Gender markers, kids and confusion

At the moment, one of our favoured bedtime stories is Dr Xargle’s Book of Earth Tiggers. It’s a shrewd observation of a life lived with cats, most of which goes right over Ramona’s head but she enjoys it anyway.

It also features this page:

Dr Xargle's Book of Earth Tiggers - Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

And Ramona always says “why is the man made to step on the hairy pudding?”. After having tried to explain hairball humour, we then have this conversation, every time:

Me: How do you know it’s a man?
Ramona: Because it’s a he not a she.
Me: How do you know?
Ramona: Because it is.
Me: What makes it a he?
Ramona: He’s wearing he clothes.
Me: Ramona, have you ever worn blue and white?
Ramona: Yes of course, silly!
Me: Well, what colour are boy clothes?
Ramona: ALL colours!
Me: What colour are girl clothes, then?
Ramona: All colours! *laughs*
Me: (knowing she has worn a skirt or dress all of five times in the past year, because she chooses her own clothes much of the time and prefers trousers) Do you wear trousers and pyjama bottoms?
Ramona: Yes.
Me: So if you wear trousers, and blue and white, and stripes… how do you know this is a he?
Ramona: Because it is.

Perhaps I’m being a bit disingenuous here, because I too can see it’s meant to be a man. I know what cues I’m looking for, even if I think they’re silly ones – and obviously so does she, even though she can’t fully articulate them yet. And she’s just 3 years old. If she’s already categorising people according to markers she barely comprehends, that’s really quite worrying.

Yes, it matters. It might be a very small thing in the grand scheme of things, but lots of small things make up big and scary things, so we start here. Let me make it clear that I do not expect this to be of importance to every feminist, much less every person, but I personally think it’s something worth noting.

So I’ve noted it. And now, one way or another, so have you.

Portrait of the Toddler as a Pre-Pre-Schooler

Ramona: “I’m going to play baking now. I’m just going to go and get a baking tin and I’ll be back in a sec.”

*trundles back and forth several times getting cookie cutters, squeezy icing bottles, paper cupcake cases and a silicon muffin tray*

Ramona: “I’m going to make biscuits! I’m going to make this Moomin-shaped biscuit…” *presses Moomin cookie cutter into the carpet* “Oh wait! I just need something else…”

*brings back a bag of toothpicks*

Me: “No, not those. Those are sharp, and you’ll hurt yourself. You can have  a look at one, and then they’re going back in the drawer. See? Right, off they go.”

*cataclysmic meltdown lasting a full three minutes*

(three minutes of wailing later)

Ramona: “And now we’re going to do some icing…”

If this is what 2 and 3/4 looks like, 3 is going to be a doozy.

Happy Birthday, Dear Pickle

birthday 2 candleI am now mother to a two year old. That is all kinds of weird. But also all kinds of brilliant. The funny thing is, I was really terrified of this stage, but while it’s nothing like easy, it is less horrifying, and far more enjoyable, than I expected. The tantrums, while louder and more stubborn than before, are also more avoidable; when they’re old enough to have things explained to them, and can have more forewarning, you can head certain issues off at the pass.

Reading a book and sneaking a cuddle have always been wonderful things, but now they’re even more wonderful because she’s so engaged with what’s going on. She’s memorised her current favourites (The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Slinky Malinki and Wocket in my Pocket this week) and can narrate them aloud even with no book in front of her. It’s almost like I’ve accidentally trained a Victorian child to read poetry to the class! What’s really funny is she keeps in my inflections too, so it’s like listening to a slightly scrambled radio recording of myself being beamed scratchily in from somewhere in the wilds of Eastern Europe:

Shlinky Malinki was blackern black!
A TALKING and YURKING aventchrus cat!
He had bright yeyyow eyes,
A WAR-bing wayul,
An’ kink at end of his YONG black tayul.

I could listen to this all day. Or this:

Once there was a yittle girl called SO-phie, and she was having tea wiv her Mummy  in the KITCH-en. Sudd’ly, there was ring at the DOOR.

