Reflections on Ramona: 18 months

I’m still having trouble adjusting to the idea that, as of next week, I’ll be the mother of an 18-month-old child. I’ve been calling her a toddler for a while now – mainly because she toddled at 11 months – but there’s something about the magical one-and-a-half-years-old mark that brings it home to me: she’s growing up.

Alright, we’re a few years away from driving lessons and visiting universities, but she is now, unmistakeably, a little person, and not a baby. Her personality, striking from the outset, is now very clear, and as she ramps up her communication with us, it’s simply staggering realising how much she’s learning every day.

Talking came on very suddenly; a few weeks ago she blurted a word here and there, and now you can’t stop her chattering away. Understanding is far from foolproof, of course. She may yammer away, but much of the time it’s incomprehensible, apparently random. Still, it is undeniably exciting and weird to have conversations with her. She’s particularly talkative in the car with me, when she babbles from the back seat. She’s always liked itemising everyone she loves (“Yiayia?” “She’s at home.” “Pappou?” “He’s at home.”) as if knowing that everyone’s where they should be gives her an anchor; maybe it does. Now she likes me to tell her that everyone loves her. And sometimes she really makes me laugh.

R: Yiayia?
Me: Yiayia loves you very much.
R: Pappou?
Me: Pappou loves you very much.
R: Capper? (Casper, our cat)
Me: Casper… well, he thinks you’re okay.
R: Capper wuvoo? CAPPER WUVOO?
Me: Casper loves you very much.
R: Yes.

Or, a few days later:

R: Yiayia?
Me: Yiayia loves you very much.
R: Pappou?
Me: Look. Everyone loves you. You’re the best!
R: YES.

Ash also gets in on the act:

Ash: Are you happy?
R: Yes?
Ash: Are you okay?
R: Yes? Sad?
Me: You’re sad?
R: Yes?
Me: Why are you sad?
R: Yes?
Ash: Are you a traffic cone?
R: Yes?

Both sets of grandparents are industriously teaching her things she can parrot, but not possibly understand, but that’s fine. Learning by rote has a bad reputation, and certainly I can’t see any point in endlessly repeating something you don’t understand when you’re an adult, but that kind of pattern-matching is incredibly useful when you’re very small. Constant repetition – I’ve had to hide certain books, so sick am I of reading them to her, and I NEVER thought I’d get sick of a book! – is the name of the game.

On the subject of books, we do all love a set of books published by Parragon that my in-laws got her for Christmas and Channukah. Based around simple emotions, they help children express happy, sad, angry, shy, proud, brave… absolutely lovely. She’s too small to embrace naming most of the emotions other than the first two (her gurning in response to ‘happy face!’ ‘sad face!’ is hilarious), but she’s started to memorise sentences and associate words. So if I read “I feel happy when I’m with…?”, she’ll gleefully shout back “Mummy!” and it’s basically the very best moment of my day, no matter what else has happened.

I can’t find the books on Parragon’s website, but I imagine some of their other board books are also excellent. They came as a stack of mini board books in two long boxes with carry handles that she took to slinging into the crook of her arm and strolling around the living room with until they collapsed under the onslaught of toddlerish prodding.

I’m slightly terrified of what happens next, because between incomprehensible shrieking tantrums – often related to teething, which is a truly evil thing – and scarily sudden progress, I’ve once again got to that stage when, just when you thought you knew the lay of the land, the goalposts have shifted again.

For example, she’s always been great at night and is a joy to put to bed; despite my refusal to try controlled crying when she was smaller she has not developed any sleeping hangups. On the contrary, since she feels secure she’ll now go in awake and quietly soothe herself to sleep, rarely waking up unless something out of the ordinary (sickness and New Year fireworks) disturbs her. But on the flip side she’s recently, quite suddenly, gone back to being absolutely random about naps when she’s not at nursery, sometimes sleeping for ages, sometimes not, sometimes early, sometimes late. I thought we’d left that unpredictability behind a few months ago. But hey, I’ll swap complete routine confusion during the day, which is perhaps inevitable when you’re with different people through the week, for a near-flawless routine at night.

Well, for as long as that lasts, anyway.

Oh, Ramona. You’re usually so busy asking me about everyone else that I have to remind you about Mummy. Mummy definitely, positively, unquestionably loves you very, very much.

