Rainey: My Maritime Toddler

Early in my pregnancy, like thousands of other expectant parents, Scott and I scanned baby-naming Web sites, checked out the top 100 lists, and sounded out syllables that complimented our last name. Discontent with all the choices, we soon realized we wasted perfectly good names on our pets.

But since we already had one too many Rascals running around the house peeing on things she wasn’t supposed to, we researched our Irish and Norwegian roots and, from our maternal grandmothers, discovered the name Rainey Olefina. We fell in love with it immediately and swore to keep the name under wraps from well-meaning family, friends, and co-workers who thought it was their responsibility to name our firstborn child.

So you can imagine my shock when, almost nine months later, my officemate said, “Whatever you do, don’t name your baby Rainey.”

As it turns out, her disapproval stemmed from personal reservations. Her ex-husband had recently had a new baby with his new wife, and, of all things, named her Rainey. We got over the offense with the help of a big, adorable, chenille duck she brought to work for me the next day, and we didn’t let it stop us from giving our daughter the same name a week later when she was born.

But when we started to emerge from the haze of brand-new parenthood, we wondered if we ignored a perfectly good warning sign. Because Rainey was certainly living up to her name. She wasn’t a sunny baby. She hardly ever flashed us a smile, not even a gassy grin. She preferred to scream. And scream and scream and scream.

All the parenting books called her temperament “difficult,” “fussy,” “high-need” and “serious.” And if I had a penny for every time someone said “What a serious baby,” or “Someone’s grumpy,” or even, “What’s wrong with that baby?” I’d be able to afford the Ivy League school where the “experts” in these books articulated someone with her disposition was likely to succeed.

Though I was thrilled at the idea of my daughter excelling academically and, later in life, in various occupations where seriousness is appreciated, at the time, I resented anyone who classified Rainey this way and secretly hoped she would outgrow her stormy personality.

But the only things she’s outgrown in the past two years are those cute little onesies and her obsession with putting things in her mouth. As a toddler, Rainey still tends to whine and complain a lot. She’s also extremely sensitive and reluctant to warm up to new people, places, and things, which makes moving to a new town and getting invited to playgroups, well, “difficult.”

Coincidentally since our move to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve discovered Rainey’s personality is a lot like the Oregon weather. Her name sounds a lot like it, too. For over half the year, it rains. And rains and rains and rains. For someone who’s accustomed to four seasons, the excessive downpours can be a bit depressing. It’s almost enough to make me want to change her name to Sunshine and move the family to Florida.

But luckily we arrived in this soggy state in June, at the tail end of the wet season. So for five dry months, we climbed across jungle gyms, strolled through flower-blanketed gardens, napped on grassy hillsides while listening to outdoor concerts, and picnicked beside the shores of a swollen river. We propped ourselves against sand dunes and built castles underneath a canopy of bright blue and hiked among thick forests, filling our senses with pleasures man can only hope to one day bottle and sell.

As I sit here typing these words to the beat of the raindrops hitting my rooftop, I think about those days, and my mind wanders, like it usually does, to my daughter: her brilliant smile, the sweet sound of her laughter, her soft, sensitive spirit, and her generous, artistic nature that fewer than half the people who meet her get to see and hear.

And I look out my window to the overcast sky with a sort of thankfulness – not for the sunny August afternoons to come – but for the rain, and the richness and beauty it brings to my life.

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