Amie has taken to writing me letters – she’s been watching My Neighbor Totoro, in which the oldest girl writes letters to her mother. I can’t come anywhere near her when she is writing. “Don’t look!” she says – not aware, perhaps, that I can hear her perfectly as she sounds out what she is spelling!

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(Dear Mama I had an exciting day how are your days)

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(Dear Mama I love you are you okay I am okay thank you for the message love Amie)

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(Dear Mama I am at the airplane woops I am at the school had to hop off the airplane)

As you can see she is using invented spelling and I am letting her, though in my responses  I of course use the American English spelling, and I take the opportunity to discuss some words. In her first note, for instance, she wrote “deer Mama”. In the second and third one she had corrected it to “dear”.

What a treat this is! I stick the notes in my journal, and she keeps mine in a special box.

~

Today is the Valentine’s party at Amie’s preschool. We got the dreaded note on Monday: “Please have your child bring 20 Valentine’s cards to school on Friday.” So all of this week we worked on the cards, handmade entirely out of scrap paper. Last year I’d say I did 75% of the work, this year only about 30%.  Next year, I told her, she’d be responsible 100%. Amie also made cards for her teachers, and she wrote their names on the back: Meree (Mary), Soosin and Soosin, and Raylee. Of course I forgot to take a picture, just like last year.

Happy Valentine’s Party Day!

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I discovered the Home-Grown Kids 100-books-a-month challenge through Sherry’s blog, and just knew Amie would go for it.

We already read about 100 books a month, only they’re often the same ones. (Could it be we sometimes read the same book 100 times? It sure seems that way sometimes!) So our challenge will be to read 100 different books.

Part of the challenge will also be to give Amie a better idea of what “a hundred” means. She is in her exaggeration stage: everything “a hundred and a million!” nowadays. And though she needs no help with addition and subtraction (up to 20), those hardly contribute to estimation.

We also discussed what “challenge” means. We agreed on a definition: “something we do that is not easy, but a bit difficult but still not impossible for us to do and that is fun and that we learn from”.

Amie is in charge of keeping the list – I hope she catches on to the fun and usefulness of keeping lists. We might also make little notes about whether we liked the book or not, and why, and if we would reread it. Amie will also be reading to me, so watch out for some “first books” on the list as well.

So far (today) we’ve read:

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Sorry I’m a bit late posting this, but this article by one of my heroes Michael Pollan appeared in the New York Times a couple of days ago and it put a chunk in my throat that is still stuck there.

It’s a good thing… balance, especially when you’re a pessimist like I am. I got my balance today when I wanted to put some balm on Amie’s poor nose (snotty cold in progress here) and she cried out:

- No, no, only on the tip of my nose, not on my snorkels, not on my noseholes!

black and white photograph of baby thrown up in air (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Today was a crazy day, for all three of us but for Amie most of all. I would divide it into four parts:

  • Part one, in which we speak of doctors!

Amie returned to daycare after over a week of absence because of a cold. I picked her up in the middle of her lunch and we headed straight for a doctor’s appointment at 1. That took over an hour and was rather inconclusive.

At the Dr’s office she wrote on the blackboard with the chalk. She made one long vertical line and then several small horizontal lines next to it, taking care to make each start at the vertical line while muttering: “Here! And here! And here!” The result was a tall and very skinny E with too many little arms.

- Mama: “What is that, Amie?”

- Amie: “A huge airplane!” (Oh, those airplanes again!)

When I asked her to replicate it on a piece of paper, she didn’t seem to have a clue what I was talking about, and just drew her usual long, parallel-ish lines.

Then we rushed her to DH’s office where a colleague (also a Doctor, though of the “wrong” kind) wanted to do a little speech experiment with her. Due to her lack of nap and hunger, it didn’t fare so well. We promised to return after her next doctor’s appoinment, which was at 3.

This was an allergist and she got two sets of pricks. She was upset for a minute, then forgot all about it thanks to the sixties-looking psychedelic blue chair in the room. The tests were all negative – which apparently means nothing. Ha!

  • Part two, in which we tell some more about the experiment

Then back to the speech experiment, which she now enjoyed.

- Even Steven (experimenter): “Can you say ‘a heed’?”

- Amie: “I’m not sure.”

- Even Steven: “How tall are you? Are you eight feet tall?”

