Growing season

I don’t think I’ve mentioned to the internets that I discovered the secret to Robin and walking.

See, the pediatrician at his last appointment suggested we stop helping him walk and stop making a big deal out of it– presumably so he’d start doing it on his own and stop being so cautious. Well, we couldn’t stop playing the walking game, not when he would start it and loved it so much. But we stopped encouraging him to walk otherwise.

As far as I can tell, this was the problem. Because a month or so ago, I decided on a family change in policy: we would remind him to walk on his feet anytime he was kneewalking, and we’d hold his hand if that helped him walk. Almost overnight, he started initiating proper walking more and more. Sometimes he wants to hold our hand, sometimes not. He still crawls when he wanted to go somewhere really fast, or he’s moving from one ground attraction to another. And his walk is still the wide-stance toddle I see more often in kids half his age rather than the adult-like running of most of his gymboree classmates. But he’s progressing. Yesterday afternoon I watched him practice squatting down, and yesterday evening I watched him walk up and then down the single step between great room and kitchen that he previously always dropped to all fours to descend/climb.

Between that and his now-common use of certain two-word phrases (usually in the form of ‘one ball, two balls, three balls’ or ‘a D! two Ds’— but hey, pretty sure it, ahahahhaah,  counts) I’m much less neurotic about his milestone situations. It also helped that I realized his letter fixation was probably no different than another child’s train or truck fixation, except that letters are even more common than trucks. He can point out (and find in a jumble) every letter in the alphabet, and some numbers, and recently he’s started trying to order them properly when he sings to himself (while stubborning skipping the letters he can’t say: A C D E F…). He’s also started associating groups of letters with images or words(like his name), and he’s excellent at seeing letter-shapes in random designs, even sideways. He recently brought a book to me to read after, I think, going through it extensively on his own: ‘A Good Day For Up’. On every page, he pointed out the sun, and often the word ‘UP’ as well. Oh! And he’s learning lowercase letters by himself, presumably because his alphabet blocks have both lowercase and uppercase. I was impressed by that. I’ve worried about teaching him that different things have the same name (even though he seems to have no problem with ‘Eye’ and ‘I’).

He still loves to color and draw. He has some used books downstairs with his coloring supplies, and he’s chosen to color in all of the letters on every page. When he draws, he likes to draw Es and Ds and Hs and circles. He hasn’t yet drawn a star he’s satisfied with although I think he’s done triangles. And he attaches sunbeams (or petals or hair…) to almost any curved surface, eventually. He prefers to color shapes in; he can’t stay inside the lines very well but he’s really trying. He may or may not be left-handed; he switches back and forth a lot. I’m trying to do some of my coloring with my left hand because it seems like the thing to do.

He doesn’t seem very interested in color itself. He can identify the basics shown in his legos when asked, but he just doesn’t seem to care most of the time. He’s much more interested in shapes and his absolute favorite game is making letters out of his legos and other toys. He creates shapes through assembly with much more facility than he does through drawing. In both drawing and assembly, he can see unfinished shapes and add the stroke necessary to transform it; Raymond plays that game a lot with him.

He seems to understand a lot of language, though we occasionally realize he has toys we’ve never taught him the name of. He still doesn’t talk much, except about letters and balls. His pronunciation of ‘ball’, ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘three’ is atrocious and only comprehensible through context. His pronuciation of the letters he’ll say is perfect except for S (which sounds just like F– he knows the difference between the two visually when we say them but also likes to point out that they’re similar. It doesn’t help that there’s a 5 on his F block. Idiots.) For reference, at the last check, those letters are A, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, M, N, O, S and maybe T? Can’t quite recall.

He’ll be two in twelve days.

When he was a newborn, he invaded all my dreams. Every sleeping adventure included a newborn baby I was responsible for. That eventually faded away, until now. Suddenly, there’s toddler-Robin in all my dreams, and they’re stress dreams, where he’s taken away from me or I’ve forgotten about him and can’t find himwhen I remember. I think my subconscious is having trouble with the idea that my baby isn’t a baby anymore…

Anyhow, I could talk about him a lot more. Because he’s awesome. But I won’t. This was just supposed to be a post on his walking and my dreams…

Ys, ys, you’re very smart.

Robin woke up three hours early this morning, sobbing in response to Kevin’s early alarm (the one he ignores for up to an hour).

