The other day I taught Penelope something that filled my heart with pride. I grabbed a large photo book of Abraham Lincoln, plopped Penelope on my lap, pointed to pictures of our greatest President and said: “Lincoln!” I flipped through the book and stopped at every Lincoln photograph, pointed and said his name. About the fifth time doing so, Penelope caught on. She pointed to the bearded sage and gleefully exclaimed: “Inkin!” As I flipped through the pages, she proudly repeated his name.
An hour later I grabbed the Lincoln book from the shelf. Penelope pointed at the cover and shouted: “Inkin!!” As an avid student of American History, naturally I was thrilled. My mind clouded with visions of the genius of my child. I imagined her first day of Kindergarten, where she would astound her teacher by pontificating on Charles Evans Hughes’ contribution to the Washington Naval Conference of 1921. I envisioned her first step onto the bus as her first step onto the road to Harvard, a ridiculously lucrative job and my eventual retirement to the sunny climes of New Mexico where I will sit on the porch, write and read novels, and play blues guitar under a starless sky.
Then Penelope gamboled over to the coffee table, pointed to her Dora the Explorer “Camera Contest” book, pointed at Dora and shouted: “Inkin!”
Maybe it’s me, but I just don’t see the resemblance.
I’m not one who gives up easily, though. Tonight, Bernadette is running errands while Penelope and I dine alone. Penelope’s eyes glaze over as she mauls on a piece of steak, so I flip open a book about Lincoln that sits on the dining room table. Inside the covers is a photograph of Lincoln reading to his children. On the opposite page, Mary Lincoln smiles dreamily. I point to the Lincoln photo and say “Pappa Lincoln.” Penelope giggles and repeats my words. I point to Mary Lincoln and say “Mamma Lincoln” and so does Penelope.
Again, I point to Lincoln: “Who’s that?”
Penelope yells: “Inkin!”
Opposite page: “Now, who’s that?”
Penelope cheers: “Mamma! Mamma! Mamma!”
Now, I have to explain to Bern why Penelope yells Mamma every time she sees a picture of Mary Lincoln. Again, maybe it’s me, but I just don’t see the resemblance.
Some of the lessons we teach are silly parlor tricks. Others are more vital. We decided not to move all the household items and electronic equipment out of the reach of our toddler because we want her to understand that “no” means “no,” and to have some measure of confidence when we visit someone’s home she won’t throw the family heirloom through a plate-glass window. The results, for the most part, have been good, but the occasional slip up does occur. For instance, one weekend afternoon I flipped on the CD player unaware that tiny fingers had cranked the volume up to 11. My eyebrows slapped against my hairline, and the beagles bounded away like dice down a craps table.
Eventually the beagles crawled out from under the couch cushions. They’ve spent a fair amount of time there lately. We continually monitor how Penelope behaves with them. Our two-year-old beagle, Sammi, has the sweetest disposition, but our older dog, Rudy, has a bad back and is basically the old man who yells at the cloud. We teach Penelope everything from how to pet the dogs to why it’s a bad idea to rinse her toothbrush in the dogs’ water dish (yes, she did that one morning). I think if she learns to treat the animals gently and with respect, she will develop a love for all God’s creatures.
Penelope discovered quickly that the best way to any dog’s heart is through its stomach. Once she discovered the dog treats on the second shelf of the kitchen bookcase, she’d dive into the bowl, grab a biscuit and run to the nearest available dog. Of course, after two or three treats our dogs are full and balk at any more snacks lest it spoil their dinners. (Just seeing if you were still paying attention.) If left to their own devices, we’d have two floppy-eared sausages waddling about the house. Bern ended this practice by relocating the treats bowl.
Penelope has taken it upon herself to feed the dogs their supper. She takes their dishes to the hall closet, scoops food into both and hands them to me. I take the bowls into the kitchen and break up a cheese stick to mix with the food. This bothers Penelope because cheese sticks are a favorite snack. I swear she mutters under her breath at me in Chinese.
Back in Fuzhou, when the orphanage representatives first handed us Penelope, I knew we’d have a million things to teach her. But I never considered how much I’d learn from her. Next blog, I’ll discuss one of those life lessons.