Friday, December 30, 2016

Kid Control

One of the benefits of having kids is that it becomes totally legit to act like a kid. You can go down the slippery dips (otherwise termed “slides”), get on the swings, indulge in children’s books, build whole cities with Lego (and suffer at night when you inevitably step on a piece that attempted to elope), nap in the afternoons, animate stuffed toys with all manner of characteristics, watch cartoons, play ball and sing silly songs at daunting decibels- to name just a few of our indulgences. With two boys under two and with an ardent fascination for making toys talk and playing silly games, hubby and I are indulging in this phase. I’m so used to being on kid control that I’ve been unable to switch it off sans les enfants. I’m the woman in the grocery aisle, picking tomatoes while singing Wheels on the Bus which song has pierced my sentiment as if it were a song indoctrinating me to interpellate the word in the service of some supreme dictator (in this instance public transport, not a bad beast to raise a banner for). Understandably this has been received by the general public at best with bemusement at worst with avid concern for what must be viewed as the shatter of my sanity. This dichotomy of reception usually follows the parental divide. People with kids (or rather people around kids, running on the same kid control) don’t even tilt an eyebrow in response as I continue to sway my hips during a conversation without a baby in my arms as if I am incessantly training for a hula hoop competition or rock a stroller whose occupant has long departed as if I adopted an orphaned ghost. For those that do not spend much time with toddlers and babes and don’t have the Alphabet Song reigning 24-7 in their head and hips and arms locked into the automatic movements of rocking a baby to sleep, it must seem as if the parent is one step away from compulsory commitment. To some extent, particularly when we account for the continual lack of sleep and the tightrope of walking the “work/life balance”, they are probably right... but what a beautiful madness it is. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

The First Seven

Last night our two year old said his first seven word sentence (that we know of). "Blue fish sleep with (L - he refers to himself in the third person) in bed." This lexical locomotive was received with what hubby and I hope was contained surprise, albeit the reflection of his own amplified smile at our stupefied reception seems to evince the contrary. We were soon guilty of trying to extract more linguistic gems but we dropped the circus training when we realized that the last thing our tired kid needed right before bed was to fire his neurons (though admittedly his eyes dropped even more when he attempted more sentences).

The development of language is nothing short of miraculous. I have been talking to my son from before his was born and only in the past few month but we have been conversing only in the past few months. The early wins were words. Now the wins are whole sentences. I continue to be amazed at how the human brain can concomitantly manipulate languages. My son knows to tell me something in Serbian and quickly change to English or Greek depending on the family member receiving his command. He also understands why he must switch. He understands the concept of multiple languages and grammar they use. We count to twenty in English and then I instruct him we will do it in Serbian and off we go. He is picking up the seven Serbian cases expertly.

It's immensely satisfying to see your instruction gratified. It took a bit for my son to understand the various nominal shapes - circle, square, oval, triangle, rectangle. Then I added pentagon and hexagon. He picked the latter up more quickly, understanding the concept of shapes. Now we're working on 3D shapes, which he continues to comprehend in their 2D components. A pyramid is triangle, a sphere a circle. Soon that will click too. Nothing has taught me more patience that teaching my son. We repeat daily something he may not seem to ever get and then one day - jackpot. I'm teaching him how to use the swing on his own. The choreography continues to be demanding for him, but soon he will pick it up and flow.

What may be even more satisfying is when your child picks up a concept or a word that you haven't taught them. Yesterday my son pointed to a skateboard and proclaimed its verbal conquest to the world - where could he have got that from? My husband excitedly related to me the other night that our son pointed to his NASA shirt and said "rocket" even though the NASA symbol for all its stars, does not contain one. It does however have a shape reminiscent of a rocket and our son knows what rockets are and that they fly to the stars up in the sky.

Repetition is royal. I've now instituted the same routine with our younger son. Every day there is physical and mental exercise, for if we don't nurture this, who will? And what would we have lost? I worry that our younger son receives less attention and less nurture than our first for we are constantly dividing our time between the two. To some extent having an older sibling and noting his ways may aid him and propel him to excel earlier but on the flip side, there are activities that can only be conducted on on one. For instance, I noted that when reading a book to my 5 month old alone, he attempts to turn the pages and to flip up the pop-ups. He has achieved the intellectual milestone, but not the physical - he is unable to manipulate his hands in order to achieve what he wants to his utter and most vocal frustration (my husband and I joke that his grunts and expressions are sometimes reminiscent of a frustrated old man - I suppose it all comes full circle). Yet the intellectual achievement propels his dexterity for he keeps attempting what he has yet to achieve - to reveal the bear in the peekaboo book. This cannot be achieved when he is on one leg and his brother, who likes to read along with me, on the other.