He snuggled in bed with us for a short while, until he found himself more interested in pointing out that there were letters on my shirt, and that he has fingers, which are also associated with alphanumeric characters. (‘q,r,s. q,r,s. q,r,s’ while tapping them one at a time)

I changed his diaper, hoping he’d go back to sleep. He started howling as I did this and, since the morning diaper change usually comes with milk, I said, “What, are you hungry?” The howling stopped, replaced by a frantic “‘Ys! Ys! Ys!”

He hadn’t actually used ‘yes’ previously, although I’ve been trying to teach him. As, you know, an upgrade  from the snatch and grab.  Don’t worry, ‘no’ is still the slashing rejecting arm gesture and an emphatic ‘ennnh!’ that he  mastered in a rudimentary form about half an hour after birth. He’s started using it to reject concepts (“Would you like me to pick you up and show you the night sky?” “Ennh!” = ‘No thanks, I can see it just fine from the porch AND draw at the same time.’)

I gave him milk.

He drank it. Then he started telling me about how there were stars on a picture frame on the other side of the room. Star. Stars. He eventually surmounted the Wall of Mom and wobbled over to show me. Star. Stars. No, Mom, you can’t go back to sleep.

He’s been so cheerful this morning. It’s unnatural.

ETA: Oh sheesh, so this is why we don’t get up until after the guys leave for work, even on a good day.

Raymond came out to the kitchen, slinging his bag over his shoulder, zipping up his sweater. Robin immediately demanded to be picked up. Because Robin’s favorite thing in the world, even more than chalk and maybe even more than baths, is Going Someplace. And using cues any dog could pick up, he had ascertained that Raymond was preparing to Go. Well, he was ready! Pantsless, but all you really need to Go is to be put into your carseat, right? I mean, the changing of Pants and wearing of Shoes are also important cues, but not essential. Clearly.

My God, the sobbing as they left him behind to go to work. He’s okay now but I don’t think he’s ever quite been betrayed this way.

(The ‘go, go’ communication was another self-invented sign/body language, dating from… a very long time ago now. A year, maybe? It’s very similar to spurring a horse and shaking reins, if somebody’s holding him. He’s lately been discovering that we’re not nearly as well-trained as he’d like us to be.)

ETA 2: Now he falls asleep again. Now that I have to work  on getting him ready for being babysat and me ready for a dental double feature.

Li’l followup

Thanks, Internet!

Note: Robin’s hearing has been checked a few times (basic well-baby check) and he’s never had any kind of trouble with his ears. We specifically asked at his last appointment.

But the real, interesting followup: Today at the library, he pointed at one flower, two flowers, just as he’s been doing for a while. One, the other, two at once. “Flower,” he said clearly. (it’s moved from a whispered ‘ffowr’ to ‘whowr’ lately because I think he sees wheels and flowers as the same kind of thing). And then, pointing at both, he said, “Flowers,” carefully emphasizing the ‘s’ sound at the end. He did it three times, and smiled, and went back to babbling to himself.

Mommy angst

In case it hasn’t been clear from previous posts, Robin’s particular brand of developmental stubborness stresses me out.

I signed up for a free Gymboree class on Saturday. I have a dream that regular interaction with other children will encourage him. That was why I went to the zoo and the children’s museum so often, but there aren’t usually a lot of other children there when we are. Maybe at Gymboree he’ll even meet the same children more than once.

And since then I’ve been browsing the web, reading blogs and so on, ostensibly to read Gymboree experiences– but as I read about more and more children much younger than Robin using full sentences or running, I find myself staring at other things. Developmental milestones. Early intervention recommendations. And I end up so frustrated.

They all say ‘trust your instincts’ and I do try. My instincts say ‘nothing’s wrong; he’s stubborn and a perfectionist’. My instincts say ‘crawling seems safer to him around a large, energetic dog who has a history of knocking him over’. My instincts say ‘he’s too impatient to learn the balance he needs to walk fast enough to make walking more attractive than crawling’. My instincts say ‘he hates saying words incorrectly’.