Reflections on Ramona: 14 months

Looking back at the 13 month mark, I’m astonished that there’s so much more to note in such a short space of time. People wonder why toddlers have tantrums, but seriously: can you imagine learning so many things in such a small space of time and not getting a bit cranky?

Leaving aside the leaps in physical co-ordination that are happening, it’s language that’s really astonishing me. I suppose because it’s so obvious all the time, and because it’s allowing me an inlet into communication with my daughter. Because one of the toughest things about being a parent is trying to understand and make yourself understood when there is no common language – except for body language, which is so easy to misread – between you.

So, to mark 14 months, as we dart inexorably on to 15 since I’ve been so late with this update, I give you Whiffle’s Baby Glossary. Or: things wot my kid says.

  • Family: Mummy, Daddy, Yiayia (Greek: grandma), Pappou (Greek: grandpa), Ouma (Afrikaans, grandma), ‘Gamps’ (Gramps), ‘Cabbi’ (Casper, the cat), ‘Aki’ (Alex, the cousin). Occasionally she attempts ‘Ramona’, and gets ‘amona’, which is not bad going for someone with six teeth.
  • Animals: ‘Giger’ (tiger), ‘Ca’ (cat), ‘a pi’ (pig). For ‘dog’ she just strokes the picture and goes ‘aaaahhhh’, and all black cats are ‘Cabbi’.
  • Objects and responses to questions: ‘App-ul’ (apple – tomatoes are also apples, apparently), tea, ‘tthhh’ (teeth), ‘appy’ (nappy, said when a change is needed), ca-ca / poo (likewise), ‘out’ (in response to ‘where did you go?’ or ‘in and…?’), ‘up / cup’ (cup), ‘a boo’ (book), ‘up-ah’ (to be picked up – my mother taught her that!), ‘tah’ (star), ‘baw’ (ball), ‘beh’ (bear).

I’m sure I’ve forgotten more than a few, and those are just the regular ones; often she’ll say something once and then put it away for a few days to be hesitantly brought out again later. I guess being around grandparents speaking two different languages and the varied, positive environment at nursery plus having two parents that don’t shut up is having something of an effect on her.

Incidentally, as I’ve said before, I’m really writing this for my own sake, so I can look back at how she was when she was a tot. I’m not tracking her development, or comparing her to others, and for all I know she should have done all this stuff months ago. I don’t know, I don’t care. I’m just a parent, who, just like most other parents, is fascinated by their own child.

Here’s to every single one of us just happening to have the coolest, smartest kid in the world.

Reflections on Ramona: 13 months

Now that Ramona’s over a year old, we no longer fill in her baby book. Partly cos there’s no section for after 12 months, but also because now it’s past the firsts and into the everythings. So I wanted to keep a record somewhere of all the exciting things she can now do so that when she asks me years from now there’s a hope in Hell I’ll actually be able to give her an answer.

Things that make me proud…

  • Walking is old hat – progressing to a hesitant run now
  • Walking confidently in shoes
  • Standing on tiptoe to reach things
  • Opening cupboards
  • First attempts at climbing things (generally people)
  • Signing ‘finished’/’all gone’
  • Signing ‘butterfly’ whenever one is seen, but also on request in Greek or English
  • Dancing spontaneously to music, and also on request in English or Greek
  • Responding mostly reliably to questions about being hungry or finished by smiles or signing
  • Reliably pointing out ‘Mummy’s nose’, ‘X’s cheek’ and own head (asked in English or Greek) and knees. Sometimes own nose as well, occasionally feet
  • First word was Pappou! Lucky Pappou. This has been followed by ‘Daddy’, ‘Mummy / Mama’, ‘Yiayia’, ‘flower’ (or ‘wowwah’) and the spontaneous favourite: ‘hi!’
  • Animal noises: hissing like a snake, squeaking like a mouse, ‘moo’, ‘woof’ (actually ‘oof’) and ‘baa baa baa’
  • Understanding directions: going to fetch a book whether asked in English or Greek. Identifying by name four mini Moomin books: Moominpappa, Moominmama, Snorkmaiden and Moomintroll
  • Pointing out the following reliably in most books, when asked: cats, teddy bears, balls, hippos, dogs, monkeys, fish, butterflies, bees, ducks, cows, sheep, horses, bunnies, bikes, cars, drums, flowers, mice, socks, shoes
  • Starting to point out clocks, lights and mirrors when asked in English

I’m sure there are many more things. The babbling is sounding more and more like structured speech, so one of these days her language will start sounding a lot more like ours and our mutual gobbledegook will make more sense to each other. She listens a lot more, and looks up for approval when answering a question. We keep repeating simple questions and offering lots of praise and encouragement, and I insist my parents speak to her in Greek whenever possible, as well as repeating some things to her in both languages, so that she continues to have that comfort with either language.

