A wet, almost coastal, Spring came to Vermont this year. The rain fell on and off for days at a time in dull, monotonous spatterings. No drenching downpours overflowing our gutters. Not a single, pyrotechnic lightning display to frighten the children. The seasonal dampness arrived like a returning college graduate with no ambition or prospects. It took up residence in our seeping basement and was surly and unresponsive when we encouraged it to spend some time out of the house.

The farmers suffered at first which means everyone suffered, if only vicariously. Vermonters are proud of their family-owned farm heritage. Even the most business-friendly politician would think twice before inviting factory farms into our state, not that the multinationals are lining up. The land is rocky, the soil acidic, the taxes burdensome, but our beloved farmers are heroic and stubborn people. Decades ago Vermont was a major sheep farm and wool producing state. Not anymore. Then we became as a dairy powerhouse, which Ben and Jerry capitalized on, but that business is also declining. Maple syrup is about all that’s left, but people cling to their land because they care about it. Billboards are illegal in the state of Vermont.

But the rain did not help. Our local farm subscription skipped a week because there was nothing to offer. The ancient apple tree in our neighbors back woods, which bore a hundred windfall apples last year on its long arthitic limbs and fed the deer all last winter – this tree did not bear a single flower or fruit. When we drove to Burlington for shopping, we passed waterlogged fields strewn with the decaying corpses of infant corn stalks.

Eventually the farms bounced back. The rain helped other late-season crops and cucumbers are selling by the bushel. Unfortunately we’ve also been getting plenty of ragweed and goldenrod. It seems that every wild field and vacant lot is overgrown with cheery, neon-yellow flowers billowing clouds of pollen. It has affected all of us some, but Dawn has suffered the most. Her eyes have swollen and her nose runs for hours at a time. Because she is still nursing Samuel, she cannot take anything except benadryl, which makes her dopey and accident-prone.

One night I stayed up far too late, unwilling to put down a book I was devouring. When I did go to bed, Samuel woke several times, and I went into his room each time to get him back down to sleep. Miraculously, Dawn felt better the next day, well enough to take the children grocery shopping, but I was holding my eyelids open with toothpicks. I emptied the car when they came back, six trips up and down our narrow and steep garage stairs. Exhausting.

By 9:00 PM, after a day of programming and secondary level childcare, I announced to Dawn, “I am going to bed. Don’t try to stop me!” which is our code phrase for “I mean it! Unless you have a good reason to stop me.” She was rinsing the diapers in the toilet we use cloth, not disposable and she said that was fine, but did I ever get the wet diapers out of the back of the car, because she doesn’t have them. Grumbling I went downstairs again and searched the back of the car. It was empty. I couldn’t find it. I scratched my head and reviewed the faded memories of my day trying to figure out what happened, and I remembered. While unloading the car, a certain plastic bag that I had assumed was garbage was, of course, the missing diapers.

Traveling cloth diapers are quite expensive, and though I was tired, I could not simply chalk it up to experience. I went back upstairs to fish them out of the kitchen garbage only to find that Dawn had tied up the kitchen garbage bag and thrown in into the trash can. I headed back downstairs to the garage and waded through ten days of garbage to find the right bag-within-a-bag that contained the diapers. Ultimately, I was successful, but it was a pyrrhic victory. I had to spend several more minutes washing up before announcing to Dawn, “I am going to bed. Don’t … try … to … stop … me!!!!” She gave me a small allergic sniff in reply.


Toddler Linguistics

Last winter, Samuel seemed to catch every cold that Rose carried home from preschool, whether Rose had symptoms or not. After months with only short breaks between ear infections, we had tubes surgically installed in his eardrums. If you’ve not had children, you might find it difficult to understand how distressing it is to hand over your ten-month old infant to strangers who will put him under general anesthesia and stick knives into his ears.

The surgeon was a smiling, lanky, ENT doctor that worked mostly with children. He began years ago when the current school of thought recommended “loud and fast” to keep children distracted. He took this this doctrine into the world of medical fashion. I never saw him dressed in fewer than eleven distinct pastel colors. His time-management-affected-disorder did not inspire us with confidence despite his cheery attitude and Kevin Costner smile. Nevertheless, he was a professional and did an excellent job. The immediate fruit of his labor was that Samuel starting sleeping better at night. Soon after a more important change took place. He starting speaking words.

A baby who cannot hear, cannot learn how to talk. Obvious perhaps, but what many people do not know (including myself until recently) is that there is a small window of time in a child’s life when this process must occur. If a child loses the ability to hear during this critical window before the age of two, their brain never develops the neural connections that support speech and hearing. Thus, a long, chronic bout of ear infections that fills the ear canal with fluid can leave a child permanently deaf and mute, even if the infection eventually clears up with no damage to ear itself. This is why intubation is such an important surgerical procedure for certain cases.

We seem to have been one of those cases. Half a year after the surgery, Samuel has learned a few dozen new words. We’ve not been able to determine what language those words are in. We suspect it is a tonal language, like Chinese or some of the West African languages, because many of these words recur with varied inflection, and that inflection changes the meaning of the word. We’ve managed to translate several of them, and I am including an abbreviated glossary in the hope that someone will recognize the language.

ma-ma: Mama
maw-mo: Lawn Mower
mee-maw-mo: Japanese Beetle Trap

PA-pa: Papa
pa-pa: Pop!Pop!
na-na: Rose
ba-ba: Belly Button
da-da: Silky cowboy blanket

gi-gi: Guitar
gi-go: Tickle
gig-go: Socks

tah-ter: Water
ga-ker: Cracker
tra-ker: Tractor
car-go: Car, truck, bus, tractor, garbage truck, semi, toy car
woah-woah: Yogurt

um-i-NEE: Motorcycle
UM-i-nee: Watermelon
NUM-i-nee: Treadmill
um-i-nade: Lemonade

eeeeee: fan
weeeee: swing

dough!: Throw!
dough! dever!: No! Never!(spoken once, imitating Rose)
see-dee: Music (CD)

froo-fry: Fruit Fly