He walks as a game; a favorite game, even. It takes very little to entice him to play the walking game, walking to and from a beloved adult, and getting cheers and hugs each time he returns. He prefers to play it with an adult and a soft surface like a couch or bed or another adult to fall against if he loses his balance, but he’s done it without. And the praise is non-negotiable; last night I held my arms out to my sides twice and when he reached me, each time he reached up to wrap my arms around him. We can only play this game when Dante is separated, outside or in another room, because otherwise Dante wants to also get hugs and he is not as careful with Toddler Robin as he was with Baby Robin.

And when he walks, he takes bigger and bigger steps; he is never totally steady because he is never walking fast enough.

His favorite word is ‘D’, as in the alphabet letter. Every time he says it, there’s an unmistakable gleeful triumph in his tone. My instincts say that’s because he knows he’s saying it perfectly. And he uses whatever words are important to him at any given time– bottle/water is a perennial favorite, and right now there’s ‘moon’ (nin) and ‘fish’ (schy) and ‘truck’ (vroom). Sometimes a word will slip out when he’s not paying attention: ‘banana’, ‘dinosaur’, ‘giraffe’, but then he realizes what he’s done and he won’t repeat it.

He refuses to even try words for things such as ‘out’ or ‘up’ or ‘help’ or ‘open’. He has no patience for apparent idiocy and he knows damn well that we understand him when he indicates those things. A picture’s worth a thousand words, so why not point as an answer? He puts the crayon in our hands and presses it to the paper; how much more explicit does he need to be? And even through my brooding I’m smiling at the memory. He knows what he wants. And he’s in no hurry to be like grownups.

My instincts say ‘everything is fine. Yes, it’s sad that you and he are missing out on some toddler experiences, but the experience of being him is unique and important’.

But what if my instincts are wrong? That’s what haunts me. That’s what makes me sit here brooding rather than working on my novel while he naps.

The internet says ‘Get help now! Before it’s too late! Or else you’ll regret it so much!’

One question I’ve asked the internet repeatedly and found very few answers to is ‘what does the therapy provided by Early Intervention’ actually do? Is there a magic trick to getting past his stubbornness? Something that can’t be revealed to outsiders? How are professionals going to convince him that walking is better than crawling when his personal experience proves that to be a malicious lie? How are professionals going to convince him that it’s worth mispronunciation and misunderstanding to talk? (Although he has an advantage there; he can and does practice sounds without using real words, but I don’t think you can practice walking without, well, walking.)

He seems content with his development. Other than brief bouts of frustration with some toys,  his only frustration comes from when we act like we’ve contracted Sudden Adult Idiocy Disorder.  When he can’t see me to point, he’s happy to think and play by himself.  He makes himself understood as much as he wants to be, he gets where he wants to go, and he’s always learning new things and new behaviors.

He’s done almost everything else late, too.  I remember how, while I was pregnant, I noticed that he didn’t seem to kick as often as other unborn babies– but when he did kick, he just didn’t stop. He rolled late. Crawled late. And now he crawls backward and strafes from side to side…

I feel like I can supplement my instincts with historical and current evidence. I should feel good about things. I want to revel in my parental pride as he pushes other kids down and scribbles on the walls and mis-sings the alphabet song to himself while playing with letter blocks.

But the internet tells me he’s way behind.

And I’m afraid that on Saturday, real people will too.

A Peek Into My Head:

(And is that so bad, if they do? Well, yes. It’s bad if my instincts are wrong. It’s devastating if this is my fault somehow. And it’s double-plus-ungood if my instincts are right, and I ignore them, and put him into frustrating situations where he develops even more issues about the places where he’s behind. Maybe you don’t have enough mommy blindness. Maybe other mothers are more lenient with what they consider ‘talking’. Maybe. No getting around the ‘running’, though. Maybe you have too much mommy blindness…. Shut up. You should be writing anyhow.)

PS: Stories and encouragement to enhance my fortitude in dealing with others who say ‘how old is he?’ and ‘was he born early? really early?’ welcome.  Oh, and dealing with the people who assume he’s a girl because his hair covers his neck. And his name is Robin.

Triangles, squares, balloons and moons

As recently as a month ago, Robin was more interesting in chewing on crayons or banging them together or dropping them on the floor.

Now he takes my hand, puts a crayon or chalk in it, and then pushes my hand to the drawing surface. (‘Draw something, Mom’.) I draw a circle, or a square, or a heart, or a crescent moon. He takes the chalk from me and he carefully colors it in.  He doesn’t quite fill it in perfectly, but he does it as well as I would if I weren’t being careful.  He’s better at triangles, worse at stars, and better with bigger shapes.

