was sure.

My preschool class learning about American Halloween and bobbing for apples, which I should have posted last November.

My preschool class learning about American Halloween and bobbing for apples, which I should have posted last November.

But the longing to write, really write, write something big had been building in me for years.

So, there was that one hour in the week when I had a bit of time, while I watched the kids at preschool during their nap time. I had my laptop with me but no internet connection, so I couldn’t do brainless, relaxing things like catch up with email and Facebook friends. I could have written blog entries like a good blogger… But instead I decided to start a novel.

I thought I would never get anywhere doing it one hour a week but that was all I had. And you start with what you have. This was a novel that had been festering inside of me for twenty years. For most of that time, I thought it was just a weird daydream, not a novel… well, as it turned out three novels. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, I started writing one hour a week. That lasted about a month and a half. It was grueling. I couldn’t remember what I had done from one week to the next and spent half my time rereading what I had already written. And the topic was pretty challenging.

Then, something shifted. The characters – particularly one of the minor characters who I didn’t even think was supposed to be a major part of the story – reached out of the computer, grabbed me by the front of my shirt and yanked me into the screen and into their world. I landed with a thud and when I looked up and got my bearings I was solidly in the alternative reality of my story.

I could kind of walk around in my real life and go through the motions of eating, sleeping, teaching classes, taking care of children and all that but I was pretty spacey. I was mostly in that other world. And the only way to get out of it was to write myself out. So, I started writing in earnest.

My family was patient, mostly. And my friends.

My family was patient, mostly. And my friends.

How did I find the time in between classes, children, housework and all my other responsibilities? There is this time called “night” when everyone else goes to sleep. I discovered that there is lots more time there than I thought. I also decided to try “unschooling” the bad way and let the kids mostly run wild. I cooked the same old dinners over and over again while thinking about my plot and my husband and children had to eat lots of lentils, borscht and lamb stew all winter long. I always had to pull myself out of my daze to teach and I did, but I eagerly dove back into writing as soon as I was done. I snatched every moment.

And three months later I had a series of three books. I won’t tell you all about them here because that isn’t the end of the story really. That was February. Why didn’t I write to you in February? Well, I was editing. Editing takes several months too. Then, I had to figure out how to publish the books and I discovered that the publishing industry is in turmoil due to the massive changes brought about by ebooks and traditional publishing of unknown authors is almost non-existent. I half-heartedly tried to find an agent but it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen, no matter how good my books are.

Today, self-publishing or indie publishing isn’t the pasty, pale desperate freak of the side show that it used to be, sitting right next to the slovenly oaf of the vanity press. Now self-publishing is mainstream and it is the way that new authors get a leg up, make a modest living and thus have time to write.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past three months. I’ve been learning how to build websites, format ebooks, build “social media platform”, design book covers, negotiate with photographers and models and other such essential and mostly frighteningly technical skills of indie publishing. I don’t think I”ve had to learn so much in such a short time since my early days as a war correspondent in Macedonia.

So, do you forgive me yet?

Many of my readers here have been incredibly generous with your time, telling other people about my blog posts and helping people who like to read emotionally real writing find my blog.

I have gotten a lot of comments about how you miss my blogging on parenting, adoption, inner healing and social inclusion. I will work on that. Essentially, my books are about social inclusion versus exclusion and the potential of healing for outsiders. I use a world of contemporary alternative reality and harrowing adventure to do it. Many readers may simply think it is a distopian thriller with a fantasy twist meant to entertain. And it is that too. My copy editors have all said it grabs you by the back of the soul, trusts you into the story with real people as the characters and doesn’t let you go entirely even when you’re done reading. So, it’s a gripping story and it takes a swing at issues you care about.

Anyway, that’s my excuse. I have been writing about the same things I did before, just in a different way.

Here is where I’m going to publish it in the next few weeks:

Here's the "author picture" that Ember and Tomas worked for hours to get, in order to help me look "cool" to lots of readers. Thanks a million, you two.

Here’s the “author picture” that Ember and Tomas worked for hours to get, in order to help me look “cool” to lots of readers. Thanks a million, you two.

I have also started a few blogs on that site for specific topics. There is one about writing and books at:

And there is one about practical herb lore, including a delicious recipe for a healthy summer drink that can replace pop and kids will still love it:

There will be more soon.

I have scaled back many of my other activities and I’m now devoting a lot more time to writing. (The kids aren’t really scalable, so it still isn’t exactly full time.) And I hope I will be writing A LOT more in the future.

There is one major factor in whether or not I’ll have time to write and that is how well I can do in indie publishing and the key to that is getting the word out, far and wide. Here are the ways you can help and thus insure that I don’t neglect you for so long again:

1. Go to my website at and SIGN UP for brief, monthly updates about my books by clicking on the big orange button. Then, tell all your friends, both online and off, to do the same. This is the single most important thing for independent writers. I won’t spam you or your friends. I will treat the email list with extreme care and I have it protected with powerful anti-spam programs. This is the only way to connect with people effectively in a world that is otherwise full of noise and plenty of things you don’t really want to read. This is how you find what you do love to read.

2. “Like” the Facebook page of my books:

Thank you again for being wonderful and supportive readers.

Arie Farnam

A video of the winter celebrations

I’ve updated the Wheel of the Year page again to include an Ostara update and Beltane plans:

But I also wanted to make sure this video didn’t get lost in the shuffle for those who are interested. I made a video of our celebrations of the rhythms of the earth over the past half year. The video was originally meant for a presentation I’m giving at a conference in May but it is a fun look at some of the highlights of the past half year.

