"I have a complaint about The Washington Post," said the caller.

"Don't tell me, let me guess," I replied. "The paper boy threw your Post in the bushes?"


"In a puddle?"

"Nope again."

"Our financial section said your stock went down and you're sure it's a misprint?"

"Three nopes."

"We're showing our liberal, leftist bias in our coverage of high school lacrosse?"

"This is getting old, Bob."

"OK. I give. What's your complaint?"

"You don't write about Emily enough."

If only all complaints could be rectified so easily.

In case you just tuned in, Emily is the almost 18-month-old daughter of the keeper of this here saloon, and his wife, Jane. Ever since Emily was born, the struggle has been to keep myself from writing about her, not to force myself to. I haven't wanted to bore anyone with my first-time-father profundities, but I've found it nearly impossible not to recount Emily's latest ventures and misadventures -- and those of her parents.

However, I've just spent a few minutes in the archives, and I discover that I haven't written about Emily since Jan. 17. That's nearly five months; far too long.

At a year and a half, Emily's command of the language is astonishing. "I love you, Daddy (or Mommy)" is routine. "Let's go see" was in her bag of tricks weeks ago. When she grabbed a doorknob the other day and said "Turn it" in a very determined voice, what could I do but beam?

Of course, 18 months is smack in the heart of the parrot period of language development. Translation: If you say it, she'll say it. That means parents have to mind their manners like never before.

We learned this the hard way the other night. Jane was having trouble placing a long distance call, so she said "Dammit" -- as who wouldn't? Just two seconds later, from the corner of the room, a little face looked very seriously at her music box and said "Dammit," clear as a bell.

Just a few days earlier, I was late for the bus and was flying for the door when I realized I hadn't kissed Emily goodbye. I rushed to the stairs and found her peeking through the bannister. "Bye, gorgeous," she said. It's what Mom and Pop say to each other every morning in the same situation.

Emily has her linguistic kinks. She has trouble with R's (Seymour the cat is SEE-moe to her). She pronounces "music" MOO-kiss. Try as we might to drill her, she thinks her name is Emmy. The L just isn't on the scoreboard yet.

As for motion, Emily's is perpetual. She has two speeds: dead run and full stop, with the emphasis on the former. Falls don't make her think twice, and replacing her sneakers with sandals doesn't even slow her down. The day she decided to walk was the beginning of a long march that's still marching.

She's pretty good at sticking up for herself, too.

She goes to a day care center two days a week, so that Mom can do some work and get some peace. Most of her fellow students are male. One day, she came home with a large, pink scratch down her right cheek.

What happened? Well, she and little Geoffrey had been struggling over a toy, and Geoffrey had decided to up the stakes.

I hit the roof. Can't they protect our little girl? Can't they keep these little boys from being so aggressive? But I needn't have bothered. Emily has since outstruggled Geoffrey for toys on many occasions. One of the teachers told me that there isn't a more self-assured, forceful kid in the place -- male or female.

My favorite Emily story so far? It happened about two months ago.

We were all in the kitchen. Mom was cooking dinner. Dad was washing dishes. Emily was seeing how much of Seymour's fur she could pull out with one yank.

When Seymour finally ran away, Emily looked for new fields to conquer. Spying the open refrigerator door, she grabbed a bottle of beer from the shelf, held it over her head like an Olympic medal and proudly declared: