Marta Maria

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Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Sunday, July 23, 2006


So my daughter is two and a half years old. She has done most of the amazing things I originally had hoped she'd eventually be capable of doing. She can communicate - in two languages, she has long hair - it all grew in. She can walk, run, even peddle a small bicycle. And she doesn't even need breast milk to do these things! In short - she's a small wonder.

Recently, she's been capping off her string of achievements by learning to potty herself. And for Marta, by herself means ALL by herself. She will take off her own diaper and climb atop the potty - without that childish training potty seat, thank you very much - and pee. That's good. I am very proud of her.

The only trouble is when she finished and I approach said potty for use. Then she stands between me and my destination like she was guarding the sole toilet in the house. "No, issi papa! My toilet," she barks at me. I'll attempt another mounting of the toilet, only to be held back by her persistence. "Mine. My toilet. Mine."

That's an extreme example of the terrible twos quandry I've found myself in recently. There is also possessiveness going on about my wife. Often Marta and I find ourselves competing for her attention. We've even gagged on fighting over Epp. It's funny.

Despite Marta's possessiveness and "me me me" I think we've been getting on swell these days. Just yesterday I took her for a really pleasant walk, without the stroller, and we happened upon a basketball game. We went in and watched it together, like she wasn't two - maybe like she was much older. She seemed fascinated by the game. Maybe when she gets older I'll get her tickets to go see the professionals play. Or maybe the New York Liberty. I bet she'd like that.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Marda versus Marta versus Martha

Two times this past weekend I had to tell people what my child was named - Marta - but both times they heard "Martha" instead.

That's ok. "Martha" is the more prevalent version of this name in English. I can stand that. Plus it's closer to "Marta" than the way many friends and relatives pronounce it - "Marda." This drives me nuts. My kid's name isn't "Marda" - the letter 't' is the letter 't,' not 'd' you lazy sods.

To put this in perspective, we have to understand that English is one of the few languages in Europe where the lisping "th" sound is part of the language. And there are actually two different "th" sounds - the roof-of-the-mouth "th" (like this, that, there, then) and the soft between-the-teeth "th" (smith, thin, thimble, heath).

While we all learn to use "th" the truth is that up until the 17th century the letter thorn or Þ was used for both sounds with an emphasis on the "th" in "thin", although the letter ð was used for the "th" in "then." These letters are still in use in Icelandic and were once used all over Scandinavia. For example, the Icelandic word for "house" is "huseð," while the parliament is called the "alÞing."

In the Old English alphabet, Marta would be spelled MarÞa, not Marða. Dig?

People that call Marta "Marda" should be advised to try saying Martha with the "th" in "that." See how unusual it sounds? That is what you are doing to my daughter's name.

Imagine, for example, that we used "Ch" in "Christopher" like the "Ch" in "church." "Tchristopher" doesn't sound right, does it?

Anyway - Mary's sister wasn't named Martha anyway. The Judeans, like most countries, didn't use a "th" sound either. :)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Fatherhood Daze

It's been raining a lot in New York recently. The other day i could have sworn I was in Malaysia - where I have never been - stuck in some sort of monsoon. It happened as it always does. I leave Queens County dry as a bone, but then as soon as I get out of the subway the heavens open up and let the good commuters of the city have it.

The other day - stuck outside Zeytuna which has an outdoor cafe with a roof - I ran into an old friend from school, an architect named Jeff who inquired about my daughter.

"I think she loves me and hates me," I said. "I have a feeling this is how our relationship is going to work out." And that's true. Sometimes Marta seems to find me as odious as a stinky fart. I'll walk into the kitchen and she'll be eating. "No Justin, stop!" she'll yell. "Go away." Or I'll put my face close to hers and she'll just hit me. She doesn't hit others thankfully. My brother's cousin (it's a complex post-modern story of divorces and remarriages) just had a baby and when they met at a birthday party, I was mortified that my daughter would hit the little one and a half month old boy when she got close to his face. Fortunately though, she was as sweet as could be. She gave him a smooch and batted her eyes. It seems that I am the one that safe to abuse.

I don't know what to do about this problem. At first I hit back. That didn't work. Then I feigned deep sadness. That didn't work either. Now I have taken to grabbing her by the wrist and yelling at her. None of it seems to quell this problem. In the tub tonight, as Marta was dumping water on my head - similar to what I do when I wash her head - I asked her if it was revenge. "Yes," she said back, confidently.

Things aren't always so bratty between the two of us. There are times when I feel that beneath her bossy exterior she appreciates it when I go out with her. I have been trying to give my wife - the Tove Janssen/Astrid Lindgren of our family - time to write and I will take Marta to the beach or to the park nextdoor. I prefer the park because Marta always gets sandy at the beach. She just loves to roll around in that stuff. At the park there's a lot of hopping and jumping and smelling of flowers and viewing of ladybugs (she calls all insects ladybugs). I can sense that I am a bit of a rigid father. When we are near traffic I am in double alert/zero tolerance mode. The only problem is that being rigid only makes her defy me more. So I have to be both relaxed, honest (she can sense dishonesty from a mile away), and protecting. It's an interesting challenge.

Overall, Marta's language is growing in leaps and bounds. I was worried when we started this bilingual experiment that she would favor one language. I think that Marta's mother tonguw, literally, is Estonian. "Piim" to her means so much more than "milk." But she is a social creature and she is not afraid to use English. Her Estonian is already better than mine. But she is totally bilingual - she rarely mixes words. This is a great success for us. It would be a shame if 5,000 years of Estonian language speaking ended with her. I am also worried about her academic ability in the linguistic arena. I guess as she gets older we should make sure there are plenty of Estonian language books, etc., for her to read.

Marta is really creative. She LOVES to draw. LOVES it. She could sit for an hour in her room drawing suns and circles and bugs and flowers. I have been encouraging he to diversify her colors to make her drawings more beautiful. Usually she favors a color - orange or blue - but I think the drawings look better when they are very colorful. She also draws all over the apartment. She has autographed a few doors, a few walls, and likes to draw on her arms and even her face. She also likes to decorate her face with stickers.

Marta is also sort of musical. She likes to puff away on the recorder and play the piano. She really likes to get her alligator-shaped electric piano to play automatically so she can dance to it. That's one thing she really likes, dancing. At a party at Vinny's about a month ago, she was moving to Donna Summer and even doing some breakdancing (it's amazing). I have a video of her dancing from when she was less than a year old. I used to dance with her as a baby - maybe that's where she learned to feel the rhythm. I would put on pretty complicated music - like Fela Kuti (afrobeat) or Paris Combo (gypsy jazz) and strut around the room with her. I don't think most babies are exposed to that kind of stuff (I wasn't exposed to it, that I much I can tell you). So we'll see where this leads.

I have a song I wrote for Marta called "Marta Maria" which she absolutely adores. She rocks her head back and forth and smiles. She knows it's about her. At those times, I feel like I am getting through to her and that we have a good relationship.