Someone irradiated my child with Smart Rays this weekend.
I’ve been avoiding paeans about my daughter recently, so there hasn’t been much here about her latest words or activities, but they’ve been chugging along in the background of each day just the same. Until recently, she has picked up a new word every couple of days, and will use it obsessively once she realizes that we can understand it. She’s also learned that climbing the entertainment center is now a distinct possibility, and that if she arranges the footstool in her bedroom just so, she can easily scale the desk, where all kinds of forbidden objects await her – checkbooks, Kleenex, an abandoned laptop computer, and of course, the grand treasure of the Diaper Pail.
Something clicked for Duckie this weekend. It started small. Brian took her to the park and reported that she was listless, but not fussy. (My guess is she was teething and dealing with allergies, too. It’s never just one thing.) I called them late yesterday morning to see when they would be getting back to the house, just to find out what kinds of projects I could start. (I had just enough time to vacuum.) Duckie heard my voice on the phone and said “Mommy, mommy!” Brian gave her the phone and I heard her say, “Hi, Mommy!”
Understand that she’s been saying “Hi, Daddy!” for a couple of weeks now, and spouting “Mommy” when she needs something or just wants to cuddle, or whatever. Kind of an all-purpose term. So to hear those words in my daughter’s sweet new talking voice, meant just for me, was … well, my heart stopped for a moment. Then it grew to twice its normal size (think the Grinch), crowding my lungs for working space in my chest. And that was a fine, fine feeling indeed.
They came home and she was still quiet, not her usual Tasmanian Devil self at all. As I was cleaning that morning, I had found the right cartridge to the Leap Pad Learning System book she had wanted to play with earlier, so we put it together and cuddled on the mama chair.
Before yesterday, she would play with the Leap Pad for five minutes, tops, mostly interested in taking the book or the panels out and waving them around. She couldn’t really figure out that the pictures and words she pushed were associated with a particular response. She knew that there was a picture of a baby’s face, but that was about as far as her understanding went.
Not so yesterday morning. She didn’t listen much to the female Voice of Authority, but as I repeated the requests while we played the Baby’s Face game (where’s her mouth, where’s her ear, etc.), Duckie would press the right button and say the name.
She quickly figured out that each picture corresponded to the same auditory response – and that if she pressed the picture of the banana, a little kid would say, “Mushy banana”, which would be followed by a lovely splatting sound. She pressed the banana picture about fifty times before her genius parents figured out she was hungry and wanted a freaking banana.
*During the banana break she entertained the crowds of screaming fans by shoving half a banana in her mouth at once, causing the sides of her mouth to expand, chipmunk-like, and causing her mother to have to leave the room to prevent further outbursts of spastic hysterical laughter.*
She went down for her nap and woke up speaking in tongues. We were playing in her room and she was maintaining a perfectly reasonable monologue that had something to do with the stuffed bear and Mama Tan (the orangutan Stewart got her for her first birthday). Beyond that, there’s no telling. Maybe she was trying to negotiate a détente about space on the toy box. Maybe she was coordinating a peaceful withdrawal. I don’t know – which is the hard part. Until now, I’ve always been able to figure out what she was saying. Most of her communication has been centered around her needs – mommy juice, mommy this, my this (blanket, that is), etc. Yesterday’s verbal leap went way beyond that. There was no urgency to her words – she was just telling me something about what she was seeing. And it drove me nuts not to know what it was.
OK, I know how silly this sounds. It’s embarrassing, like bragging about knowing how to drive your car. But I had been a little concerned, way in the back of my head. I hear other kids talk and I wonder how Duckie’s going to manage it in just a year or two, given her limited vocabulary. I keep up with the BabyCenter age updates and I scratch my head, thinking, well, she can’t read along with our stories yet, but at least she knows what a bubble is and can name it, right?
I remember the first time I tried to learn French. The concept of having a different verb form depending on what the noun was made absolutely no kind of sense to me. My memory for vocabulary was lousy. At the summer camp for smart kids, I was much more interested in the outdoor nature walks and really couldn’t have cared less about sitting in a classroom learning basic French. Except that everyone else but me seemed to pick it up easily, and everyone else was getting happy chocolate bars when they got good grades on the quizzes. Me, not so much. Some years later, in a different state and a different school, I was taking not just upper-level French, but also Latin, dabbling occasionally in Russian and Japanese because I loved the beauty of the alphabets. The early exposure to languages other than English was useful, if annoying and confusing at the time. Even though nothing clicked then, it sure did later on. You reach a certain saturation point with any kind of study – music, literature, languages, political science, what have you — where the discrete pieces of knowledge that you have been gathering finally have a structure, a pattern, even if you don’t quite understand the pattern yet – you know it’s there, and your eyes open wide, you jump up and down and you holler, “I get it! I FINALLY get it!”
Yesterday Duckie started to get it. She picked up something like ten new words in one day, among them “fish,” “banana,” “bowl,” “bee” (along with the appropriate buzzing sound) and a valiant effort at “whisk” (I kid you not.) Brian and I have seriously buckled down about profanity, especially now that there’s a fifty percent change that we’ll have the word parroted back to us if it sounds particularly juicy and is simple enough for a toddler to learn. (And there are a LOT of those…)
I am appropriately relieved and excited that her verbal development is on track and, at the same time… kind of sad. Babyhood is behind us. That’s ok – that’s how things work, and how they’re supposed to work. But I still remember when eye contact was all we had, and we could communicate everything with no words at all. Like most moms, I guess, I will always think of her as my baby, and no number of new vocabulary words (even if they are ten syllables) is ever going to change that.
I’m grateful that the Fourth of July weekend is over, for no other reason than the fireworks. The neighbors must have filled a small U-Haul full of them, and for the last four days, my dog has been a neurotic mess and Duckie won’t sleep for more than a half-hour at a time at night, when the damned things are going off. They’re loud, they’re dangerous, and they remind me that we’re at war – instead of reminding me of the war it took to get our own nation “free from tyranny.” Taxation without representation indeed.
We spent a lot of time relaxing this weekend. Finally got to see the last hour of Kinsey as well as most of Beyond Borders on Friday night. (Do not watch Beyond Borders without Kleenex if you’re tender-hearted. You’ll be a mess in the first half-hour.) Saturday was a lazy day, starting with a nice walk around the lake a couple of times for Duckie and me, then power naps all around and ribs on the grill for dinner (slurp, YUM.) Sunday Brian started clearing out a weedy bank and designing his two-tiered retaining wall – he was literally covered in sweat by the time Duckie and I got back from the Land of the Dead – I mean, Wal-Mart. D & I napped again – she for a solid four hours and me for somewhat less, then we had dinner with Brian’s friend and his girlfriend. More food than was even remotely needed (did I feel guilty? After seeing Beyond Borders on Friday night? Three guesses). Oh, but those hot dogs were good. Yesterday started with a hell of a workout and ended with yet another damned chocolate chip cookie (I’m praying Brian took them in to work.)
Physically, I feel better than I have since the baby was born. The weight is finally starting to burn off, and I am remembering what it was like to have well-developed thighs and arms, even under the layer of fat. (The vacuum cleaner is noticeably lighter.) The annoying plateau I was at for the last month or so seems to have broken for the moment, so keep your fingers crossed for me that the number on the scale continues to go down.
Mentally and emotionally, I’m not badly off. There’s a bipolar support group meeting tonight that I’m going to attend, just to see. It might be good, it might be awful. But it’s worth a shot. I’ll take all the help I can get.