I would like to note that I have often felt intimidated by videos online showing perfect families and children doing wonderful crafts and activities. I generally feel a sinking feeling and think, “How wonderful for them but that could never be done with my children.” But then I made this video, piecing together the calm bits and pieces of our activities that made sense. I had to do it that way. The video is for a conference, not just for kicks. And presto! The video makes it look as if our children always do as they are asked and cooperate delightfully in every celebration. The truth is that if you pick out the nice, calm ten or twenty seconds of various scenes and piece them together to make sense, you can make almost any chaos look calm.

So, enjoy and keep your perspective:

Our life when we leave the house

Some days ago, I took the kids to Prague to see a small park featuring large models of dinosaurs. Shaye had been showing some interest in dinosaurs, not much but a little, and I am grateful for any interest beyond her continuing distress over differing skin colors. She has been acting out a lot more than usual, since she brought up the issue of her fear of “being black.” She rejects books with pictures of brown-skinned people. At night, she cries, “I have no eyes. I have no hair. I have no hands…” She insists that she is ugly and she can’t be “a princess” like her friends. She throws unexplained tantrums far too often. She talks a lot about hating anyone who is mean and wanting to hit people with her wooden sword.

So, dinosaurs are a wonderful interest. But getting to the dinosaur park requires the ordeal of packing, getting the kids out the door, walking to the train station and two full hours of public transportation one way. We had to get up early and Shaye was in a bad mood, as usual. She whined, complained and resisted at every step of the process of getting dressed and ready to go. I initially tried to give her the choice of not going, but it seemed clear that she would choose to resist and not go and then be inconsolable and intolerable to live with for the rest of the day as a result. So, I muscled my way through.

Once we finally got on the train, after a 20 minute walk through muddy fields, everything looked good. I sat back with a feeling of accomplishment. The kids were happily looking out the window. The worst was over… I hoped. Shaye did try to hold her leg out all the way across the aisle, so that Marik’s slightly swinging feet could be theoretically perceived as “kicking” her. She shrieked and carried on over that but such that really doesn’t even count as an incident by our reckoning.

Once we reached the city, we walked through the crowded railway station. I convinced the children to walk in a line with me in front, wielding my white cane, then Marik and Shaye bringing up the rear, as theoretically the more responsible of the two. I could hear people hissing in disapproval and drawing back from us as we moved. This had the advantage of clearing a path but I do wonder how long it will take Shaye to notice that I draw so much public scorn and be troubled by that as well.

The problem isn’t that I’m carrying a white cane in and of its self. People here are solicitous and make a point of trying to “help” blind people, although they shy away from any other category of disability. It appears that blind people are the fashionable ones to be seen helping. Rather the problem is that I have children. I have heard people hiss on a number of occasions, “How dare she have children?” or “Those poor children. What an irresponsible woman that is. How could she risk passing it on to them?” I have resisted the urge to confront them and point out that the children are adopted, partly because I don’t want the kids exposed to a scene and partly because that would seem somehow disloyal to all the blind women who do have biological children.

This time I couldn’t hear any words in the whispers, but I could hear a rolling wave of whispers as I moved and people do not generally whisper in crowded train stations. Still it was again only really a minor irritant. I do not need those people and, as far as I am concerned, they might as well not exist. We reached the escalator heading to the lower level and the subway stations. Neither of the kids can navigate getting on and off of escalators alone, so I have to do a tricky maneuver, grabbing one kid under each arm, while still keeping hold of my cane and backpack and skipping onto and then off of the escalator. As I executed the final part of this, I heard a loud whisper from up ahead, this time in a quite different tone: “Now, that’s a Mama!” My heart fairly skipped a beat. I do wish I heard more of that sort of comment.

We got onto one subway train and then off at a transfer station. We then had to navigate some super fast, long distance escalators to reach the other subway line. These escalators turned out to be too fast for me to hustle both kids on at once safely. I tried but Shaye panicked, seeing the speed of the escalator and as I was getting on, she squirmed out of my grasp and landed on the floor, as Marik and I were swept upwards. Shaye started to scream in terror. Given that these escalators are in fact dangerous, I had to do something fast. I detached Marik’s clinging hands from me and raced backward down the escalator as fast as I could, while he screamed above me. I grabbed up Shaye and then ran back up to comfort Marik. I was well winded after this and was glad I had reacted quickly. As fast as those escalators were, any delay would have made the feat impossible. Sometimes someone has helped me get both children onto these fast escalators but in this case our immediate area was deserted.

At the top of the escalator we approached the next train. There is usually a small gap between the platform and the subway, again just wide enough to make it difficult for the children to jump alone. I deal with this by holding them each by the hand on either side of me and holding my cane with only a spare finger, so that I can correctly judge the gap and tell the kids when to jump and make sure they don’t fall. Just as we were approaching the gap this time, I felt someone seize me from behind, by the same arm that I held both a child’s hand and my cane.

I glanced back just enough to catch the impression of a middle-aged woman. Then, she wrenched my arm upward as if to haul me bodily into the subway. At this violent movement both children lost their grip on my hands. Marik sprawled on the ground inches from the gap and the wheels of the train. Shaye staggered back a step. “Leave off!” I cried and shook myself free of the woman’s grip, grabbed Shaye’s hand and Marik by the seat of his pants, before he could be trampled by the crowd surging toward the open doors of the subway and barreled my way inside. To the woman’s credit, she did later alert me to our stop, when the subway’s speaker system failed, and I couldn’t tell where the stops were. She was well intentioned, though I still have a hard time understanding what would possess someone to ignore “help” the blind adult and ignore the presence of toddlers trying to get across a gap.

We reached the final subway stop and headed for yet another escalator, where an older man did actually ask if he could help one of the children on and, after receiving permission, he did so quite competently. We emerged from the subway maze into the open air again, feeling disoriented. I wished I had printed out an actual map rather than relying on memory, but a mother with two young boys cheerfully helped me figure out which direction to start in, which is always the greatest chore. Still, we had to wander around for a few blocks, as the streets did not seem to match my recollection of the online map. Finally, Shaye shouted that she could see a dinosaur, which turned out to be a giant plastic dinosaur head helpfully mounted on the front of the park. I can’t wait until she can read street signs.

