Aaaye, Dios!” says Natalia to the heavens. “Ohh God!”

Sofía tugs again on Natalia’s shirt. “Mami, Mami!” she says, over and over. Even though she’s trying to cook dinner, Natalia hoists Sofía up onto her hip.

Pleading to be picked up with arms outstretched, at 15 months Sofía already reaches Natalia’s waist. She looks like a carbon copy of her mother, with big eyes a shade of blue (unusual in Ticos), curly sandy brown hair (although you wouldn’t know of Natalia’s curls unless you asked, she keeps her hair buzzer short), and cheeks just fit for pinching.

Te amo,” Natalia says, “I love you,” giving Sofía a loud smacking kiss on her cheek. “Te amo mucho.

Sofía is David and Natalia’s first child, and as I learned just a few days ago, will also be their last.

En serio? Por que?” I asked Natalia. “Really? Why?”
“One is enough. It’s a lot of work.”
“I know but, now you know you can do it. No problemo. The second kid’s a piece of cake. That’s what my mom said about having my sister.” (Or, something to that effect, right Mom?)

Natalia laughed. “Talk to me when you have one.”

Touché. But that’s gonna be a while.

I didn’t know what to expect from this little person, who since I’d last visited Cost Rica, had turned my favorite family of two into three. When I first saw her, I couldn’t believe it. “She’s a miniature you!” I said to Natalia.

Sofía may look like Natalia, but she has a distinct personality. She’s one smart cookie and an earnest learner. Her expressions are more animated than a cartoon. She’s got her parents wrapped around her finger, even though Natalia and David may think otherwise.

Sofía loves keys. She points to a set and upon receipt, will toddle over to whatever needs unlocking (or starting up): the front door, the car door, the car ignition, even David’s motorcycle.

She’s already conducting experiments. One evening Kirk and Natalia were seated on the couch, Sofía atop Kirk’s knee. He had just played “Caballo” with her, “Horsey,” bounching her on his leg. His T-shirt had worked its way up above his belt, so a little bit of skin could be seen. Sofía noticed that Kirk had some hair on his belly. She grabbed his T-shirt and lifted it up higher, confirming that yes, the rest of his skin had hair too.

She then lifted up her own shirt. “Ah, no pelo, Sofía!” said Natalia, “No hair!”

Sofía looked at us and giggled. Then, she crawled over to Natalia. She grabbed Natalia’s shirt and lifted it up. “No pelo!” said Natalia again. Sofía looked back at Kirk, then again to Natalia. She grinned.

She slid down off the futon and toddled over to where I sat at the kitchen table. She grabbed a hold of my shirt and lifted it up. She looked up at me and smiled. “No pelo!” I said.

No pelo, Sofía! Solo Kirk.” Only Kirk.

Sofía’s determination to try new things naturally tests Natalia’s patience. Natalia can only tell Sofía ‘no‘ so many times. And then?

Sometimes everyone needs to make their own mistakes. Even 1 year olds.

Last night I was sitting on the couch when Sofía decided that the front door – a heavy, merciless wooden door that often remains open for air flow – needed to be closed. Then opened. Then closed again. And again, again. Each time she went to close the door, she curled her little thumb around the edge in (what looked to me like) prime finger-pinching position. “Sofía! Quidado! Quidado!” I shouted, “Be careful! Watch out!”

Leaping off the couch and across the room, I slipped my hand around the door just before it slammed shut. I took hold of Sofía’s five little fingers and led her away from the door. What would have happened had I not intervened? Could she have severed a digit? “Hey Natalia, has Sofía ever pinched her fingers in the door?”

“Oh yeah,” she said, nodding. “And she learned. She knows.”

Sofía received the same lesson with electricity. Natalia recalls warning Sofía, “No toque, no toque, no toque,” over and over and over, “No touch, no touch, no touch.” After countless times, Natalia ceased and desisted. “OK, fine, Sofía. You try it.”

And, Sofía stuck her little finger in the wall.

“No way,” I said, rather shocked. Pun intended.
Natalia nodded. “Yes. And oh, she cry. She cry.”
“Ya, no kidding!”

That’s one way to learn a lesson. Natalia said, “Now she knows. I even say, ‘Sofía, look, touch!’ And she shakes her head ‘no’. She learned.”

A few nights before, Sofía had kicked off her shoes and was running across the tile floor in her stocking-footed pajamas. “Sofía! You need your shoes!” said Natalia. After trying a few times to get her to put her little Crocs back on, Natalia gave up. “OK, fine.”

Not more than a minute later, Sofía slipped and landed flat on the tile foor. She looked up at us, a tart cringe forming on her face, and commenced a loud wail. “See, I told you. You need your shoes,” said Natalia, picking up Sofía and wrapping her in her arms. Finally, she wiggled the shoes – this time, no opposition – onto Sofía’s feet.

I haven’t had the opportunity to observe the parenting techniques of any other Tico parents as closely as I have that of David and Natalia’s. Even so, I think it’s a safe bet to conclude that Americans are much more white-gloved when it comes to raising their children.

For instance, I’ve heard American moms talk about how much trouble they went through to baby-proof their houses. The baby-proofing done by Natalia and David? One rubber band, one latch and two plastic outlet plugs (for next to Sofía’s bed.) Granted, their house is much smaller than an average American home, but I still believe distinguishable ideologies exist between cultures. It appears to me that Tico children don’t grow up in safety bubbles. They stub their toes, pinch their fingers and even shock themselves. And because of this, they learn.

This morning, David took Sofía for a short ride on his Honda CBR 945, his primary mode of transportation to work. David put on his leather jacket and tried to slip on his helmet, but Sofía buried her face in his legs. “Papi! Papi!” she cried.

David set his helmet back down on the table and picked up Sofía. He hugged and kissed her, proceeded to set her down, but not before she cried out again. “Okay, okay mi amor,” he said.

Outside, David put Sofía on the motorcycle and started it up. He climbed on behind her, the two of them sittting snugly together in the driver’s seat. Natalia opened the gate.

“She’s riding with him?” I asked, my jaw agape. On a crotch rocket.

“Just to the end of the street,” she replied.

Holy… Ticos loco, I thought. Then I ran to get my camera.

They were back less than a minute later, Sofía still leaning forward, gripping the silver gas tank. “She love,” said David.

I look forward to one day having a little girl (or boy) of my own. Taking on the challenge of teaching her or him about the world. Letting them stick their finger in a wall socket if they want to. Hey, if it doesn’t kill you… right? (It wasn’t until I was 20 or 21 that I had the privilege of touching 120v. It sure wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected either. So much so that while I was in New Zealand, I chanced a grasp of an electrical sheep fence. Talk about a zing.)

Natalia lifted Sofía off the motorcycle. David reversed back out into the street. “Adios, mi amor!” he called to Sofía through his helmet. He blew both Sofía and Natalia air kisses, revved the engine, and zoomed off. ☼