Sophie’s Mummy said, “I wonder who can THAT can be?”…

When she recites “It can’t be DADDY because he’s got his KEY”, she tends to interject “a other one Daddy”, in case I think the book is about her Dad. “A other one” always makes me laugh; her bed time snuggle toys are called Weasel and A Other One Weasel.

She was very excited about her birthday, and kept announcing “is gonna be my BIRTHDAY soon, and I will have a birthday cake and blow out candles” – which is indeed exactly what happened. In fact we made a cake together on the day before, which then got chopped up and sent off to nursery, and then I made cupcakes the following day, which she enjoyed and which went down well with all the family. I’ve finally decided that life is too short for making frosting – I enjoy the baking bit so much more – and made Hummingbird Bakery recipe red velvet cupcakes* topped with piped on canned Betty Crocker vanilla icing. I then got out my decorating stash – red glitter, candy polka dots, jelly diamonds and sprinkles – and even used the mini chopper to blitz the thin slices I’d ended up with when levelling a couple of the cakes and sprinkled the crumbs on as a decoration.

The results can be seen here:

birthday cupcakes - red velvet and vanilla icing

And the ritual candle-blowing here. I wasn’t helping, honest:

Pickle Birthday Candles Alexandra R. Goldstein

I hadn’t intended to get Ramona very much for her birthday as she’s only two and has a full complement of grandparents and other relatives ready to spoil her, but I ended up going shopping that morning and splurging without quite meaning to. The official present from Mummy and Daddy was her first Peppa Pig playset (she loves playing with some her cousins have), but she also now has some gorgeous new clothes from the fantastic Tootsa MacGinty – I can only afford them in the sale, but it’s worth the wait! – and a really lovely range at M&S (I want these trousers in my size, too! Including the adjustable waist for after cake…!). She’s also already got stuck into reading Meg on the Moon (or, as she called it, “Meg Goes to the Moon”) and Dr Seuss’s ABC. What can I say? She’s a lucky pickle.

Even luckier, she’s actually having a party in a couple of weeks when more family can join us, so she’ll be getting more birthday cakes than years she’s been alive. Which sounds like a very good deal to me.

Two years of brilliant. And so many more to come. We’re all very lucky.

*My mother has given me two excellent pieces of baking advice (other than the obvious – Know Your Oven**) which have stood me in very good stead. 1) Unless your recipe genuinely depends on using butter, use Stork instead. 2) Unless your cake is supposed to be dense, use self-raising flour for everything, even when it says plain and you’re adding more raising agents. Fluffiest. Cakes. Ever. Trust me.

**No, really. I baked the first cake at 160 for 22 minutes, and the cupcakes for 13 minutes, again at 160. I just know that for most sponge-type cakes that’s the optimal temperature for this oven. Cookies are a very good way to find out if your oven heats unevenly, as you’ll be able to see the overcooked ones, and can open the oven door to check them which you can’t do with a cake.

Thus endeth the very amateur baking lesson. 

When is a hat not a hat? When it’s a Hat

Many months ago, Ramona strolled out of daycare holding a fuzzy piece of fuchsia fabric from the odds-and-ends box. It looked a bit like the unfortunate remains of a Muppet that came to a sticky end but the staff said they wouldn’t miss it and she could keep it.

Perhaps because at the time she also happened to have a pink hat, she christened said rag “Hat”. Hat lives in the car, only. He is the first thing she asks for in the car, so when Hat accidentally fell into a puddle and we had to take Hat away to be washed, this caused some comment.

A few days later, Hat was finally returned to Ramona, who was ecstatic. This week, I’ve heard the following about fourteen times:

“Hat clean!”

“Hat had go wash…”

“Hat fall in puddle.”

“Hat in CAR!”

“Hat CLEAN!”

If you need a better reason for using ordinary household bits and bobs as toys, I can’t think of one.

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!

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.