After our two-hour train trek, the children were exhausted and a chill, late winter wind was blowing across the park. They only lasted about a half an hour at the dinopark. We then sought out the warm kitchen of a Facebook friend in the area. I will say that for “social media”.

A few days, later I was on the subway again, this time alone and I saw a man, clearly totally blind, being hauled along rudely by another middle-aged woman. I had been aware of his presence walking near me in the crowd for some time from the tell-tale rhythmic scrape of his cane and then I could make out the scene clearly as the crowd thinned while getting on the subway. I felt my blood begin to boil and I turned to the man, hoping to do something helpful. “Do you want an …?” My language skills failed me and I could not remember the word for “elbow”. The man, misunderstanding my intention, pulled furiously away. “Just leave me alone!” he cried. “I’m a mobility instructor for Christ’s sake!”

The woman on his other side managed to keep a hold of him, despite his protests. I was so frustrated that I spoke before I could stop myself, “Don’t grab people like that, woman!” She instantly turned him loose and he struggled toward the door on his own, stonily avoiding me. The woman who had grabbed him ended up standing next to me in the subway, so I explained it to her, including the dangerous incident with my children, and how you actually do guide a blind person, if you ever have to. She thanked me graciously and truly appeared interested in understanding.

But I was left feeling ashamed and utterly confused. I was ashamed because I had caused even more of a scene for the poor man, who clearly has to deal with this sort of thing every time he goes out, just as I do, and who was trying to just ignore the woman gripping him and get it over with. As I sat in a tram later that day, I watched as three people raced toward the tram from the back, hoping to catch the tram before it left. They were all close together, not a group but running in a line, briefcases flailing. Two of them hopped aboard and the third had his hand on the door, when it slammed shut. On the trams the doors are controlled manually by the drivers, who are required to watch for passengers near the doors in their mirrors. This was clearly on purpose. I craned to get a better look at the man and as the tram pulled away, I caught a glimpse of his face, not enough to tell his expression but enough to see the slightly tanned color of it… tanned in the late winter when no one should have a tan. I knew that was what I would see but it still made my insides curdle.

I had to blink back tears. I could see clearly in my mind an incident that had happened more than ten years before. I was on a tram, just like this one, when I was still new to this country and I couldn’t speak Czech well. I saw two dark-skinned, probably Romani, children get on the tram with colorful school satchels, clean jackets and smiling faces. A drunk man with straggly gray hair had grabbed both of them by the collar and the driver had held the door for him, while he threw them out onto the platform. Then, the driver had slammed the doors and sped away.

At the time, I had been so upset I could not speak for a moment. The drunk then careened up and down the aisle, cursing the Roma, while the other passengers sat in their seats, ignoring the entire incident. I finally gained the strength to stand and told him to get off the tram. I stumbled over my words, as I couldn’t speak the language well yet, so I garbled my threat to call the police on him on my cell phone and when I went to do it, I realized that I didn’t know how to call the police in this country and I knew with certainty that they would simply laugh at me. The drunk new it too. He laughed at me, spitting his fetid saliva all over me, while the other passengers continued to ignore everything. It was bad enough at the time but the memory now is doubly painful. The idea that something like that might happen to my children with their beautiful, slightly tanned faces is paralyzing.

Now, a few days later, Shaye has come to me and told me that it was not merely her bruised finger that made her terrified of being “black.” She says that her friend, a little girl named Kaja, at preschool told her she is “black and ugly.” After she told me, Shaye was so depressed that she could only sit on my lap and cry most of the evening and continued to be clingy and sad in the morning. I have tried everything I can think of in terms of comforting words, explaining, supporting, exploring her emotions, reassuring… None of my words appear to make any difference to Shaye. And why should they? Whether she consciously knows it or not, some part of Shaye senses what kind of society we live in.

And yet, I know this one thing. I know that it is possible to stand against the storm. If you have a strong family and even a very few friends. The social world may be a horrid, ugly place. But there is comfort and joy and hope around a family table and by a warm hearth. There is goodness in a garden and shared games. Why should it matter so much? I know it did matter to me, when I was a child. It mattered a great deal and it hurt a great deal. I wish it did not have to hurt my children as well. I wish I could somehow armor them against it, make them understand from an early age how fickle and ignorant people can be. Even in situations much less extreme than our own, you really can only depend on yourself and that small circle of trust that you have built with those you love.

(I apologize for the rough and unedited nature of the last few blogs. All this is quite exhausting qnd it is all I can do to get it down int he first place. Read at your own risk.)

A tale of four cousins

Literally, as I was trying to send the last post a fresh onslaught of tension erupted. We are spending the weekend at the Dusan’s parents farm in South Bohemia. The farm is fairly bleak, a muddy yard. There is an ancient Communist era playground nearby that consists of a few iron sticks in the ground, one merry-go-round and one half-way broken slide. There landscape around is agricultural and the forest is too far to be a convenient walk. There is not much to attract children. One of our main reasons for coming is the hope of seeing Dusan’s brother’s kids, our children’s only cousins this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

For years, this has been a point of tension. Dusan’s brother Martin is not the type to respect our lifestyle or values. He is a wheeling-dealing businessman type. He is a significant citizen of a nearby town, in with the political elites. He spends much of his time at various networking events and has expensive hobbies. His wife Eva enjoys being the wife of a prestigeous man and is very conscious of what is in style and who is in or out of social favor. Needless to say, we’ve never been exactly close. Eva rarely misses an opportunity to comment on my lack of up-to-date wardrobe and lack of make-up or hair dye to cover my “embarrassing” gray hairs.