My guilt in not providing my younger son with as much attention (albeit I have consciously decreased my work load to ensure that we have on one one time each day) has resulted in other compensating behaviours. He didn't like the crib, so I took him into bed. With my first son this resulted in constant nursing and thinned my sanity to a skeletal state until he was moved into another room. My second son sleeps soundly and nurses less as if my heartbeat is enough for him to enter into a longer, deeper sleep. My husband believes this is not a wise policy and he may be right, for there is sound argument for providing each child their own room (albeit one difficult to achieve when living in SF as we do, for instance), but if I sleep more and our son sleeps more, I don't see any other theoretical factor that could outweigh that...

There is nothing more rewarding nor difficult than parenthood and it teaches you invaluable lessons. For me, the biggest lessons have been in patience and flexibility. I'm still guilty of being impatient and obstinate at times, even obstreperous, but less so. I know that any plan may fail but if it does I don't  crumble into a foetal position and wail my woes away (at least not as much), but rather view it as a testament to the fact that it was shoddy planning on my part in the first place.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Playground Politics

The playground is a microcosm of society on display, clearly evincing that the reptilian part of our brain reigns undisturbed. The word "mine" echoes its angst across swings, see-saws and slippery dips. It's the rule of the land in the sandpit, a place where I spend good chunk of my time (innumerable times my friends have replied with concerned questions as to my mental health when I have made this statement, understanding a metaphorical meaning, which such ready acceptance of a somewhat disastrous description of my life has made me somewhat question my life choices).

When my elder son first started trampling all over the playground, I saw him as an extension of myself and would be embarrassed every time I felt his antics displayed a keen lack of manners. If he ran up to a kid and stole his truck, I would charge myself with larceny, take the truck from my screaming toddler and return it to its proper owner, mumbling apologies and lecturing my son on sharing. Later I realized that he had to negotiate the jungle of the playground alone. I would observe passively unless a crisis ensued. If he took a toy from the sandpit that belonged to someone else (denoted usually by a black marker in all caps as an indubitable result of previous kidnappings) I allowed him to play until he got bored or the owner returned. However, I drew the line at him taking the toys from someone's hands. If he did this, we would return it immediately, my son crying his name in the possessive form to no avail while I remained conflicted, distressed that sharing was something not yet learnt while satisfied at the proper use of the possessive case (my son continues to refer to himself by name, shying away from pronouns). Sharing is a tough discipline for a two year old.

Over time, my more passive turn seems to have worked. My son now spots a toy of interest and immediately looks over at me for direction (as customary, the toy of interest is usually of interest to a third party and loses all appeal as soon as such third party is attracted to another object). Slowly but surely we are make inroads into a proper etiquette...

We've also had the issue of bringing our toys to the pit and having other kids sweep them away leading to a distressed deluge. Dealing with other people's kids requires a certain diplomacy. Usually I wait, knowing the flustered parent would return the toy with the usual apology and admonish their kid (this is standard sandpit etiquette). Sometimes the parent, for whatever reason, fails to bring the toy back. My son looks to me for direction through streaming tears and I know I have to address this somehow because if I let other kids trod all over him, how is he to better his behaviour? So I troller over and nonchalantly ask the kid where they got the truck from in a delicate diplomatic maneuvere to wry the toy from them without unleashing screams in protest. I must admit that when leaving the playground and rounding up the defectors, I've had to be less diplomatic in my efforts and have been the cause of many a toddler tear to my wringing embarrassment.

Other parents in the playground adopt similar diplomatic fronts. When our kids play or even argue, we silently observe, sometimes admittedly checking our phones (and in my case streaming over the subject lines and refusing to read wok emails), akin to dog owners that make intermittent stops while their dog inspects the derrière of another, expertly avoiding eye contact during the entire encounter.

