I have a lot to tell you about this past month, but first let me tell you a little anecdote that has completely charmed your father and me. We still end your day with a reading of Time for Bed (by Mem Fox)“a little story book we received when you were born. We’ve been reading it to you since you were about 4 months old. Each page has a little rhyme about a parent animal telling the baby animal that it’s time for sleep. It ends with a human mother putting her little girl to bed. There have been times when you’ve been quite interested in the pictures. Other times you would make the noises of each animal. You went through a phase of asking about peripheral details in the images such as berries or algae. Then there were nights when you’d look everywhere but on the pages of the book. Boredom. But still we insisted on Time for Bed, because, well, it signals to you beyond a doubt that it is time for bed. Often you start to rub your eyes or yawn as soon as we bring it out. But this past month, you declared that our days of reading you this book are over. Now, when we bring it out, you yank it from our hands and say “Sam read!” And then you read it to us.
This is the charming part: as you “read” each page, you point out the baby animal and the parent animal, mapping them to our own family. The little lamb is “Sam sheep” and her parent is alternately “Mama sheep” or “Daddy sheep” or sometimes both. On the page with the goose, you say “Sam goose. Gosling. Mama goose. Honk honk.” Then you’ll point out anything else that interests you. When you get to the last page, you identify the girl and her mother as “Sammy” and “Mommy.” Suddenly, my own interest in this book has been revived. As a scholar of literature, I’ve long been interested in the complex interactions between reader and text, and here is my year and half old daughter reading and interpreting her bedtime book all on her own.
There’s your 21st month in a nutshell, baby girl. Everything you do now is both more sophisticated and more personal. You run really fast. You walk up and down stairs much more confidently. Your memory is stronger. Your pronunciation is clearer. We’ve completely lost count of your vocabulary because you add new words to it everyday. Moreover, you create your own imaginative combinations. Hands down, my favorite is “amazing cantaloupe!” You learned both words in close proximity. And you understand that “amazing” can work as a modifier. So one night you were enumerating everything that was amazing in your life: “Amazing Sammy! Amazing Mommy! Amazing Mom-mom!” and then you added out of the blue “Amazing cantaloupe!” (your new favorite fruit). We just about fell over laughing. Especially since you sometimes pronounce cantaloupe with an extra syllable: “cantaloupay.”
Amazing Mom-mom? You bet. Two weeks ago, your Mom-mom had a very serious operation on her heart. You and I flew out to Pennsylvania to help Mom-mom and Granddaddy during the operation and recovery. While things were very hard on both of them during this scary time, one side-benefit was that they got to see you. You had a grand time. You played baseball with Granddaddy, read bird books with Mom-mom, chased their cat Ren all over the house, played with toys that hadn’t been played with since the 1970s, and talked to your Daddy on the phone nearly every day. You also got to see your Aunt Rika and Uncle John (and you can pronounce their names now). Probably the hardest part on all of us was when Mom-mom was in the hospital. We could not take you in to see her, and you asked about her everyday. In another example of more sophisticated speech, you said quite clearly once: “I wanna see Mom-mom.” Thankfully, you got to see a lot of her once she did come home, and as I write this, she is recovering her strength and stamina slowly but steadily.
I’m so glad we went, and I’m so grateful that you adjusted well to the changes. It was difficult sometimes because you knew you were someplace else but you couldn’t quite understand all of the time and distance that separated us from Daddy, Camus and your life in California. Early into the trip, you saw a green Toyota 4-Runner in a parking lot and insisted that it was our car. After hearing me repeat that Daddy and Camus had our car in California, you eventually grouped these three as a unit. “Daddy? Camus? Our car?” One day you unexpectedly asked for the “blue car"“this was how we referred to our rental car on our Virginia trip LAST month. “The blue car is in Virginia,” I said. You replied “Aunt Skip? (Ah kip?)” “Oh yes, Sammy, Aunt Skip is in Virginia too!”
But that was another amazing thing. Just as we had an unexpected trip to suburban Philadelphia this month, so did Aunt Skip! At the last minute she was asked to attend a teacher’s retreat at the Westtown Friends School, a mere 10 minutes away from Mom-mom and Granddaddy’s house. So on four afternoons, we went and hung out at the school (you pronounced it “cool”) with Aunt Skip. Exactly a year ago she met you for the first time and tried to teach you to say “Velcro,” “Hola,” and “Tintin.” This year you knocked all three of those words out easily. We’ll see what Aunt Skip comes up with for you next.
“Tintin” reminds me that you’ve integrated a French word into your regular lexicon: the verb “taper” (to clap). Since you were born we’ve been singing a little French song to you that has accompanying hand motions. The first line is clapping hands: “Tapent, tapent les petites mains.” You love this song and have recently started to attempt the song and hand motions yourself. Anyway, you started saying “taper” after you pee in your little red potty. You now use the potty twice a day, once in the morning and once before your evening bath. Your father and I usually applaud you wildly when you do and you clap along shouting “TAPE!” (pronounced “Tah peuh”). I guess you could say we’re excited by both your potty usage and your potty mouth.
You are also now a fan of the ABC song and request it regularly along with “Tapent” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” We’ve made some progress on the alphabet. You now can identify and say the sounds for A, B, C, D, F, and G. (Who needs E?) You impressed the heck out of your grandparents with that, and with your identification of colors. Mom-mom was also particularly struck by your skills with eating utensils. When they last saw you at 14 months old, we were still having to distract you while we snuck food into your mouth on a spoon. Now about 95% of the time you feed yourself with a spoon and fork with no adult intervention at all. And you do eat! Food! Mom-mom and Granddaddy were astounded to see you tuck into spaghetti and meatballs, green olives, cucumber slices, bread and butter, slices of cheese, pizza, tomato soup, and pesto farfalle. You even polished off a good bit of the fresh fruit basket Aunt Kay sent to Mom-mom.
I can’t tell you what a relief it is that meals are no longer a power struggle. You are particular about things, though. You’ll spend 2 minutes trying to get a slippery piece of fruit on a spoon and into your mouth, when your fingers would be much more efficient. And you disdain music at mealtimes now, insisting on listening to Beatrix Potter stories that I downloaded from the web. You love “Peter Rabbit,” “Tom Kitten,” “Mrs. Tittlemouse,” and “Squirrel Nutkin.” Thanks to these you’ve learned the words “parsley,” “radishes,” and “tobacco.” I kid you not. That old Mr. McGregor likes his tobacco.
We do, of course, still listen to music. While you were in Gradyville, you heard a lot of Frank Sinatra (“Atra”), and you got to play my old electronic keyboard (“pee oh”) which was conveniently set up in the spare bedroom (“Sam’s room.") It did not take you long to personalize your space there. You also referred to the family room as “Sam’s room,” and you renamed one of my old teddy bears “Tommy.” Back in California you were delighted to rediscover “Sam’s house” and all of Sam’s toys. Last night as you talked yourself to sleep, we heard you enumerating all of the things in your room, then things you saw at the airport during our trip. What a lot of experiences for a little girl to integrate into her memory. One of your favorite conversational games is to make these kinds of lists: you say “hi” or “night night” to as many things as you can see or imagine. “Hi Mommy, Hi Daddy, Hi Camus, Hi Light, Hi Books, Hi Water,” etc. Often it’s like a version of “I spy” where your father and I are trying to follow your gaze, your thoughts, your imagination. While you wandered very far with me this month, Sammy, the more amazing journey is going on in your head. We’re so happy that you are telling us all about it.
P.S. This past month you decided that I was “Mommy” either to distinguish it from “Mom-mom” or because it mirrors “Sammy.” So be it.