I have had moments of sympathy with her, such as when she told me the story of how Martin proposed to her and accidently called her by the name of his former girlfriend. As in “Won’t you marry me, Alena… er… I mean, Eva?” But those few moments of female solidarity have been buried in years of tension.

Martin has often felt closer to us. Dusan loves him deeply as his younger brother and they often feel an understanding between them. And yet, I have always felt a strange disconnect under the surface with him. I have generally dismissed my misgivings and tried to take Martin at face value but today that backfired.

Ever since their older daughter Evicka, who is nine, could talk, she has been oddly attracted to me. I have always loved small children and certainly, before we had kids, she was the closest child that I could put my love for children into. I did play games with her and bring her art supplies to play with together. I never gave her candy or bribed her in any classic way, but I was activelhy an aunt. From the time she was about four, Evicka has responded with enthusiastic love and adoration.

Whenever we met at the grandparent’s place she would immediately leave her mother’s side and remain glued to me for the duration of the visit. And this bothered Eva. Whether it had to do with my lack of social acceptability, I don’t know, but she was consternated and jealous. By the time, Evicka’s younger sister Bara and then Shaye came along, Eva had responded by trying to keep her children away from me.

In the beginning, I would always call Eva to try to coordinate visits to the grandparent’s farm, so that we might all end up there at the same time. But it quickly became apparent to both Dusan and me that our efforts had the opposite effect. If we let them know when we were coming, they would initially promise to come and then end up with “other plans.” It was soon only major holidays that grandma coordinated and times when we came unexpectedly that ever allowed us to see our neices.

Both Shaye and Evicka have been very disappointed as a result. Bara has not had much of a relationship with us because she was so young that it was easier for her mother to keep her away from us, even during visits, and Marik has scarcely seen them four times in his life and has little sense of who they are.

But now Evicka is nine. She was given an emergency cell phone last year and at first her parents refused to give her or me the number to it, but eventually she discovered the number and gave it to me, asking me to tell her when we were planning to come, so that she could get her parents to let her visit.

Trying to be make the best of a difficult situation, I did let her know with a text message a day before we were to come this week, after she had messaged me several times during the week. As a result she had a big argument with her parents because she wanted to come to the farm this weekend to see us and they claimed that there were other plans. The grandmother told us that Evicka and Bara are here almost every weekend otherwise.

As it turned out, this evening Martin showed up alone to talk to his parents and brother, without the children. In the past, it seemed that he was at least making a small effort to bring the children and so I stopped him on the veranda and asked him if he could try to get the girls to be able to come here to see Shaye and Marik this weekend. His response shook me to the core.

“We thought we were going to the mountains today but we didn’t go. The girls are at home. They’ve been upset because you sent the message and they want to come here. And they aren’t coming. I don’t know. We might go to the mountains tomorrow or we might stay home but we’re not coming here.”

By the norms of this society of emotional prudes, I should have simply turned away, swallowed the pain and the grief of losing my children’s cousins and my neices to this animocity. But it is not in my nature. I am not Czech. I am emotional, even by American standards, and so I did not take it quietly. I agrued reasonably at first, to which Martin responded by repeating nonsense words whenever I tried to speak. Then, I “lost it” and called him a Czech word that is apparently very impolite. I did know it was impolite, if not it’s exact meaning. And things went down hill from there.

No one has ever mentioned whether or not Shaye and Marik’s Romani background is a factor in this tense relationship. Dusan and I have discussed it but have never been able to tell entirely, and yet in this country where the issue is so extreme, it is difficult to imagine that it plays no role. I have heard Martin’s virilently racist views on the Roma. When we were in the process of adopting children, he once told me in the snowy darkness outside a family party when he was mildly drunk that he had “the political influence” to see that we would not be able to adopt Romani children. “But I won’t do it,” he told me magnanismously, lord to peasant. At the time, I clung to the hope that he would keep his word. When we ran into “Knife Sharpener Lady” and she seemingly out-of-nowhere tried to block us from adopting a second Romani child, I did wonder. I always wondered but out of loyalty to my husbands love for his brother I never let it go beyond a vague anxiety. Now, I wonder again. How much is this about Eva’s jealousy of my relationship with her daughter and how much is this about race relations?

I am left shaking and tearful. As usual, when adults can’t get along, all the children suffer for it. Shaye pleads again and again to see her cousins. Evicka fights futily with her parents. Evicka has been diagnosed with significant learning disabilities and ADHD. She struggles in school and her family is not particularly supportive. She is often sarcastically called, “Our little Einstein.” I tried to tell her before that this hurtful name can be turned back on itself. Einstein was learning disabled after all. I have tried to tell her that learning disabilities don’t mean one is stupid. But my encouragement seems to be far too little. Her self esteme is very low. I have never known a more caring and considerate child and yet she seems to have no defenses against the hardships life has dealt her.

So, tonight I pray that all of our children may somehow be given the strength they need to live and love well despite the blows they have to endure. And I pray that my own anger and hatred may somehow be magically turned into healing energy. Whether it is called god, goddess, spirit or ancestor, I hope that there is some spiritual power beyond my small abilities, because this is magic that I cannot work alone.

Got babies, must travel

We were out over the Atlantic Ocean with two hours left before landing in Amsterdam and three other women within four rows of me were, like me, dealing with a pair of young children alone without any adult assistance. I had overheard other passengers bemoaning their bad luck in being seated with so many small children nearby. My children were both asleep but they were the only toddlers sleeping. All eight of the others were screaming or howling to one degree or another and I don’t even know what children further away on the flight were doing because I couldn’t hear anything over our local uproar.

The man in front of me stood up to get his bag out of the overhead compartment and looked at me and said, “It’s amazing that your children have slept a good part of the flight.”

