stay-at-home dad

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That question about dying…you asked it too soon

Published January 16, 2014 by jay p laughlin
Always her favorite

Always her favorite

Our first trip back to the zoo was a lot of fun. We hit all of ZK’s usual favorites: the carousel ride (which is no longer the “carry-self”), the Komodo dragon, and the Asian elephants. There were, however, some marked changes in her reactions to these. The biggest is that she is no longer enamored with the elephants. While looking at them you could see her shrivel her nose and hear her quick, short breaths of air as she sniffed.

ZK: Elephants are stinky.

Me: Yes, they are very stinky.

ZK: Elephants smell like yucky poo. I want to go see the snakes.

So off we went to find the snakes.

Comparing the pictures of her from today with the ones from last year in the same places really demonstrated how quickly she is growing. It was a bittersweet kind of day in that regard. Part of me wants her to slow that growing just a bit. But being there to experience the little steps in her growing personality and maturity is amazing.

The tone of the bittersweet zoo trip started on our walk to the entrance. A brief conversation that took me completely off-guard started as follows:

ZK: The animals don’t want to get us, do they Papa?

Me: Nooo, they want to stay happy in their homes.

ZK: If they get us, we might die.

Me (with a dropped jaw): That’s very true. But I think we’ll be safe in the zoo.

I should note that our cat, Maceo, died a little over a week ago. As a parent, I don’t think there’s a time when we say we want to introduce the concept of death to our children. Usually, circumstances force that introduction upon us. So at the age of 3, Jenni and I had to have that conversation with her. She’s seems to be taking it well and, obviously, thinking about what it means. And, perhaps, it is easier to learn at this age because comprehension of its permanence comes in small bits every day in questions like “will Maceo come back today?” that are asked on each day.

The conversation continued:

ZK: Because we don’t want to die huh?

Me: No, we don’t want to die.

ZK: Because we don’t want to die together huh? That’s so silly!

Me: That’s right. We don’t want to die together either.

And then…the freight train struck:

ZK: Are you going to die, Papa?

Ho-ly SHIT! In hindsight, perhaps the entire lead up to this question should have warned me that this one might be coming. In my own conception of what ZK is capable of (which is pretty freakin’ huge, I should add) I never imagined that she’d think to ask this question yet. Perhaps, I was just denying it to myself simply because I didn’t want to answer this question yet. Interesting, because the answer is quite simple.

Me (tears practically breaking throught): Yes, sweetheart. I am going to die some day.

ZK: Are you going to die tomorrow?

Me: No, I am not going to die tomorrow.

I should note that there is some ambiguity in the way ZK uses the word tomorrow that I took advantage of here to end the conversation. The her, tomorrow means both the standard meaning of “the day after today” and her personal meaning of “sometime later.” I chose to answer as if she intended to use the standard meaning and left it at that.  In recounting the events of the day to Jenni and her mom, I left this little detail out. When ZK asked if I was going to die, I almost cried. Later that evening I felt that strong sense of sorrow welling up again and felt that, if I spoke the words, I wouldn’t be able to keep my composure.

The timing of the conversation concluded just as we approached to gate attendant and I asked ZK if she wanted to show the lady our pass. She did, of course, and proceeding to tell the attendant about going to see the dragons. However, I felt  that we should have a little fun beforehand given the weight of what we just discussed. (Probably more for my benefit than hers).

Me: Let’s go ride the carousel FIRST!


It's no longer a "carry-self"

It’s no longer a “carry-self”


Super Ballerina

Published October 17, 2013 by jay p laughlin

A Ballet Demonstration

She’s ever the little ballerina. From the day she could say the word she’s wanted to be one and she finally got her wish this fall. On the day of her 3rd birthday we had her pose for pictures in her birthday dress. True to her spirit, she decided to demonstrate what she learned in ballet class for the pictures. First position, piqué, plié, arabesque (though she still inverts the “sk” sound so she pronounces it “arabex”)…the big day began in a big way.

Her ballet class has been one of the best things we’ve done for her. She’s the youngest in the class but is undaunted. In fact, her maturity level from the first class to the second rose quite rapidly. She had to learn to stand in line, wait her turn, listen to her teachers instructions, and imitate the teachers actions. The first day she missed more than she hit. But by the second week, she was hitting more than she missed. It was remarkable. Moreover, her maturity level increased at home as well. In that first week she began to express her feelings more and increased sentence structure complexity. We were amazed and delighted. Now, each week she improves her ability to imitate the moves that her teacher demonstrates.

To make things even better, her BGFF, Ella, is in the class as well and she gets to come with me for my class. At home, we practice together a little bit.