Later, I draw one line, and then another. “Two lines,” I say, when he points at both of them.  He takes the chalk and draws a line. I draw a series of dots. He taps the chalk on the pavement in the same way.

As we’re cleaning up, he draws an amorphous closed shape and colors it in. I think it looks like a crescent moon, but when I ask him about it, he looks confused, and makes Raymond draw him one. He colors it in, and then points at it repeatedly.

(The other night, he started saying ‘moon’ a lot. Well, ‘nin’. He mutters it to himself now while playing. On the other hand, he out-stubborned his parents the other night when we tried to get him to say anything on request.)

When he was smaller, he used to put his fingers in our mouths as we talked, apparently to feel how we did it. I’m reminded of this when he wraps my fingers around the crayon.

Now, in his playpen with some crayons and his coloring binder, he’s whining as he tries to draw, I think, a triangle.

Oops, I’m wrong. It’s a star. (I can tell from his reaction when I try to help him.)

Robin’s sensitive side.

Robin’s SweetPea music player has a mix of music I enjoy and music aimed at small children on it. One of my favorite instrumentals in the world is the opening theme to the video game Chrono Cross (called ‘Scars of Time’). It’s a gentle, soft, vaguely sad mix of woodwings and strings that picks up with a swirl of energy after the opening. Of course, I included it.

It makes Robin sob his heart out. 

I first noticed this when he broke a crayon, realized it was broken and not going back together like his legos do, started sobbing and crawled over to make the SweetPea skip to the next song. Or, in this case, the previous song.

I figured he was crying because of the crayon and just taking it out on the music player. But when the previous song ended and the strains of Scars of Time began, he burst into tears and hurled himself at the music player.

This isn’t a kid who cries often. Even when he’s frightened of a toy, he usually stares at it and pokes at it and curls up in a little ball and it takes him a lot of exposure to work up to sobbing. He whines when he wants stuff, but again, sobbing is rare.

It’s happened since then, too. Just now when he was getting ready for bed, unexplained tears! Freaking out! Until Kevin realized that song was playing.

He sounds so sad when he’s sobbing, like the world is ending. Kevin thinks he just strongly associates it with the breaking crayon. I don’t know. He doesn’t cry when other crayons or chalk break, since then. He’s really ANGRY at them; he refuses to use them and throws them away from him. But he doesn’t sob. I really don’t know if he reacted before that event; there’s 50 or so songs on his player and because he hits ‘back’ as often as ‘forward’ it can take him a long time to work through the set. I wonder if he’s partially reacting to the mournful beginning of the music itself.

He’s been more sensitive than usual lately, as well. He was scared to tears by a delayed Peek-a-boo from Kevin, and at dinner tonight, at a pizza place, he got so upset he worked himself into hysterics. We’re still not sure why– I think he realized we had pizza while he had bread and got so upset that we were eating while his was cooling that he refused it by the time it was ready (but eventually calmed enough to eat it in hisb  traditional fashion), but there also seemed to be some element of the table itself scaring or upsetting him, or maybe the busyness of the decor of the restaurant. 

And he’s intermittently crying upstairs now. Sad, sad whimpers and single sobs. I keep going up to rub his back and comfort him and it seems to work but then he feels sad again.

I’m having unpleasant flashbacks to my own childhood. Even as a small kid, I would get into nasty anxiety-powered  fear-based thought cycles I couldn’t get out of, and I remember crawling into bed with my mother, or having her come in to find me weeping in my bed. Afraid of loss. Afraid of things breaking. The only thing I’ve really learned since growing up is that you just can’t think about that stuff. You can’t let it consume you, even though it would be so easy.

I’m not looking forward to going through that again from the other side. At least I should be able to apply my own experiences learning to cope to helping Robin learn to cope as well.

Mini guy update because he surprised me.

He can now walk an indefinite number of steps, unsteady but usually not falling down, in shoes, up slopes, and around corners. He can stand up without something to pull up on. And yet, he still chooses crawling as his primary locomotion with knee-walking a close second. Walking is a fun game– anytime I sit on the floor with him, he scrambles over to me, giggling, to climb up me, walk away and get cheered at. That’s the primary benefit of walking: hugs and cheering.