To be fair to the other harried mothers, my children had screeched, fought and demanded for the first three hours of the flight (not to mention the two preceding hours at the airport). But at the moment in question, Shaye had been asleep for nearly four hours and Marik had slept for two and been up for two and just gone back to sleep. And I had reasonable hope that it would last awhile yet. “Well, I did give them a little dose of Benadril,” I told the man in front of me.

“Oh, I get it, “ he scoffed and waved his hand dismissively at me.

I felt a pinch of anger. I had asked for it with that comment about the Benadril but still. Benadril is not a sleeping drug and it takes so much more than that to get toddlers to sleep a long stretch on an airplane. Before I left for this year’s trans-Atlantic trip I did some research online for toddler-travelling tips. What I got was pretty basic: bring food and toys, spread out the goodies and don’t give them to the kids all at once, try to get bulkhead seats. (Yeah, right. Dream on. I’ve flown dozens of times and never been near a bulkhead seat.) The advice seemed woefully inadequate for the task of a 16-hour airline trip. So, I figured out my own ways to cope and found them to be effective.

And here is my more comprehensive prescription for how to do long-haul flights with toddlers, while preserving parent-sanity, flight attendant friendliness and the good-will of fellow passengers.

– Bedtime routines: Have a well-established going-to-sleep routine. My children have the same bedtime routine on 99 percent of days. Yes, there are exceptions but they are truly rare. Before naptime, we put on music and dance around for 15 minutes, sit on the potty, read stories, sing a song and wind up the little mechanical toy that plays music. In the evening before bed, we watch a 15 minute video, brush teeth, sit on the potty, take a bath, read stories, sing a song, say a prayer, say goodnight, wind up the mechanical toy. These routines have to be followed as closely as possible when traveling. (Okay, no bath on the airplane but I did wash their faces and hands with wipes.) Keeping these routines is probably the single most important part of encouraging sleep during travel. I have read that the key to a successful bedtime routine with small children is to keep the order the same. You can leave out parts or lengthen or shorten parts but changing the order is apparently a bad idea.

– Sleep props: My second key is sleep props. The more you can create the surroundings the children normally sleep with the better. Putting a loud fan near where the child sleeps for at least a week or two before the flight may help because the airplane noise is intense. Beyond that, creating a homelike space on the flight means using up every last inch of allowed carry-on luggage. My kids have blankets, stuffed animals, binkies, the mechanical music toy and scarves to block out light. I strapped their quilts and scarves to my carry-on pack in a roll and dared airline personnel to call it oversized (which taken together it certainly was but most of them are not dumb enough to deny bedding for toddlers). Then, I had to bring at least one stuffed animal for each child, their binkies and the wind-up toy.

– Break the sleep schedule strategically: Okay, it is helpful to have a schedule in the first place. Normally, my kids get up at around 7:00 or 7:30, take a nap between 1:30 and 4:30 and go to bed at around 8:30. This schedule primes them not only to sleep at certain times of the day but to want to sleep after a certain number of hours of wakefulness. So, if I break the schedule carefully, I can maximize sleep at the right times of the trip. On a trans-ocean flight, your ideal goal is to have the child really tired and ready to sleep about two to three hours after the flight takes off. This is because these long haul flights begin with food service around 1.5 to 2 hours after take-off. If your toddler goes to sleep immediately after take-off, the hubbub of food service and the smells will probably wake her up and getting her to go back to sleep before another five or six hours have passed could be a challenge. Also, you actually want your child to eat the airline food, so you have to carry as little as possible. Eating right before sleep also ensures that she will be full and ready to sleep for a long time. That said, timing this change of schedule is easier said than done. If you have another flight before your trans-ocean flight that can really complicate planning, as can flights at various times of the day. You want your child to be a bit late for nap or bedtime to encourage longer sleep but not too late. If you break the routine too much your toddler will either fall asleep in a most inconvenient place (like the security line) or be too tired and stressed to go to sleep at all. On our flight from Europe to the US, we had to be at the airport at 5:00 a.m. That meant that my break in routine started the day before. I made sure the kids had an early nap and woke up early. Then, I put them to bed at 7:00 p.m. instead of 9:00 p.m. Then, I got them up at 4:00, when they normally get up at 7:00 and I hoped that they would last at least seven hours until naptime. That meant 3 hours until take off, 2 hours on a short flight, an hour and a half layover and just enough time to get up in the air with the seatbelt sign off. Then, I put them to bed. No food that time, but I knew I couldn’t keep them awake any longer or get them to sleep on the first (very exciting) flight. I managed it, although they were very cranky and almost fell asleep in the Amsterdam airport. Fortunately, the meal service didn’t wake them after only an hour of sleep. That time, they slept five hours and then were awake for the full remaining five hours of the ten-hour flight, which was grueling. On the return trip, I could plan better because my first flight was the trans-ocean flight and it was in the middle of the day. I put the kids on a late schedule, instead of an early schedule, getting them up at 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning if possible, so that when our trans-Atlantic flight took off at 1:30 p.m., they were not yet ready to sleep and they held out until 4:00 p.m. instead of their usual naptime at 2:00. This resulted in 6.5 hours of sleep from one kid and 5 from the other and it was scheduled to have them good and rested before the harrowing transfer in Amsterdam.

– Infant-in-arms MEANS infant on long flights: I never did do the “lap baby” thing. By the time I was bureaucratically able to travel with my adopted children, they were too old. My first was only 16 months old on the initial flight but she was 18 months by the time we returned and I was afraid to have only the one seat. I saw a woman with a baby about that old on her lap on my last flight and she even had another seat occupied by her six-year-old son to work with. It looked miserable. The toddler could not sleep and it was very uncomfortable for the woman to sit with the heavy toddler on her lap hour after hour. When I had to hold my two-year-old on my lap for two hours on that flight (because the other child was using both seats to sleep) my legs fell asleep and it was very uncomfortable after the first 45 minutes. While it is very tempting to go with the airline’s rule of two years as the cut-off for “lap babies”, keep in mind that the rule is primarily made with short one or two-hour flights in mind. I would gladly hold an almost two-year-old for two hours to avoid hundreds of dollars of extra expense. But for ten or more hours? Get another seat. It allows your toddler a full-sized carry-on and checked luggage as well, which you’ll need to cart all of his 50,000 necessary objects.