I’m very pleased with her…well, our…ballet school. The teachers are fantastic and there’s a good amount of parent involvement. It’s a very welcoming and friendly place. When I first started shopping for ballet schools (over a year ago) I wanted to find the right place for her. Having absolutely no experience with ballet, however, meant I didn’t know what exactly I was looking for. So, I did what any dad would do to find the right place for his little girl, I enrolled in a class myself to see what I thought of the place. I must admit, on my first day I was terrified. Surprisingly, the class was great, the teacher was great, and the amount of discipline and control required to do everything even moderately right was such a mental and physical challenge that I couldn’t imagine not doing it from here on out. And from there, a new ballet family has been born.

First Day of Class

When we decided that I’d be the stay-at-home parent we wondered if ZK would grow up to be tomboyish. Admittedly, she’s an excellent ogre slayer, but in many ways she’s becoming aware of the differences between boys and girls and gravitating towards gender stereotypical things. We had hoped to set the example that everything is open to her and I still think that we do a good job of it. However, kids her age pick up a lot of social cues from their peers and the world around them. Case in point, the other day I asked her if she wanted to read one of her, formerly, favorite books, Dinosailors. “No, I don’t want to read that one,” she said. When I asked why, she replied, “Because I’m a girl.” I was stunned into silence. If you can imagine the sound of a sack of damp sand hitting the ground…that’s about what my jaw sounded like when it hit the floor. Where, exactly, she got that idea we don’t know. It certainly wasn’t from us.

In the meantime, she got a Thomas the Train set for her birthday and is quite pleased with it. “Don’t break it,” (meaning, don’t break it down) she said to me while walking up the stairs to go to bed.


Published August 23, 2013 by jay p laughlin
Super Trooper

Super Trooper

This week we saw some significant improvement in ZK’s slayer-training. The water harpies at a nearby fountain were particularly vicious so ZK didn’t get away unscathed. In the midst of a mind-blowing, super joyful, way-fast run, one of the harpies grabbed her by the foot, in true underhanded ne’er-do-well fashion, causing a hard five point landing on ZK’s part. Two knees and one hand injured by cold hard earth, the other hand and her chin injured by the fountain wall. Well played…harpies.

It’s funny how quickly delight turns to tragedy sometimes. The laugh quickly became a cry as she looked at her hands in disbelief. Setting her in my lap, she said, “oh, no!” as she looked at her scraped knees. In little sobs, she said, “is it all better?” (I should point out that this isn’t asking me the question. Instead, ZK has this way of letting us know that she wants us to say something by, well, saying it. Only by the experience of context clues do we know when wants us to repeat what she’s just said in this fashion. The linguistic cues are non-existent).

“Is it all better?” I ask.

<Sniff> “Yeah.”

Fastfoward three days:

“I’m hungry,” she says. “I want sushi.”

Well, ok then. We head to our favorite sushi place to celebrate Jenni’s first day at her (kindofabigdeal) new job. ZK is proudly sitting in the big girl chair while Pat, Jenni, and I are talking.

“<mumble mumble> my bonk,” she says.

“What?” Jenni and I say in unison. ZK has a funny face and looks to be trying to get something out of her mouth.
ZK 34months004“I ate my bonk,” she repeats.

The look on Jenni’s face is of complete, utter disgust. In what I swear to be the last laugh in the fight against the harpies, ZK has employed a little bit of sympathetic magic to defeat them…she ate the scab from her chin.

“Was it yummy?” I ask, eliciting a look from Jenni.


And Now We are 3…Almost

Published August 8, 2013 by jay p laughlin

Wow…It’s been many months since my last post! I promise it’s not that I’ve forgotten. I’d like to say that it’s because our days together are so busy that I just cannot find the time for it (ok, it’s partially that) but, if I’m being honest, it’s because ZK is growing up so fast that I’d be sobbing harder than I do at that scene, you know, in….Dirty Dancing. OYG!, <sob> it’s already starting.

The Other side of the Rabbit hole.

The Other side of the Rabbit hole.

She’s rapidly approaching 3 and will soon be in a pre-ballet class. This is great because she loves being a ballerina and loves dancing. Telling her that she was going to be a ballerina, and that ballerinas don’t wear diapers, motivated her to nearly 100% success in potty training…from that day forward. This parenting stuff is a piece.of.cake.

