Archives for the month of: October, 2011

She’s just one and a half, not too two.

She does look very cute in a tutu.

But sometimes, her language is too two. And too blue. And too hot.

On a Skype chat with my parents, my aunt, and my cousin, I held up two fingers and asked my daughter, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Two!” she replied emphatically. They were duly impressed.

I held up her foot, which was encased in a hand-me-down Croc, her new love (she can put them on herself, and she does, just to walk around the house in them), and asked her what color the shoe was. “Boo!” she replied, with an equal degree of certainty. Boo is the new blue – and perfect for this time of year.

My parents were convinced that their grandchild was surely the smartest year-and-a-half old on this side – or the other side – of the Mississippi. They cheered and applauded, and my aunt and cousin added a “Wow!” of their own.

I could have left it at that. I could have left them with the glow of certainty, the pride in what their genes had done for my daughter, their granddaughter. But I didn’t.

With one finger in the air, a beacon or finger of warning, I asked my not-so-wee daughter, “How many fingers is Mama holding up?”

Confidently she made her pronouncement: “Two!”

I similarly burned off the rosy glow of their belief in her color knowledge by asking what color the button on her pajamas was. “Boo!” she replied, pointing at the purple button.

Every color is blue, every number is two – and all food is hot. Dish her up a bowl of soup, creamy pumpkin and beans and tomatoes mingling in their own private hot tub, and she’ll warn, “Hot!” “Hot,” I’ll agree as I blow on it, finally giving her something closer to a tepid bath. Give her a piece of Havarti, which she prefers over Cheddar, and she’ll touch it with the palm of her hand, using reflexes honed by petting cats who are not always happy to be petted. Her hand springs back as if attached to overstretched rubber bands, and she looks at us wisely, counseling, “Hot! Hot!” “Cold,” I offer. “It came out of the refrigerator. Cold.” She looks at me as if I don’t know my left from my right or my hot from my cold and reiterates, “Hot!”

Hot cheese it is, then.

At some point, she surely will know red from blue and one from two. Knowing hot from cold with be old news – old. For now, I just think it’s nice that she can be right all of the time – if only we ask the right questions. I guess that goes for all of us, doesn’t it?

How many basketballs do you see here? My daughter can tell you!

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As a new parent – and even before that, as someone pregnant – you get warning after warning. Don’t eat lunch meat. Avoid eat blue cheese. Stay away from the wine. Babies can’t eat honey until they are one. Babies must sleep on their backs. Babies can’t actually sleep with any of the one hundred baby blankets, store bought or home knitted, crocheted, or quilted, that you receive. Keep children away from pets; they could get hurt. (Of course, they will – our cats nip our daughter occasionally, but it’s never been anything serious, and I really believe it’s taught her a lot about reading the emotions of others. It’s quickened her reflexes, too!) Crib bumpers may look cute but could cause death – so you might want to consider not using them. Unless you don’t love your baby.

Well, my daughter has finally found a good use for the crib bumpers, at least one section of them at a time: they make a giant, splendid, easy-for-a-toddler-to-carry cat toy! Much as she learned how to use the cat’s toy early on, waving it for the cats to play with until I thought my heart would explode with the joy and sweetness of this act done solely for the pleasure of another, she learned, too, that the cat liked this. Better yet, she learned this on her own. She created this game, and she squeals with delight as she drags it around behind her. She wraps herself in the Pooh-adorned cushiness of it, a small queen more cute than regal. Sitting on her small dais, with no apology to Piglet or Tigger hiding under her bum, she looks at her one furry subject, our younger, more active cat, Pepper.

Pepper also delights in the many ties that flap and flutter as my daughter runs. Every morning, Pepper looks longingly out the windows, tail bushing as she chases squirrels and birds from one window to another. She even made a quick escape last week, bolting out the front door and halfway up the front redbud tree. Then, she stopped. It was as if she realized that she didn’t really like the real thing, and she came back without a fight in my husband’s arms. She prefers the nature show to nature itself.

Now, she chases the bumper’s ties as if they were a small flock of birds brought inside for her kitty pleasure. She pounces and leaps, scratches and nips, and all the while, my daughter squeaks and runs, smiling and completely happy.

I could warn you about the dangers of babies being scratched or bitten by cats, leaving behind a mark like ballpoint pen but sadder, but I’ll leave that to the professionals. I say cats and babies make great companions, and my daughter would tell you the same.

As an English teacher, I’m used to homophones giving students trouble – usually more than they should, and enough so that they really should know better. Whether and weather, to and too, a part and apart, everyday and every day (the former is an adjective, as in “my everyday shoes”) – even granted and granite once, but thankfully, only once.

