One of M's favourite things is to watch the birds come to eat at our birdhouse. He has learnt to keep away and stealthily watch from a distance while they eat but he continues to jump up with unabashed excitement when he sees them fly towards their cafe. "Birds coming! Birds Coming!" he yells as he stomps his feet in delight. "Birds fly!" he confirms, in case we were disputing the finer details of their transport.
M adores books and continually asks for his favourites, which he then proceeds to read out loud with me, animating the words. His vocabulary and syntax have exploded in the past couple of months and the majority of his words are in English albeit he understands everything I say in Serbian (just like L he understands Serbian but retorts in English unless he only knows of the word in Serbian, which for L remains only a handful of words). M's first few words months ago were words of necessity, water, food, pee, kaka, nani (sleep) so he could enlist our help in fulfilling his bodily needs, vehicular objects (his first word after "mama" being "plane" and comprising the vast majority of his vocabulary at first - "cleaner truck", "fire truck", "garbage truck"), "please", "thank you", "woof woof", "ninja"(for after all, ninjas are amazing) and “yoga” (for the boys enjoy their regular yoga practice). M's very first communication of car, was "bop bop" which developed into "beep beep" then "go" because after all that is what cars are meant to do until he finally started saying "car." Dogs used to be "woof woof" then "doggy" and now when I say "doggy" he corrects me. The progression of language and the understanding of concepts always fascinated me and watching my children grow allows me to discern how our minds develop increasingly nuanced differentiation. For instance, a child has to learn that the bright circular celestial object is either the moon or the sun and this varies depending on whether it’s night and day, and that a picture of an object is not the object but a mere representation of the object. How the brain ticks through these is a marvel to witness. A while ago, M would point at the moon and say “moon” but he would also point to the sun and claim it was the moon until he learnt, a couple of months ago, to discern them. It was easier for him to discern the difference in reality than in a book or drawing (with the exception of the crescent moon which he understood was only ever a moon). What worked for the latter was to point out the difference between night and day. M understood then that the sun shines in the day, the moon at night, and that the color of the sky would (mostly) lead him to the right answer.
M has always been an intensely verbal child. He was speaking to himself and then attempting to communicate his indecipherable language to us a long time ago. He then began to verbalise his actions, albeit we only discovered this when his words became decipherable (I was convinced that M was swearing when he would throw something or slam a door in protest and was concerned about my potty mouth which I thought I had contained as L began to parrot what I stated, but it turned out he was simply stating what he was doing, "M throw cup", "M shut door").
The other concept M has been learning over the past few months has been to count. A couple of months ago, he understood the concept of “one” as opposed to “more” and this numerical dichotomy was communicated by him with “two” being the equivalent of “more.” Now M can count objects in front of him up to three, but once he gets to three, he simply understands it as “more”, although he understands that “more” is more than three. Conversely, he can count by rote up up to ten (with some variance), which shows that he may be remembering the count without understanding the numerical concepts behind it. One concept that has been helpful in teaching quantities has been using different sized cups to fill a container. Both boys enjoy this. Sometimes it's two big cups, sometimes its four smaller cups. I find that the boys understand concepts more when you can put them into practice. Mathematical concepts in the abstract don't set in and they merely learn to parrot the answer.
M is still unduly interested in cleaning and composting. He refuses to have me compost the remains of his food and as he can adequately negotiate the composting bucket, he immediately trots over and proudly adds his remains. At first I tried to prevent him doing so, fearing infection, but now we wash his hands afterward (and I wonder whether this serves as some natural inoculation). If there is an accident and M spills a glass, he furrows his brow and requests that I clean it up and then, after surveying my efforts shrewdly under an arched eyebrow, requests his own rag and proceeds to earnestly clean, resolved that he can do a better job. M's love of all things neat and clean has resulted in anguish when he looks at some of his favourite books, which he previously showed affection for by scribbling all over their contents. “Oh, no” he exclaims, exhaling a scowl of sigh when he sees his artistic endeavours, pats the book and mumbles an embarrassed “sorry book”.
At the beginning of this year, M was fascinated when I would teach L yoga and L delightfully would run through his yoga practice. A couple of months ago, M joined L in his practice and “yoga” was one of his first clear words. He would bounce into adho mukha shvanasana (downward dog pose) and malasana (general squatting pose) and exclaim “yoga” with glee in order to entice me and L into an impromptu practice. Now when M wants to do yoga, he shouts “yoga mat” and even when his direction remains unheeded for less than ten seconds runs off to haul it over himself.
M and L both enjoy various artistic and craft exercises. They love making shapes with play-doh, drawing on paper and a sketch pad, painting eggs for Easter, their version of origami, and making creatures from various materials (the favourite so far using a coffee filter, tape, woollen string and crushed paper to make a jellyfish). M attacks his artistic endeavours, as all his ventures with earnest and has patience to tinker a task to completion. L, however, is conscious of his own mistakes and tends to withdraw if he doesn't appreciate his work. For instance, L prefers to sculpt with play-doh what he can accomplish well according to his own internal critic, thus far being variations of bugs and a snake, while he directs me to sculpt a
stegosaurus or the like, explaining, "it's difficult for me, so you do it." If I protest, he stays firm and reasons "but you do it better ma." I tell him that's not the point and that he should enjoy the creation as much as the consequence but he firmly shakes his head and explains that he appreciates watching the proper sculpting of a proper object. And if it not be proper, the sculptor will surely be noticed. Taming L's inner critic is a laboured process but we have made some tepid progress.