Jenni and I have taken her with us dancing in the past but can’t continue with it because ZK wants to dance between us. That’s great if we’re encouraging her to dance, not so great if we want to dance ourselves. In the meantime, we rely on grandma (pronounced bran-ma) to watch her on the 1-2 nights we go swing dancing/Lindy Hopping. ZK has even started to develop an ear for swing music. When she hears the band that she recognizes she’ll say, in her sweet voice, “ohh, is that Big Bad Voodoo Daddy?” I will never grow tired of hearing her say that. Now, once I get her to say “ohh, is that Reverend Horton Heat?” I’ll have died and gone to heaven (the real one!). I’ll make a lil’Rockabilly girl outta her yet.

For the longest time, ZK’s use of swear words were unintentional stumblings upon the pronunciations of taboo words. However, I recently had to confront my own profuse colorful language when she said “shit!” after dropping her toy while getting in the car. I wasn’t sure if I heard her correctly so I asked her what she said. She looked at me very seriously, furrowed her brow, and said with completed intensity and intention…”ShhIT!” Well, ok then. On relating the story to Jenni, she asked what I did in response. “Nothing,” I said, “it was context appropriate.”



ZK loves…loves, loves…frilly and/or flowy skirts and dresses. So I’ve taken up a little bit of sewing and made her a couple of circle skirts. She asks to wear them all the time so they get washed frequently. I’m extremely pleased that she enjoys the effort I put into making them. At the park today, she demonstrated that she’s already grasped the concept of “hiking” her skirt when it gets in the way of climbing the playground equipment. I’ll make every skirt/dress that she’ll ever want/need if she keeps up with the encouragement.

Ok, the <sniff> sobs are sneaking <sniff> up on me again.

© 2013 Jay P Laughlin

A Pacific Northwest Toddler

Published January 4, 2013 by jay p laughlin

“Ow! It hurts. My eyes, ” she said as the three of us walked to the grocery store. photo (6)

“What hurts?,” Jenni and I asked.

“The light, the sun, my eyes!”

One might think that, perhaps, the sun was shining in her eyes. True, it was an unusually sunny winter day. (And by “sunny” I mean that there was a little bit of sun peaking out through the clouds occasionally). But the sun wasn’t shining directly in her eyes, it was just shining. While this wasn’t the key moment in which we realized we had a Pacific Northwest toddler, it certainly adds to the growing stack of evidence.

Case in point. We were at our local watering-hole when I left the table to throw away some trash. ZK, being all grown now, was sitting in her own chair (NOT the stroller as she likes to inform me) with her own drink, and her own food. When I returned, however, she managed to reach across the table and snatch my (fully-leaded) beverage. Straw in her mouth, eyes wide in an expression of OMFingG!, and hardly a single muscle movement to swallow. It was like she somehow had the caffeinated goodness simply splash over her tongue on its way straight into the stomach. And, being the little toddler that she is, she put up a little fight when I tried to take it back.

I could continue with the evidence, but I’ll stop.

I haven’t posted in a couple of months because ZK and I have just been so busy. When I get a moment of rest I often want to read something instead of write. Lots of humorous exchanges have occurred and many of them (I’m certain) have been forgotten.

photo (7)ZK’s largest advances are in the realm of language. Every day it seems that she’s added new vocabulary or has tried new word combinations to express herself. She’s becoming quite good at it. She regularly uses 3-4 word sentences and inflects possessives and regular plurals consistently. (Little kid brains are like language sponges). Sometimes she even pulls out a little surprise when she demonstrates that she understands a concept but lacks the proper word for it. For example, when she wants to run fast she used to say “run big” until she learned the word fast.

But this is not to say that she doesn’t still need a translator handy at times. She’ll try to say words like “delectable” (it’s from one of her favorite books) but mangles the pronunciation. Even though she capable of pronouncing other words correctly, she has a habit of preferring the mispronunciation for some of them (like mikis for music). A few weeks back, however, even Jenni and I had to step back and ponder for a second to understand something that she said…

It sounded like, “I want big cock!”

Taken aback, we looked at each other and asked her to say it again.

“I want big cock!”

It must be said that, although I am known for both the quality and the quantity of my profanity, I am hard-pressed to ever think of a time when I have used that particular expression. She didn’t learn it from me.

I tried to quickly run through her pattern of mispronunciations to understand what she wanted. The third time she said it she threw her arms open wide. It was then that we understood.

“I want big hug!”

Oooh! You want a big HUG! Okay, sweetie.

© 2013 Jay P Laughlin

Another Bus Trip…and a ZK translator

Published September 21, 2012 by jay p laughlin

There it is.

ZK’s ears are sharp.

“S’ok! S’ok,” she says as she runs towards me, arms outstretched, and jumps into my arms.

The first time it happened I didn’t understand what was wrong. A few seconds later, I heard the wail of the siren approaching. Then I understood.