From Babycenter, the Attention to Detail article and part of why I can no longer compare my child to most developmental standards:

“She’s fascinated with little things, especially bugs (don’t be surprised if she tries to eat them!). Part of the reason for this is that she has the coordination now to bend down and pick up small objects.”

Obviously untrue.

And yet, his attention to detail is amazing. So is his sense of congruency. One of his latest methods of entertainment is to point at two similar things at the same time. Two stars.  Two seahorses. Two dogs. Two cars. Two lights, one his ceiling light and one his lamp. Two balls, one he was just given and the picture Kevin drew of it while he watched. And yesterday when I called him ‘baby’, he crawled to a stack of old diaper boxes (now containing baby clothes) to point out the baby on the side. Thoughtfully, I asked him where Elmo was. He peered at the box– and then pointed at the Elmo on the baby’s diaper. And then the Elmo crawling around the logo. And then finally noticed the big Elmo image that had been the only one I noticed. 2 Elmos!

He loves his crayons and wishes to color on everything. Clean white paper is best, but unmarked boxes will do. So will Michelle’s Tivo, the floor, a canvas crate, the backs of puzzles, his table, his plastic crates… He hasn’t discovered walls yet but I’m sure that will happen soon. I have some chalk coming for our driveway.

He still loves wheels and, to a lesser degree, vehicles. Vrrm, vrrm. We were playing WoW the other night, doing a raid battle that involved driving giant cartoony siege vehicles around. He watched over Kevin’s shoulder and eventually started making the vrrm vrrm sounds.

He also loves to go outside, and to just– go. He’s crawled to the car and asked to be put in his carseat. He’s had little angry fits when I put his shoes on him and then don’t take him outside to the car or his wagon.

Not so mini update, I suppose. He’s a fun kid. A final image: I’ve been trying to teach him ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (up until now he’s gotten by just fine with ‘grab/push away’) and when he tries to nod, he nods from the knees up.

Little bird

 It was weird when Robin started answering questions, months ago. (‘Do you want a sandwich or an apple?’ ‘sandwich’.)

It’s even weirder to have multiple-exchange conversations with him. ‘Where are you going?’ <he points across the park> ‘Nah, you should stay over here with me.’ <he changes direction and comes back to me>.

He’s kind of on a talking strike with me (including signs) at the moment, although he seems willing to talk to Raymond when Kevin and I aren’t around. I… can’t really blame him, because I so often forget to verbalize to him that when I do suddenly start demanding verbal interaction, it must seem incredibly arbitrary. 

It’s not that I don’t talk to him. I do! Quite a bit! But I’m bad at the parental narration most guides recommend. And, okay, this sounds silly but I often don’t realize I’m not verbalizing at him because it feels like we have communication deeper than words. So I have the sense of communicating without actual vocalization. Like, you know, blogging or something.

I did make an effort to explain to him about colors today. And when he was pointing at something in a book, I explained that talking was useful because the stuff he pointed had a color and a shape and a name of its own and I couldn’t know what he was ‘saying’ unless he used words.

He’s started climbing on the miniature table in his room to reach the light switch. And falling off of it when it tips over. He did it today while we were playing and I observed as spotter for a while before moving the table to a new location. He fell once and had to take a break from standing on his tip-toes twice from muscle exhaustion. And when he fell, he scrambled right back up again.

Oh! And he’s added a new trick to his efforts to avoid walking– sometimes when he crawls, he uses his feet instead of his knees. Or one knee and one foot. I think he’s trying to work out how to stand up without pulling up on something.

Bleah cold

I am full of coughing and sneezing and congestion.

I always seem to get sick when I go to LA. I think that the dryness + travel dehydration weakens my resistance to the usual bugs or something.

But anyhow, we went to LA for Kevin’s birthday. Robin got to spend a lot of time with his Grandma, and cause all sorts of trouble. We went to the Kidsplace Children’s Museum in Pasadena, which was pretty awesome, although the giant set of bug exhibits was a little more than I could get excited for. Cathy took tons of pictures of Robin crawling through a stream, which I’ll link to when she posts them.

We also went to sushi with Kevin’s brother Patrick. We had to stand in line to get in the door but the sushi was seriously the best sushi I’ve ever had. Eating at the bar means it’s too easy to ask for more!