Then there are the swings. We are usually in the playground during peak time and must wait to use the swings. The concept of waiting is nearly as difficult for a toddler to grasp as the concept of sharing. As I mollify my son through various efforts at distraction, I also venture to a safe border from which I can vulture onto the next open swing (a decade living in NYC has made me quite efficient in swooping up space as soon as it opens as well as aiding its freedom by ever so subtly - or so I like to believe -protruding my presence onto their possessed parcel to nudge them on their way). Ending swing time when observing high demand must be accompanied by the promise of more fun activity such as the slippery dip, playing with a ball or a return to the sandpit (where indubitably there will be toy construction equipment which I would venture to describe and incorrigibly mistake and be corrected by an exasperated three year old to the amusement of my son).

Playground antics now continue with a baby strapped to my chest....

Monday, December 12, 2016

Rhino Dino!

My new favourite term. The kids are into dinos and what do you call a horned dino? Why a rhino dino of course! I suppose triceratops is a little difficult for a toddler's tongue to negotiate. My son picked up the term from his best mate who got into dinos before him (meanwhile my son in turn got his bud into robots). Now they both run around in circles laughing and shouting about robots and dinos and trucks. And ninjas. My obsession with ninjas had to flow into parenthood of course and 'Hello Ninja' is a nightly staple. I always ask my toddler, "so who is mama's ninja?" and he beamingly responds with his name. Now he just runs around the house screaming "ninja!" while I sit back and digest the results of good parenting. This angle of screaming words out has the potential to be quite compromising though. If you want to catch the pirate, cage the parrot and start typing. My son also loves to run around and shout "coffee" and "wine" in Serbian, which he understands are adult drinks. As soon as my son and his best buddy hear the sound of the grinder, they immediately and for some reason that still escapes me, excitedly, herald the coming of a new makeshift latte. Well, they are growing up in San Francisco, a city covered by one cappucco.

My husband and I know that nothing escapes our little tyrant - the panopticon is a real presence with a seismic scream and an overly loved bunny in his arms. Sometimes we forget to apply our own sage advice, such as the other day when I insouciantly called out to my husband to hide the rice we made from our elder son and only show him the veggies first, which consequence resulted in our son bounding into the kitchen from his room demanding rice and foiling my grand plan. I may be fond of ninjas, but one I am not.

My nearly five month old son has developed an interesting way to communicate. He gesticulates wildly and starts shrieking in a manner befitting the last wails of an expiring dinosaur. His little lungs sure have power. He seems utterly frustrated that he cannot communicate his will to us and in an effort to aid our communication with an admittedly equal desire to stop the wailing, I've started to use sign language. This worked well with our first and certainly didn't retard any lexical development. Stay tuned...

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Singer and the Thinker

For two years, I've woken up to cries, sometimes intermixed with groans and shouts for "mama". This morning I woke up to the beautiful sounds of my two year old son singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I stayed in bed content, listening to him trying to remember the words, one ear out for the gurgling cries of our little one. Then I realized that the more I waited, the more prone he was to wet the bed and rushed out (two weeks ago this resulted in a break - my fate seems to be, one child, one broken foot- thankfully I'm a biped). I was overwhelmingly pleased to discover a dry bed and we had a successful potty mission (I've learnt that as much as all I want to do is crawl into bed and cuddle with my son when he entreats me to do so, I must yank him out and drag him to the potty to prevent a disastrous deluge). Next came debating breakfast. He insisted on cereal and milk, but since he's had that the past few days, I wanted to revert to oatmeal (we like to mix it up) and he next shifted to banana and milk to which I met him in the middle with oatmeal, banana and milk. As the water was percolating and my son was playing with his trucks (his avowed second favourite toys, this bookworm's heart melted when I heard the other day that his favourite toy were books!), the Little Tyrant demanded a morning welcome.

The Little Tyrant is now four and a half months and is communicating his needs very well. My husband noticed that when he goes out to rock to skip a feeding at night, he sometimes points to his mouth and refuses to sleep and sure enough, a hungry hippo is brought to me. He also recognizes his name now. His favourite toy is an activity elephant with bright colours and lots of threads and balls for him to tangle and grip. He is also quite enchanted with the jungle mobile and when he spots it, he looks to us and squeaks out a command that we have come to understand as putting the jungle musical into action. Then he spends about ten minutes (as he is doing right now) giggling as he watches the animals twirl, wringing his hands with a pensive, almost imperious gaze which if it usually did not end in a cascade of excrement (from either side), I would wager were the beginnings of putsch (certainly he has puissance in this household).

And there it is... the grumblings and bicycle kicks of a job well done and mobile time is over... time for books!