- Amie: “Nooooo!” (as in: Are you crazy?!) “I’m a little girl. I’m a little bit big and a little bit small.”

  • Part three, which concerns dinner 

She napped for an hour in the car on our way back – we took advantage by visiting the library and some shops on our way. But her whole routine was upset. So at dinner she didn’t want to eat. We set no less than SIX foods in front of her. Usually we don’t do this, but we felt sorry for having messed around with her so much.

  1. Tortellini with pesto, lovingly prepared just with her in mind (Mama: “Mmm, smells good!”, Baba: “It’s not for you!”) She tasted one and spat it out. It’s usually her favorite.
  2. Panda (soy) chocolate pudding. Also a favorite. She asked for it but hardly had a spoonful.
  3. A muffin, asked for in the following manner: “I want a candle.” (It’s how we give her muffins: always with a candle for her to blow out.) “Put it on the muffin? It’s in that white bag, Mama.” Me: “Are you going to eat the muffin?” “Yah,” she nods her head, “I want the muffin for the candle.” I, the fool, gave her the muffin, candle and all. I pulled her back just in time before she thrust her face squarely into the flame. She blew out the candle. Didn’t touch the muffin.
  4. Blueberry yoghurt. Okay, she ate some of that.
  5. The whole wheat bagel with cream cheese left over from lunch, of which she finally ate quite a bit.
  • Part five, in which the title of this post is hopefully explained

Then, it was time to go to sleep, but not before she and I had the following mind-blowing conversation.

- Amie: “I want to play with the yellow doorway.”

- Me: “The yellow doorway? Where is that?”

- Amie: “The door” (pronounced like “do-wa” – like “dinoso-wa”). She points in direction of rest of our apartment.

- Me: “We don’t have a yellow door.”

Amie looks at me strangely.

- Me: “Where is it?”

- Amie: “The door. Dough. Dough.

- Me: “Dough? Yellow playdough?”

We used to have yellow playdough, but I threw it out half a year ago, after it had sat around outside the can for a while and failed to reconstitute.

- Amie: “Door. Yellow door.”

- Me: “Where is it, sweetie? The yellow door?”

- Amie: “Dough. Dough! Yellow dough!”

She was confused and getting a bit upset, but whether at herself of at me, I don’t know. Baba called from the other room: “Are you joking with her?”

- Mama: “You want to play with the yellow playdough?”

- Amie: “I want to play with the dough.”

I gave her the playdough (red) and it lasted less than a minute.

Life with a toddler is surreal!

Amie and her letter Box (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • Letters

A couple of months ago, Amie started showing interest in letters. It was rather unavoidable, as we have wooden alphabet puzzles and alphabet fridge magnets. And she sees us reading, of course, and writing on paper (Mama) and on the computer (Baba and Mama).

She now also pretends to read her books,  some of which she knows by heart. It freaks out visitors, because she really seems to be reading fluently! She can recognize her written name and the A, B, C, K, M, O, P, S (and perhaps X).

  • The things and the name/drawing/picture of it

She also pretends to write. On those occasions it sometimes seems that she hasn’t quite grasped the difference between the name of a thing and the thing. She will say:

- “This is a dinosaur!” and will make big movements, while very slowly spelling out the word – “di-no-sau-ah!” (with a flourish at the end). I ask her:

- “Did you draw a drawing of a dinosaur or write the word ‘dinosaur’?” (we have always taken care to make those distinctions between pictures,  drawings, or name(s) of something, and the something). She answers:

- “It’s a drawing of a dinosaur!” (tone: are you stupid or what?)

  • The Letter Box Game

In any case, a fun game I invented is the Letter Box. It’s your average small cardboard box that has an easy-to-open flap. On it I stuck two cd-sleeves.

  1. Every morning, Amie chooses one letter from a cheapo stack of flashcards. The upper and lower case cards go into the cd-sleeves on top. In the picture above we’re working on M, one of her favorite letters.
  2. Throughout the day we collect things that start with that letter and put them inside the box. We cut out pictures of monkeys, for instance, put in (small) books whose titles start with the letter (Maisy), and small objects (money).
  3. In the evening, we up-end the box and review its contents. I hope it will become part of our routine.
  • Homeschooling Reading

That doesn’t mean we’re learning how to read, let alone actually reading. I have been doing some research on all the elements that need to come together and all the effort that needs to be expended for reading to happen… and I must admit, I am intimidated!