M just like L, and most humans, has an avid interest in music. He loves to compose on his xylophone, piano and the drums (L prefers the latter, M the former), loves to sing and dance to music and misses no opportunity to inform his mother that she is off key. The boys regularly request me to sing the songs I’ve composed for them (silly little ditties) but M increasingly directs me to stop and start again, registering a failure to hit a note with his unforgiving ear. At first, this direction caught me off guard and I remained flummoxed. L, who became M’s unofficial translator a while back, would confirm “Ma, he’s saying you should stop singing. It’s hurting our ears.” Children are painfully honest. They communicate how they feel without having to massage their message in order to avoid an unseemly impression upon their listener. My husband and I were first taken aback when L would say to either one of us, “I don’t want you, I want [other parent]”. However, now we appreciate that our child is honest and clear about his feelings and don’t want to discourage this by socializing him into filtering his feelings. On the other hand, we know that this crude honesty may affect his class mates (perhaps he might want to play with one friend and not another) and so we must negotiate this labyrinthine path delicately so that L is conscious that he must both acknowledge his feelings and yet understand that their communication may lead to unwittingly causing ill feelings upon others. Easier said than done...
L has been obsessed with the continent of Asia and in particular, the country of fast trains, beautiful Sakura trees, ramen, robots, and Totoro. He has made me promise that we will soon ride on the Shinkansen. His earnest interest started a couple of months ago when we started learning about the various continents. He enjoyed learning about all the different continents but Asia was prime of place from the beginning. So since we learnt all the continents, I started to teach him about countries and Asia seemed the best place to start. However, once we learnt about Japan, L was hooked. He is a tad miffed that we will summer in Greece and not Japan. I can’t blame him. I’ve always been an avid admirer of Japanese culture and indubitably this has flowed onto L. And of course, as an aficionado of trains, how can he not want to ride a maglev train? It was of course not long before L asked the question of why we don’t have maglev trains in California. I wondered whether it was the right time to talk about the failings of our supposed democracy and the problem of lobbying. I told him this was a good question to present to our Governor.
L is reading full sentences now and adores teaching his brother the alphabet. As an only child, there are few things in this world sweeter than seeing my elder son patiently teach my younger son about the world. I try to make sentences relate to L and that he would find funny to encourage him to read them. I write it on a sketch pad at night and leave it for him to read in the morning. The biggest hit so far was the admittedly scientifically suspect statement of “the sky poops clouds and pees rain”. L also loves to read Everybody Poops (so does M) which contains subject matter they both favor and has simple sentences that L can read alone.
A few months ago, L started swimming lessons. We were nervous about L being in a pool with children who may not be toilet trained and possibly getting an infection because of his particular history so we waited until he could attend a class with three year olds. At first, L was afraid of getting into the water and this fear impressed the need for us to bring him to lessons, concerned that the more we waited, the more fortified his fear. His fear was due to sharks. L was fascinated by sharks earlier in the year and we learnt a lot about sharks ( I learnt many facts I did not know, for instance that some sharks give birth), including that some sharks would see us as food. L remained unconvinced that sharks would not be present in the pool where he would have his lessons until he saw the pool. “No sharks!” he exclaimed with explosive relief. L did fantastically, not crying once during his first lesson. L then decided he was a plesiosaur and now enthusiastically waits for his plesiosaur lessons.
Not having siblings, I’ve had to learn on my feet and have been surprised as to some aspects of the sibling relationship. For instance, if one boy asks for something, and I ask the other whether they want it, they may not want it, and declare this, but as soon as they see their sibling with what they just stated they didn’t want, this unwanted object becomes as valuable as the last drop of water and must be obtained at all cost. An easy avoidance of arguments is to simply always provide both with the same objects and food - hence we have many small cars that are exactly the same, one for M and one for L. At times, L wants to be alone. M, however, always wants to play with his brother. This becomes problematic and is exacerbated by L’s developed dexterity which allows him to pursue activities that M attempts with consequences that erupt L’s irascibility. At other times, I remain in awe at how our close they are. If L receives something he adores, he asks for M to have one too. He continually asks for M to join him in his plesiosaur lessons. They hug each other as much as they hit each other. L loves teaching M about the world. He teaches him about the planets, about the continents and teaches him, with utmost patience, the alphabet. M has more patience listening to his brother than to us. L also adores informing his brother of The Rules, albeit he honours these most in their breach and broadcasts his brother’s breaches to us. “Ma, M just peed on the floor! Ma, M just tore a page off this book! Ma, M is taking the milk from the fridge!”
L loves to tell people already about the right way of doing things, which he has apparently already calculated, and answers all questions, rhetorical or no, that are posed within his earshot. The other day M proclaimed "kaka!" and before he arrived at the potty, had already completed the job. I exclaimed, "how did that happen" and L didn't a miss a beat before he informed me that "it came from his bum, mum." Yes, L, it did. If I ask L something he doesn't know, he now shrugs and says, "I don't know, do you?" and has become very adept at this lexical boomerang.
For mother’s day this year, I went to L’s preschool for a mother's day event. One event, unnoticed and quite unexpected was a manicuring station (without possessing any nail polish remover). L was extremely enthusiastic at the prospect of being my manicurist and picked black. L also gave me a beautiful card wherein he informed me that he wanted to buy me a dark blue limousine and couldn’t wait until I took him to Japan. M gave me the sweetest present when he said "I love you mama" and then while I gushed out a grin, pointed to the shelf and commanded, "read book please" lest I forgot who was running the show.