There’s something about a diaper that turns Penelope into Reed Richards of Fantastic Four fame. Reed Richards — for those of you who didn’t grow up in a house full of comic books — is a guy who, due to an accident in outer space, can stretch his limbs and bend his body in all directions at once. As soon as I slap a diaper beneath Penelope, she spins, swirls, turns, jukes and dips like an NFL running back in the open field. I stab furiously with the tape on the back of the diaper only to watch it stick to her armpit or kneecap. Eventually, using two hands, one leg and my forehead, I’m able to hold the wiggle worm steady for a few seconds, long enough to pin the diaper on. It doesn’t quite look right, but as long as I can get her pants on so her mother won’t know, it’s all good.
Each day, I learn something new about my daughter and about being a father. I worry constantly about screwing up the job. As Penelope raises her arms so I can slip her shirt on I say, “Oh fuck, get your shirt on. Our guest is here.” Naturally I’m mortified, and I now believe the next word out of Penelope’s mouth will be a resounding, cheerful “FUCK!” (She’ll probably say it as soon as she plops down on my mother’s lap.) And naturally, I follow that sentence with “Oh shit! I can’t believe I just said that!” Sometimes, I am truly hopeless.
One thing I’m trying to figure out about our daughter is how she gets along with the two dogs and cat in our home. The four-page question-and-answer form from the adoption agency ambiguously claims: “She likes dogs and cats.” However, whenever the dogs enter the room, Penelope starts yelling “Ah! Ah!” as though she’s either very afraid or her diaper’s on backwards. Umm, forget I wrote that. Anyway, her behavior with the dogs has led to the conclusion that either: A) She doesn’t really like dogs and cats and the folks at the adoption agency were being polite because they knew we had dogs and a cat; B) She likes dogs and cats from a distance, say, from across a street where she can point and yell excitedly without the possibility of sloppy wet tongues kissing her face or snarfing her food; C) She likes dogs and cats fresh out of the oven, steaming over a plate of stir-fried carrots and onions. Option C is the reason why, a while back when we were compiling a photo album of pictures of Bern and I and our home to send to Penelope in China, we were careful not to take a picture of the pets in the kitchen. We didn’t want Penelope to get the wrong idea.
Learning about Penelope’s likes and dislikes, and how she communicates are challenging. We discover that when she rubs her chest and says “Bao!” it means she’s had enough food; that she’s “full”. “Nin Yan Yaoh!” means walk her to the bathroom; a frantic “Nin Yan Yaoh!!” means you better pick her up and run. In turn, we teach Penelope how to give a thumbs up, how to play Patty Cake and how to toast. (Don’t worry, we’re not filling her sippy cup with wine.) She’s picking up English words like “Open please!” when she wants the nipple taken off her bottle. She listens and understands far more English words than she speaks.
Several guests arrive at our home this first week. Earlier today, Dawn arrived armed with puzzles and a little stuffed beagle toy. Dawn had heard how our beagles frightened Penelope and thought a stuffed dog would help. As Penelope opens her gifts, I think how a few years down the road we’ll all take her to hockey games and teach her the sport. And I think how someday our little girl will grow up and live a long healthy life (I hope), and how she’ll take her kids to hockey games or, say, nursery rhymes. We may teach Penelope seemingly innocuous rhymes and games, but she will carry them through the next 80 years, long after we’re all dust.
Later, before bedtime, Penelope and I snuggle into the big pink chair in her bedroom to read about the hungry caterpillar as it wiggles its way through food until it becomes a beautiful butterfly. As Penelope nestles besides me, I think how someday my daughter, too, will grow into a beautiful butterfly. And I think about how she is already wiggling her way into my heart.
Penelope slides off my lap and onto the bed just as Bern pops her head into the doorway. Bern raises her eyebrows, “Why does her butt look so lumpy?”