I don’t want to leave reading up to school, though. First of all, because  that kind of school is still very far off, and I think Amie might be interested before then. I also want her to learn reading in her own setting, that is, at home, as part of play, and out of her own volition.

Teaching has always been a large part of our parenting - of anyone’s parenting, for sure, but DH and I are very conscious of our roles as teachers. And Amie is a curious girl. She can now count to ten, for instance, not just say the words, but count 10 things: we taught her that and she eagerly aborbed it.

I wonder what kind of shape our teaching her / her learning how to read:

  • it will be a homeschooling project, that is clear (even though DH doesn’t like the idea of full-time homeschooling, as someone who grew up in the extremly competitive Indian school system, he is shocked at how late kids in the States learn to read or count, etc. At age 4 he could already spell ‘handkerchief’ – a word I just had to spellcheck to see if I got it right!)
  • but will it be more of an unschooling effort?
  • or will I scramble to read the latest research and to offer her many experimental inroads?

One thing is for certain, we can’t wait for our daughter to experience the joy of reading, but we’ll take it one step at a time, letting her lead the dance.

I and You

Amie is now in the habit of formulating descriptions of what she is doing as follows:

“Are you x-ing?”

She does this in imitation of our own (incessant) questions about and observations of what she is doing, and because she is struggling with the personal pronouns “you” and “I” and “me”. Once in a while she will use “I,” as in “I know” and “I see,” but these are stock phrases and I doubt she is really getting it there. 

We are trying to teach her about the relativity of the personal pronoun, in 4 ways:

  1. First of all, we’re trying hard to wean ourselves off the proper names, off saying, of myself, “Mama hurt herself!” or, to Amie, “Did Amie hurt herself”? It’s tougher than you would think. Strange, because it’s not like we started talking like this to one another or to other adults! Still, when talking with Amie, we revert back to it if we don’t make an effort to be conscious of it.
  2. What helps us, and maybe her too, is to emphatically point to ourselves when saying “I”, and to the addressee (mostly her) when saying “you”.
  3. Each time she uses “you” for “I,” we tell her gently: “Amie should say: ‘I am writing.’ Can you say it?” Then she repeats it, correctly, and we praise her. This works best with requests: “Amie should say: ‘Can you pick me up’. Can you say it?”
  4. When correcting her, if possible, we take her hand and make her point to herself while stressing the “I” or “me”.

An embarassing example

In any case, we were looking through the board books at the (crowded) library today, and I can see that Amie is pooping. She sees me seeing this and pronounces, loud and clear:

“Are you pooping?”

Of course she meant “I am pooping.” But no doubt every child and parent in the room took it quite literally! What could I say, but: “Shh, Amie, we have to be quiet in the library!”

It’s time to set those personal pronouns straight, don’t you think?

(Then we nearly clogged a toilet with the g-diaper!)

First weeks at daycare

A dear friend, whose daughter was born a month after Amie and is Amie’s only playdate buddy (I’m not exactly the gregarious type), just survived their first week of daycare.

The first week (for some, the second and third, too) of daycare is awash with waves of despair, glimmers of hope, heartwrenching goodbyes (“I will be back”) and tearful reunions. Our own first weeks, now 4 months ago, are still clear in my mind, and I should write about them soon.

Surprise!

But I want to remark on my friends’ amazement and confusion when she went to pick up her daughter at the end of the third day. Her daughter was climbing (backwards) down the stairs, by herself!

I remember well a similar experience we had. In the third week, we were having dinner one evening after daycare (Amie only goes three days a week). Baba and I were chatting, and Amie was doing a good job feeding herself. Suddenly she looked up from her bowl and said:

“Happy birthday” (sounding something like /happy b-IR-d-day/)

That got our attention – as did and does everything she says and does, by the way. The last time that we knew of that she heard the word “birthday” was at her birthday party five months ago. She must have heard it more recently, but where? Seeing our puzzled faces, she repeated it:

“Happy birthday, Laura.” (/Lauwaah/)

Laura is her lovely daycare provider. Then I remembered, yes, it was Laura’s birthday. It had been mentioned a couple of times last week.

Amie,  clearly encouraged by our insistant requests for confirmation and explanation (like we’re absolute idiots needing everything to be repeated back to us at least five times), piped up:

Cake!” (/kick/) 

And for good measure:

“Laura – happy birthday – cake!”