– Make homey nests: The scarves I mentioned earlier were crucial. I’m talking about filmy scarves in dark colors or a dark-colored bed-spread, which can be used to cover a crib normally, so that the child is used to the color and will sleep better even at home. On the flight, I used a bedspread to make a tent for the children to sleep under. This blocked out the glaring lights and toned down the overly interesting sights AND made the space almost like home. I pinched one side of the cloth in the top of the raised tray tables and the other side I tucked behind the headrest pillows. I carried clothes pins in case I ended up on a flight where the seat tops were smooth. (You can’t drape the cloth over the back of the seat because other passengers have video monitors and tables there.) Then, because I had two seats to work with I made two beds, one across the two seats and one on the floor. (As soon as I got on the flight, I asked the flight attendants to give me any extra blankets and pillows and I used these to make a mattress on the floor and to pad against the metal legs of the seats.) Technically, the flight attendants told me that I would have to get wake the children up, if the seat-belt sign went on during the flight, which of course it did with every little bump of turbulence. But with my tent, the kids were out-of-sight and out-of-mind and I suspect that most flight attendants will look the other way when there are already eight toddlers screaming in that section and your toddlers aren’t. They will probably insist on waking up a child sleeping on the floor for take-off or landing. And one true safety issue: Be careful of toes or fingers or hair creeping out into the aisle. I once had a finger smashed by one of those carts and you cannot really imagine how heavy they are. If a child is sleeping on the floor, be careful that they don’t fling out an arm or foot to be stepped on or driven over by carts!

– Bring food: Mealtimes are odd and not always predictable on planes. Trying to get a toddler to wait an extra hour for food can be a huge problem. And if you have any domestic US flights on your itinerary or much of a layover, the airline food won’t be enough. Most airport food in inappropriate for healthy-eating kids at hyper-inflated prices. On the bright side, the only people who can bring liquid and gel type things on airplanes anymore are parents with children under 2. So, you can bring sealed baby food and yogurts. I think technically, you are supposed to have them in your little liquids baggie, but I have sometimes forgotten that step and never had trouble over it. I was even waived through with a thermos full of water that I had forgotten to pour out. In addition, bring pre-cut cheese, fruit, carrots, cucumbers, sweet red peppers, bread, little cream cheese or butter packets, dried fruit and non-sweet crackers. A lot of energy and granola bar type things are not great because of the sugar content. Airline meals have plenty of treats and too much sugar will lead to hyper kids, which you don’t want in confined spaces. One interesting tip is that cut pears in a plastic bag do not go brown like pre-cut apples or squash as easily as bananas, making them an excellent fruit for travel. That said, I always seem to bring too much food. Better too much than too little but do keep in mind that you don’t need more than about as much as each person would eat in one meal. If you plan reasonably, you should still be able to eat airline meals. Today airlines are offering a wide array of dietary options. I don’t recommend ordering an infant or child-meal though. Infant meals are generally a jar of baby food, which you could order in order to avoid carrying it I suppose, but you’ll have little choice about what you get. Child-meals are reported on consumer websites as being very unhealthy and greasy, basically a fast-food-plus-junk-food type meal. If you want your child to have more kid-friendly food, consider ordering a “bland meal” or “low-sodium” or even vegetarian. All of these options tone down the meal. Sometimes they are fresher than the regular but sometimes they are not very delicious. That is, unfortunately, the luck of the draw. One thing I learned on my last flight is that ALL “special meals” are brought out far earlier than the regular meals. So, if you are worried that your children will be hungry or won’t be able to stay awake for the meal time, you could order some sort of special meal just to get it early. This especially applies if you are seated at the back of the plane. On large planes the meal service can take an hour to get to the back of the plane.

– Drinkie!: Need I remind anyone not to forget to bring water bottles or sippy cups? Even if you can’t bring them on full, you can fill them onboard. Even toddlers who can generally drink from cups at home will find it difficult not to spill the light plastic airline cups during turbulence. And the consequences of spills are so much more daunting on an airplane. If older toddlers or preschoolers won’t drink from a sippy cup because its “for babies”, try a water bottle with a squirt top or even just a plastic cup with a lid and a straw.

– Bring fun: Okay, it is pretty obvious that you need to bring entertainment for kids on airplanes but here are some more specifics to keep in mind. It is best to have different types of entertainment. Very few toddlers can watch videos for more than an hour straight. I generally don’t let my kids watch a lot of videos or TV, partly because that increases the time they’ll spend watching them when I really need a quiet activity, but it is limited even so. The same goes for books or any other type of entertainment. So, it is best to have a range of activities – a few books, a video player or computer with good batteries (free videos onboard are generally for older kids and won’t hold toddler attention), a few small toys (but not so small they’ll easily drop between seats), activity books, coloring books, magnetic scenes (but you should be resigned that some magnets will be lost) and anything that takes up a lot of time for your child lately (doll clothes have been one recently for us). Be wary of toys with many parts that are useless when one part is lost and be wary of round objects like balls or cylinders, which will get away down the aisle. Disposable things are good or things you don’t care a lot about. I brought a couple of plain duplo legos for my 21-month-old with great success. He could practice putting them together and taking them apart and yet if one got lost, it was no big deal. Finally, older toddlers and preschoolers can be entertained for awhile by an electronic toy. I have tried it with children under two and the distractions of the plane are too much. But my three-year-old was happy to play with one of those six-in-one learning systems for even two hours.

– For heaven’s sake, use the fun strategically: Even more important than what sort of fun you bring is how you use it. First, capitalize on the fun the airplane offers. Don’t pull out your toys right away and keep them a secret if possible at first. Most toddlers will be happy for about an hour, looking out the window, watching the take-off, looking at people, flipping through in-flight magazines. After they get restless, pull out one fun item. Choose a video or something passive, if you are hoping for them to sleep soon. Choose something with active participation if you don’t want them to sleep. When there is no food service in progress and the flight is reasonably stable, take advantage of the moment to walk up and down the aisles. If you get seats near the back, which I actually recommend in some circumstances, some flight attendants will let you play for awhile near the back galley where there is a small open space by the back emergency exit. Most importantly, if you do have a new toy that you expect to be very exciting for your child (particularly a new electronic toy) save it for after the major sleeping portion of the trip. For instance, in the example I started with, my children were quite difficult in the airport and for the first three hours of the flight. I was tempted to give them the new six-in-one “learning systems” I had got them, but I resisted the temptation and got them to go to sleep instead. Then, they slept most of the rest of the flight, were refreshed for our transfer when we reached Europe. But by the time we got onto our next flight to cross Europe, they were tired and frustrated with traveling. That last two-hour flight could have been miserable. But I pulled out my “secret weapon” – the electronic toys – and they were happy for two more hours because the new toys were interesting enough to combat their accumulated exhaustion. We arrived in Vienna with a four-hour drive still ahead of us but with kids primed for sleeping in carseats.

– Choose seats: As I said before, I have never had a bulkhead seat. Certainly, if you can get one, do so. You probably won’t be allowed to sit in one of the “emergency exit” rows with children, so if you do ask for those seats you will end up being moved and you may be moved to a very bad seat, so it is better not to ask for them. Given that most of the better seats are now classed as “economy comfort” on many airlines and come at a steeper price, you may not have many choices, but there are still a few choices. If you are traveling with one child, buy your tickets early enough to get a window and an aisle seat if at all possible. Opt for two seats together by the window, even if you are travelling with more than one adult. It is far better to be able to trade off with another rested adult than to have both adults right next to the child the whole time. If you are traveling with two small children and one adult, which was my situation and the situation of two other mothers nearby, there are two reasonable options. If the plane has three seats between the window and the aisle, choose this. If the plane has only two, still choose the window seat and then two aisle seats across from each other. This is a surprisingly good arrangement. When the children are sleeping, you have a place to sit away from them, so that your movements will not waken them. And the seat across the aisle gives you a “time-out” option for an older toddler or child who can’t stop fighting with a sibling. This is the best option I have found all around. If you can’t get this, which I couldn’t on my first trans-Atlantic flight, look toward the back of the plane. On planes with four seats together in the middle, there are several rows at the back that have only three seats in the middle. These are considered undesirable because they are at the back (greater turbulence), near the bathroom (lots of traffic in the aisles) and in the center of the plane, so they are often filled last. Unless you are worried about the turbulence at the back of the plane, consider that being near the bathroom is really an advantage with toddlers and these three-seat arrangements offer a pretty good scenario for dealing with two children. I tried out both the three seats in the middle and the window-aisle-aisle arrangement on my last trip and both were much better than the alternatives, with the latter being somewhat preferable. The other families whose children cried more generally either were seated in two seats with one child always on the adult’s lap or they were sitting in the middle four seats with a stranger seated at one end.

– Use preboarding: I have actually read in texts espousing tips for traveling with babies that you should wait to get on at the last minute. While the idea of a few more moments to move around in the airport seems tempting, I advise against it unless your carry-on is very small and you have one child that you can carry. The problem is that people with small children really do need more time to get on and it is not fun to be rushed by the flight attendants or to be in a crush of people with small children. But the most important issue is your stuff. Caring for toddlers takes A LOT of objects to be accessed often and quickly. That is why your carry-on will generally be far too large to fit under the seat and you will be standing in the aisle getting into it constantly when your children are awake. I don’t know any way to avoid this. So, it becomes paramount to gain overhead space right above your seat and this alone would be enough to induce me to take advantage of the airline’s offer of pre-boarding for people with small children.

– Pack a toddler first-aid and spill kit: Okay, just to cover the basics, do bring at least one change of clothes for your children and at least one spare shirt for yourself. Children spill and on airplanes they often throw-up. This is simply life. Beyond that, make sure you bring any medicines your child needs regularly or when she has a cold or flu or stomach trouble. Even a minor cold can blow up into a major viral illness with the changes and stress of air travel. Bring any relief for ear infections that you can. I suggest bringing a small amount of honey to put in a child’s ear at the earliest sign of an ear infection. Honey absorbs moisture and has disinfectant properties. It will absorb into the skin and will not harm the ear. Moisture in the ear can cause serious infections with the changes in air pressure that occur with air travel. Be sure to bring a thermometer and whatever you use to combat high fevers. Infections tend to move fast in this environment and it is not uncommon for infants and toddlers to develop dangerously high fevers on airplanes. Bandaids are always a good idea. And, of course, bring a large package of wet wipes, whether your child is still in diapers or not.