She hasn’t always been afraid of sirens. Until about two months ago she really liked them. Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, any thing with flashing lights and sirens caught her in excitement. However, one ambulance turned on its siren to respond to a call while right beside us. The sound was ear shattering for all of us and it scared the jumpin’-Jesus out of ZK. From that day on, when she hears the approach of a siren she seeks the comfort of her parents arms and says reassuringly to herself (or maybe it’s to us) “S’ok! S’ok.”

Holding on.

Other noises now scare her too. The other day when went on a “bus adventure” to visit another area of town. Throughout the walk to the transit station ZK talked about the bus, pointed out buses as they passed on the street, and commented on their color. At the transit center we sat together and waited for ours to arrive. She was eager and awestruck.

When our bus arrived, we stood up to enter but the air brakes released a loud and quick “HSS”. ZK squealed and refused to step on board. So when I picked her up to enter she held on so tightly that it felt like she wanted to pass right through me. She refused to let go for the entire trip. Fortunately, the trip lasted only 15 minutes and we were able to create a new song out of it that was mostly a bunch of “tout va bien, tout va bien bien” with a smattering of “Booboos” thrown in for good measure.

We went to our favorite mall, visited our favorite toystore, and rode the carousel with some other lil’kiddos (ZK liked showing them how it’s done). All the while she was saying Hi to nearly everyone who passed and they, in turn, commented on how lovely her new boots and hat were.

Our favorite table at our favorite watering hole.

We ended our little excursion with a stop in our familiar stomping ground…the good ole S.B. Once again ZK pointed to the mermaid and said “princesse” (pronounced with a French accent…it means princess in English). The highlight for her was the pumpkin bread which, in her still developing vocabulary, she calls either “cookie” (pronounced like “kooky”) in English but not exactly correct in meaning, or “gâteau” in French which is a bit closer in meaning.

It wasn’t such a bad day. The return trip improved when ZK say a little girl her age sitting in front of us on the bus. They smiled at each other, said “hi” a LOT, and did all kindsa bashful smiling with requisite shy-shoulder shrugging.

In other news:

Occasionally there are times when parents must act as translators for their toddlers. This is usually because the kiddos are only just beginning to grasp the whole oral articulation thing and sometimes really mangle the words. One in particular, a linguistic metathesis, is ZK’s pronunciation of music as mikis. I enjoy it so much that I often want to call her “Miss Mikis.”

Here are some of other words from ZK’s idiolect:

fée = fairy, or elf, or mermaid, or young girl

butt = button, or bellybutton

beek = big

beenie = lima bean

day-on (it’s hard to transcribe this one) = dragon

deppy = step

C’est (pronounced ‘say’) = this/that is


The F-word

Published August 30, 2012 by jay p laughlin

Calm like an F-Bomb

“Oh no! Fuck!”

The words from ZK’s sweet voice echoed through the galleries at the art museum. It’s not like I taught her to say that…well, not like you might think. True, I’m quite well known for my vulgar vocabulary and the speed with which I often resort to using it. But in this case, I am innocent. In her own little toddler way of trying to replicate the sounds of words that she hears, when ZK says what sounds like the word “fuck” she is trying to say the word “frog.”

In the art museum she saw a mechanical from on the lower floor. Her repetition of the phrase “Oh no! Fuck!” was her way of telling us she wanted to go back to see it. In most cases, we (mostly I) get a good laugh out of her error. It helps that she really likes frogs and points them out every time she sees one (which is often). It was, I admit, a bit uncomfortable in the museum, however.

This has created a whole series of funny situations. Inspired by her innocent expletive, I said to Jenni and Pat, “maybe I should just start using the phrase ‘frog you’ instead.” ZK chimed in from the background “Fuck you!” And later, while getting stitches removed from my back, the nurse and I were talking about how ZK’s at an age were we really have to watch what we say. “And sometimes even innocent words cause trouble,” I said, “like ‘frog.'” ZK responded as if on cue. The nurse and I laughed so hard that it was difficult for her to continue removing the stitches.

Her language abilities seem to improve exponentially now. This is a wonderful time for us. She can express what’s bothering her (which makes it so much easier to find a solution) and seems to enjoy asking for hugs and kisses. “Wanna hug? Okay” is, perhaps, her most repeated expression. Her hugs are so wonderful! But she’s also discovered that she can combine her new language skills with a little bit of deception to get what she wants. For example, she likes to walk on her own and doesn’t like riding in her stroller as much anymore. She discovered that when she asks for hugs we pull her out of the stroller to do so. Using this information she sometimes asks for a hug only to squirm from our arms saying “wanna walk!” Tricksy.