We also went to an exotic sausage place in downtown LA with Justin and Patrick, and then visited Patrick’s dreamhost office and watched youtube videos. I was getting sick by that point but it was still a lot of fun.

Cathy babysat Robin during those two meals but we went out with them on Kevin’s birthday for Indian food and Robin loved the food and was once again back to his ‘a bit troublesome and messy but good’ usual restaurant self. Yay!

The plane flights made me nervous, since Robin was flying as a lap infant. But on the trip down our row-mate was a deaf guy, and we got the row to ourselves on the flight back. Mind, he slept most of both ways, and didn’t scream or even cry during takeoff or landing. He was a bit restless and whiny because he wanted to get down and play, but that’s it.

While we were at Cathy’s, Robin wanted to play the walking game again, and even took 3 whole steps on his own. But it’s still just a game to him. Poor kid. He’s so much faster and safer crawling. We’ve got to do more practice with him.

I bought more yarn and Kevin bought more Warham while we were down there. I also did a bit of research for my novel.

Oh. It was rainy and overcast about half the time we were in LA. Meanwhile, it snowed up here again. I think this summer is going to suck 🙁 I wonder if we can manage to grow some sunflowers.

Now off to cough some more.

A writer’s lessons from board books

Robin has finally —finally— realized that if he brings us a book, we’ll read it to him. And when we’re done with that reading, he takes the book and gives it to us again. And again. And again. Until we run away or distract him. He balks when I try to get him to say or signal ‘book’. He’s giving us a book, we damn well know what he wants, why should he learn a new mechanism? If we try to suggest a different book or even hint we might not read him the book he’s demanded, he cries like an addict being denied his fix. On the other hand, when he brings us a book, or we ask him to find a book (often by title) he does this delighted little full-body shudder. He prefers to sit on the floor so he can look between the book and our faces, but sometimes he’ll consent to sit in our lap so we can whisper certain lines in his ear. 

His favorite books are, in order:

  1. Secret Seahorse
  2. Goodnight Moon
  3. Busy Doggies
  4. My Many Colored Days
  5. The abridged board book version of Hop On Pop, specifically the pages about walking.
  6. Whatever is to hand, as long as we’re not denying him what he’s asked for.


Secret Seahorse is his clear favorite. He has good taste! It’s a very sturdy book that has endured his love much better than Goodnight Moon (2 damaged copies floating around) and My Many Colored Days (second copy hasn’t fallen apart– yet). And it’s a beautiful book– Claire Beaton does unique, amazing work, constructing elaborate landscapes out of textiles. We’ve picked up several other books she’s illustrated, including another one written by Stella Blackstone– but none of them have quite the appeal or magic.

And, having read Secret Seahorse six or seven times a day for the last week, I finally feel confident discussing why the book works so well! It’s the writing. It’s a board book with a plot. Most of the board books I’ve seen are just lists of things– doggies in different situations, or rhyming words arranged amusingly, or an introduction and a conclusion tacked onto a sequence of, say, colors, moods, or animals (and let me say, I do very much love My Many Colored Days and another one, Rainbow Rob). Or even dinosaurs, to reference another Blackstone/Beaton teamup. Goodnight Moon is a dreamy, surreal, spot-on description of a small child drifting to sleep, with pictures and words that create a lulling rhythm; everytime I finish it I want to snuggle under covers. (“No! Read it again, mama!”) The rhythm almost feels like a plot but it’s not, really.

On the other hand, Secret Seahorse could be a template for all sorts of adult books. Told in the first person, our unnamed protagonist discovers an interesting situation. At first it seems awesome, but it soon gets beyond her. She’d like to catch up, so she first seeks out the advice of mysterious figures. She doesn’t understand their response (but a keen observer will notice that they give her exactly the answer she needed) and so goes on a journey. In her travels, she encounters amazing things, one, two, but neither are what she’s looking for. Finally her exploration is balked by a barrier she can’t pass– and in great literary fashion, the true barrier is her own fears, rather than any external obstacle. But she overcomes her fears with the help of her curiousity, and discovers on the other side of the barrier everything she’d hoped for, in a fashion she totally didn’t expect.

Great stuff. And it rhymes, too.

Yes, the fact that I can divide a board book into a 3-act structure amuses me to no end.