– Be prepared to be a modern Girl Scout: Despite the best laid plans things often do go wrong. Flights are delayed and cancelled. Weather can turn bad. A difficult flight attendant may interfere with routines. And real illness may strike. I have heard stories of parents who constructed makeshift tents out of bedding in the corners of airports to weather long delays with children. The most harrowing air-travel experience I endured was when my husband and I took our first child (age 16 months) across the Atlantic for the first time. As soon as we got on the 10-hour trans-Atlantic flight, my daughter developed a fever of 104 F and became listless. I gave her infant Ibuprofen and infant Tylenol and alternated them every two hours but six hours later the fever had not abated. We had asked for medical help and the flight attendants had produced a passenger who was some sort of medic. He had looked at the baby from ten feet away and declared that he did not believe she was sick and returned to his seat. My husband and I, as fairly new parents, were panicked. Fears of ruptured ear drums and meningitis zipping through my thoughts. Finally, we decided to try a method routinely prescribed by Czech doctors for emergency reduction of high fevers which involves wrapping the child in a luck-warm wet towel or sheet and then layering that with warm dry blankets to limit the loss of heat. We wetted down our baby’s bedding and used heaps of scavenged airline blankets to wrap around as a second layer. Then, we switched between the wet bedding and fresh, dry airplane blankets every 15 minutes, as per the instructions we had been given by a doctor during our mandatory parenting training for our adoption application. It was a grueling routine. Within an hour and a half we were surrounded by piles of soggy blankets and had surely made enemies of every passenger and flight attendant near us, but our daughter’s temperature was down to 99 F and it stayed down just long enough for us to get off the flight and into an urgent care doctor in Portland, Oregon. There it was discovered that our daughter had a massive and dangerous ear infection. The doctor asked how in the world we had managed to bring the fever down on in flight and, although she had never heard of the Czech method, she had no argument with it. The moral of that story is simply use whatever you have or can acquire from others or from the flight crew. Don’t be afraid to ask (politely) for things. They might say no but it is worth a try.

– Bring anxiety and nausea reducer: Now, at last, we come to the issue of medication. It is in reality the least of what one can do to ensure a reasonable trip and I have heard that, without all the other measures, it doesn’t work well on its own. Still, I do carry antihistamine and anti-nausea medications for children. Anti-nausea medication is good to have for obvious reasons but many anti-nausea and antihistamine medications also have the (in this case) handy side-effect of causing drowsiness in many people. It is advisable to try this out on your child before the flight, in a somewhat less dire situation, because a some children react to Benadril and similar medications by becoming hyperactive instead of drowsy. Another issue to consider is that the drowsy side-effect reportedly stops working, if the drug is used too often. So, you might want to only use it in extreme situations, such as trans-ocean trips. Other than our two trans-ocean trips with children, I have only used it in on one other occasion and that was for our first toddler’s nausea brought on by the overexcitement and stress of going to meet our second child for the first time. Now, because I am an amateur herbalist, I would like to add that there are some herbal alternatives. Ginger has anti-nausea effects for some people. Candied or fresh ginger can be helpful to chew but young children often don’t like it. Ginger tea, if sweetened, may work better but I have found it’s anti-nausea effects to be sporadic. Lemon balm is helpful for anxiety and it helps some people go to sleep. It does not have any tendency to make some people hyperactive but the dose required to truly bring sleep to an overwrought child would be difficult to induce such a child to ingest. You could try lemon balm tea in the sippy cup as a preventative or, in a pinch, a teaspoon of lemon balm tincture scalded with a bit of boiling water from the galley (to evaporate the alcohol in the tincture) may do the trick. When traveling with two toddlers alone, I found that I couldn’t handle brewing special teas on the flight, when I couldn’t bring them through security from home. So, after five hours of dealing with out-of-control children, I resorted to Benadril, which calmed their nerves enough that they slept. The primary effect of the Benadril was probably to calm nerves to make falling asleep a bit easier and then it supported sleep, so that they may have slept longer than they would have otherwise. However, I doubt that it would have worked nearly so well without the other strategies I followed. The reason that I blurted this out when a stranger mentioned how well my children were sleeping was because I still feel a bit guilty for voluntarily exposing my children to pharmaceutical chemicals. So, it was really my guilty conscience speaking.

As you can see the effort and preparation involved in achieving a trans-ocean flight with two toddlers and one adult is enormous and, even with all that effort, I had to resort to chemical medication. The point of the story is probably: don’t try this unless there is a desperate need to travel.

A word to the toddler-wise

Marik just turned two on October 1st and we’re enjoying a whole new lifestyle, it seems. I just had one of the best mornings ever for communicating with him. He could point out where people and objects are on request readily. He could explain that Papa went away in the car with the sentence, “Papa vroom.” He helped me fold diapers and actually helped a tad more than he hindered.

Then, we were sitting at lunch. Shaye is away at preschool today, so it is just the two of us and Marik gets a lot more attention than usual. He was picking at his food, not eating much and I had reminded him to keep eating a few times. Then, he suddenly stood up in his highchair and pointed toward the hallway where our boots and shoes are kept and proclaimed, “Boo boo!” That is often what he says when he wants to put on or better yet play with boots and shoes. His word is closer to “boots” because he learned it in the winter and because the Czech word for shoes “boty” is closer to “boots”, so it nicely doubles.

“No, Marik. It’s time to eat,” I reminded him gently. “Sit down or you might fall and get an owie.”

He refused to sit and suddenly put one foot out into thin air as if to walk out of the high chair. I lunged across the table to prevent this and snapped, “Marik, no!”

At that he retracted his foot but began to sob, while pointing insistently into the hallway and blubbering, “Boo boo! Boo boo!”

I was coming over to put him back in his chair to forestall any more attempts to walk on air, when it hit me. He was not saying “Boo boo” or even “Boots” at all. He was saying “Poo poo!” I grabbed him, stripped off his bib, his overalls and his diaper, while running for the hallway, which also includes the bathroom door and the potty, naturally. I put him on the potty with effusive apologies and he did it!

Now, he has pooped in the potty before but calling for it in advance is a new thing and in my experience it is the primary sign of victory over the poo monster.

I suppose the moral of the story is a reminder to really listen. When a toddler mostly uses monosyllables and rarely makes sense, it can be hard keep the idea that there may be real information in the babble afloat. But the proof is in the… potty on this one. I think it is actually no coincidence that this came on a day when we had had several successful verbal communications. He had just seen that talking works, so he tried it out on something that matters.

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