For the little ones learning to speak, the number of homophones is far greater than for those of us who are, say, capable of reading this blog. Multisyllabic words shrug off prefixes and suffixes. Difficult consonants, like “s” and “l” and “r,” are dropped in favor of whatever follows them.  As we walk past the library, my little lovely points out the “bee,” and after I reinforce her efforts, saying, “Yes, that’s the library!” she proudly tells me that there are “booh”s there. “Yes, there are lots of books there!” I tell her. In our spoken language, I often understand her perfectly. If we’re looking at a picture of a bee, she will also say, “bee,” but in context, it all makes perfect sense. As teachers tell you, and as I’ve often said myself, context clues are important, and this is a lesson I am learning in very different ways than ever before.

Every day, her daddy wears a tie to work. He used to drape them over the bookcase when he got home – until she began mangling them, pulling them down and carting them around, gripped tightly in a hand of  questionable cleanliness. (Ties, it seems, are really not meant to be cleaned; they are meant to stay clean, which is difficult with something worn around the neck, in line of fire of soup, water, or globs of mayonnaise.) “Tie,” he would tell her. “Tie.” After one tie suffered particularly, he set it on the shelf near her crib. After her nap one day, I went in, and she pointed. “Tie!” Yes, honey, that is a tie.

Many times a week, we can be found walking to the student post office, or SPO, to collect our mail. It’s a familiar path, lined with many landmarks, some of which move and some of which don’t: chickens which peck, gravel which is fun to play in, a swing that we go on together, bikes (“bike!”), and a particularly large section of bark mulch which is a major draw for her.  “Tie!” she’ll often say as we embark on our small journey. Once at the SPO, we visit with the very kind people behind the counter, who ooh and ahh over her and let her do things which in most circumstances would be annoying, like ding the small bellhop-style bell over and over and over again. Before we leave, she’ll point and say, “Tie!” again. We walk back and gaze through the glass in the door and into the darkened pub, where a former carousel tiger has come to rest. He sits on his perch, mouth open in a silent roar. She’s entranced. “Tie!” she points as we stare through one door. We walk to the other of the double doors. “Tie!” she says again. “What does a tiger say?” I ask. She lifts her hands above her head, a little like the dancers’ hands in the Thriller video, and says, “rawr”. It is, perhaps, the least fierce roar one has ever  heard. The tiger silently roars back and stares with dark and glassy eyes. Depending on the day, as we walk away from the tiger, she’ll cry. The tiger, proud and aggressive and strong-jawed, has become her favorite from-a-distance companion, and she hates to leave him for the walk home.

But as we look through those doors before we take our leave, she says, “Tie!” and holds up her index finger, usually her right one. When paired with earnest head nodding and direct eye contact, she wants it to be perfectly, undeniably, and absolutely clear: she wants to see the tiger one more time. “Tie!” she’ll say as I try to walk away. “Tie!”

“Tie!” she’ll say, as I put her on the potty before she goes to bed at night. We’ve read our stories, we’ve said our prayers, we’ve said, “I love you,” and she’s nursed. I might head to the crib, or we might be curled together on the bed, her feet above the covers because she’s kicked them off. “Pee!” she’ll shout, often vigorously signing for the potty. Usually, she’s right. She has to go. It doesn’t matter it you put her on the potty right before washing her up and helping her brush her teeth, she probably does have to pee again. If I think she has to poop, I’ll read to her while she’s on the potty to encourage her. Sometimes, it’s a ploy: we’ll sit, and the potty, too, will sit empty. “One more time,” I admonish, holding up my index finger, as we begin our final reading.

“One tie!” she said one day, holding up her index finger and shaking it a bit for good measure. I don’t think I even managed to hold in my laughter; I couldn’t resist the mimicry or the charm of a little girl earnestly asking to be read to as she sat upon her bright yellow potty.  “One tie!” has been reduced to “tie!”, and it now happens every time we put her on the potty. We’ve taken to keeping a small stash of books in the bathroom. (Of course, being an independent-minded girl, she often wants the same book four times, not four books once each, which is what we’d prefer.) Sometimes, I’ll still tell her that I’ll only read something one more time, and I’ll stick to it. “Tie!” she’ll beg, if seventeen-month-olds can beg. “All done,” I’ll say and sign. Leaving the bathroom and its books can be as heartbreaking as leaving the tiger.

Repetition is key, apparently, to enjoyment: lots of books, lots of the tigers, lots of ties. Repetition’s good for all of us, I suppose: we learn by doing. We learn with practice how to use the proper words in context. We learn by reading. “Tie!” she said today, after we read Sandra Boynton’s The Going to Bed Book for the first (and second) time. Nabokov, in his Lectures on Literature, claims that all good readers are rereaders, and maybe this is a lesson that my daughter is learning earlier than most.  I just hope these early lessons stick with her, whether – not weather – or not she remembers.