I have no idea if she is average, or above or below. I don’t care, since she seems to be developing and learning at a nice steady pace which gives no indication that she’s struggling or unhappy; growing confidence and happiness are all that matter to me. Every week she seems to pick up half a dozen new things, some from us, some from grandparents and some from nursery. Despite being quite square-eyed as a miniature tot, she now shows no interest in the television at all but is obsessed with books. I wonder how long that’s going to last…!

I know toddlerhood and its attendant issues are right around the corner, but it’s easy to enjoy this stage of constant learning. I understand why she needs 10-11 hours sleep and a couple of hours of napping; if I took in half what she does in a day I’d be exhausted too.

Pickleface, Mummy is so proud.

Edited: Daddy insists I add that he is proud too.

The Shrieking Shack: Baby phases again…

Poor Ramona. Life at nine months old just isn’t as easy as we think it is. We look at her being carried everywhere, having a lovely buggy, having people fall over themselves to talk to her, cuddle her, play with her and forget how it seems from her perspective.

Being carried everywhere? Only because I can’t move myself and I want to. (She doesn’t crawl, and refuses to try but can stand unaided for up to a minute and do some holding-on shuffling)

Making new friends? Having strange people talking at me and invading my personal space.

Being cuddled and played with? Mostly good, until I need to communicate what I want and NO ONE SPEAKS MY LANGUAGE.

She has learned one sign – ‘milk’ – and occasionally uses it, and the babbling is picking up pace, which is great because it means that some time in the not-too-distant future we might hear the beginnings of speech. She even tried to moo back at me over the book about the cow. We take the ability to speak and communicate so much for granted, and here she is talking away and not being understood. It’s frustrating for me, so it must be doubly so for her because she knows what she means and I don’t!

So, with every milestone – the standing and shuffling have been coming along really well this week – comes a bout of frustration and that means her shrieking phase is back. I know not every baby does this, but she can’t be the only one. It’s alarming; she’ll be sitting playing quietly and suddenly take a deep breath and ululate painfully and repeatedly. And I will wince. And wince again.

I had to step out and count to ten yesterday, and let Daddy deal with it for a while, which he did with patience and calm. I wouldn’t have shouted or lost my rag at her of course, because she’s a baby and she can’t help it, but I could feel my sanity slipping away and took the opportunity to regroup. After all, you simply can’t find the energy to sing songs, create distractions, read, play, sign and soothe if you can’t think straight.

It didn’t help that we made a Major Parenting Mistake yesterday (note to new parents and parents-to-be: you will make one of these most days. Learn from it). We went to a lovely family lunch day out charity thingummyjig. And it was one error after another. Her morning nap was cut short. Her lunch was late. There was too much noise. There were strange people pookey-pookey-pooing right in her face. I will never forget Ramona’s look of horror as my dad was holding her and this very kindly lady stroked her cheek and ba-ba-baaed at her. Separation Anxiety Stranger Fear Fail Alert!

We both felt like terrible parents for putting her through it, although she did sleep through some of it. I hope she doesn’t hold it against us for too long; at least we have learned our lesson about what she can and can’t tolerate right now.

Meanwhile plans are full speed ahead for a summer holiday road trip. Some of the family think I’m nuts for wanting to put her in a car for a few days (no more than about five hours driving per day, broken up) but she’s fine in a car and a wriggly little excitement monster on my lap, so I am not putting this kid on a ‘plane. I find flying stressful enough, thanks! I’ll take each issue as it comes, allow for lots of breaks, and learn from each day’s inevitable mistakes. Like every other parent, I’m flailing in the dark and making things up as I go along anyway.

Sometimes I take heart from the fact that all the descriptions of really successful, intelligent people include a bunch of kids who drove everyone crazy with their incessant energy and curiosity. Maybe Ramona’s ants in her pants and screaming are just signs that she’s too bright for this recalcitrant baby body; maybe she just wants to grow up already, thank you very much. Maybe I’m one of Amy Chua’s Western parents making excuses.

Or maybe I just love my daughter so damn much that even when she’s driving me stark raving bonkers I will find the good in every situation and go after it hell for leather.

Yeah, maybe.