Again I could corroborate: when dropping Amie off that morning, I had seen a big cakebox. But it was she, Amie, the 17-month-old, who put two and two together.

And so here was, telling us a story about something that had happened. Before, all her chatter had consisted of descriptions of present situations, wishes (commands) and feelings. Now she thought back to the past, and related it to us. What a leap!

Shock!

But when I analyzed the experience later, I realized there was something else that made it all the more intense, and complex:

  • She had told us about something that she had experienced without/no thanks to us.
  • This proved that she is, in fact, a person outside of her home.

Many of you, reading this, may laugh. Perhaps you were never that naive, perhaps you were but have forgotten, perhaps you are like Amie’s Baba, who is wholly immune to such subtleties of emotive analysis… But for me, it was a profoundly disconcerting realization.

I analyzed that big blob of mother-emotion into these elements (there might be more, I’m still working on it):

  1. happy amazement, because she was doing something we hadn’t thought she could do,
  2. pride, that she can do it,
  3. confusion/alienation, because now there is suddenly a side to our child that we are not familiar with,
  4. fear, because it is confirmed now, something we always knew: she is exposed to experiences that we can’t control.

Growing up 

Of course I will realize it again and again, and after a while the novelty and shock of it will wear off. I will start to relish those stories, as they get clearer and more elaborate, and I will no longer be taken aback.

Then a day will come when her experience, and her story (which I do hope she will tell me) , will be so shocking (being bullied at school?) or wonderful (falling in love?), that I will realize it again: my daughter is her own self. A small self, at the moment, but growing, swelling with experiences of which I am not a part. She’s not even two, but she is already growing up.

(That’s rather soppy, I know, and so trite! I assure you am more the cool-analysis-of-my-fuzzy-warm-feelings  type. But this ending is where the post took me. Go figure!)

Amie’s crayon drawing 20 months old - 27 april 2007

Amie drew this yesterday. Look at those eye-catching lines, whorls and scribbles! The explosion of colors! The harmony between the minuscule and the grand!

What I want to do here

Aren’t I a proud Mama! I can’t believe I am posting my daughter’s drawings. But I am hoping that it is in keeping with the aims of this website, which is

  • to tell riveting stories (and isn’t this drawing just that!)
  • that are personal, ingenuous and fresh,
  • but also interesting and relevant to others because they are recognizable

and

  • to connect the generalizable to findings in scientific research and to general opinion.

Or, to put it the other way around, to give an example

  • of how (some/many/all) parents raise their children and
  • of how (some/many/all) children act, play, throw tantrums, talk, feel, and draw…

And what better example is available to me than my own child, my own parenting?

A child among many other children

Amie drawings, for instance. I sometimes find myself scouring the internet, looking for drawings by other 18/19/20-month-olds. I am a regular at Maisy’s Funclub Gallery, where I spend hours studying the colorings of other children Amie’s age.

It’s not because I feel that my child is in competition with other children, and I don’t even do (a lot of) comparing. I have always tried to keep considersations of whether she is “advanced” or “behind” at bay – what can it mean, anyway, to be advanced at 20 months of age?

But I do want to see my child as a child among many others. She has a place in a community of children. And I want to get to know that community. To that effect I “check them out”.

Digests

I’m an academic and the kind of person who seeks out research on whatever it is that I am doing, and on what Amie is doing. The fascinating development of Amie’s language(s), for instance, has prompted me to investigate language development in children generally. I am sure there are parents out there who would like to know what is going on when their kid’s vocabulary suddenly explodes, or when they start saying things like “I am clean up-ing!”

So to my anecdotal blog posts I am hoping to attach articles digesting

  • the latest findings by scientists, psycholigists, etc.,
  • as well as general/political opinion on current issues.

The way I see it, I have the time and the resources to investigate these issues, and I do so anyway, so why not share them likewise curious, but time-strapped parents?

Upcoming blog entries and articles

So, soon to come (in order of likely appearance - I sort of lied (to myself) about having the time):

  • a story about Amie’s language(s) and an article on the language development at the end of the second year (the so-called transition from speech to language)
  • an article on the need for child’s play and recess (there’s a lot of to-do about this at present)
  • an article on the development of children’s drawings (from tactile to visual, etc.)