Today you turn 11 months old, and I wanted to wish you a happy eleven-twelfths of a birthday.
Of course, this doesn’t mean squat to you right now as (a) if it doesn’t involve bananas or hide-n-seek, you don’t care and (b) you’re not actually around to have me wish it upon you. You and your mother are on the West Coast of the East Coast (i.e. Florida) visiting with your Nana and Papa (who were with you in China), as well as your aunt and uncle and cousin and various great-relatives. While I know how much they love finally getting to meet you, I sure do miss you, my little bug.
So to help me miss you a wee bit less, I’m taking a page from Heather Armstrong and starting a monthly newsletter for you here at komplexify on the monthly anniversary of your birth. In these newsletters, I hope to chronicle your evolution into the neat little person you’re becoming, and document all the little milestones so that, when I’m older and forgetful, can look back and recall them at a moment’s notice to warm my heart and embarrass the living hell out of you whenever you bring home a date. Gratuitous butt shot, anyone?
In some ways, you are still the little baby we first met in China just over three months ago. You’ve still got those big chubby cheeks, little button nose, and teeny-tiny rose-petal lips. You still persist in having no teeth, despite slobbering like a broken water main. You’ve still got a head full of curly, wavy hair, only more so. Despite our attempts to bulk you up with fruits, vegetables, and anabolic steroids, you still weigh the same wee 16 pounds. Your bottom is still covered with purple spots and continues to do a pretty good job of filling diapers routinely, which in retrospect might go some way to explaining the whole 16 pound thing.
In most ways, however, you’re a changed person. You smile and want to be held by your mom and me, a change for which, given your absolute terror of me in China, I am eternally thankful. You know your name and look up when we call it. You are no longer the quiet, cautious little orphan with sad eyes and a perpetual pout; instead, you’ve morphed into a talkative, fearless little girl with happy sparking eyes and a frequent giggling squeal. Your pout is now replaced by a cute and occasionally crooked smile, like an adorable little stroke victim. You’ve entirely stopped your nervous Chinese habit of sucking on your two middle fingers, a development your mother credits to your being more comfortable in your new surroundings, but which I suspect its really because you figured out that fingers in your mouth prevent food from getting in there.
By golly you like to eat. In China we were pleased to see that, in addition to formula and cereal, you enjoyed rice and noodles and eggs and custard and bananas and pretty much anything else warm and gooey. In fact, you were more or less willing to try anything more than once (although the third time we tried to give you a bite of watermelon, you projectile vomited on your Nana Shoo, thereby establishing 2 as a sharp upper bound to these attempts). Here at home, you’ll eat anything from veggies to fruits to meat-and-potato mush fresh from the Cuisinart, though nothing, of course, comes close to the euphoric joy of noodle night. I personally find this curious, since fewer noodles end up in your mouth than end up in your nose, your ears, your hair, your sleeves, or indeed a half-mile radius around your high chair. Usually all we do is give you a little scoop of noodles and you’re content for hours: we just let you “eat” until all the noodles disappear from your plate, shake out your bib to restore the bulk of the noodles back to your plate, and repeat, like some strange pasta-themed half-life experiment.
Of course, your favorite food is banana. Your mom and I can’t even say the word anymore without you crawling into the kitchen and pointing to the top of the fridge, where the bananas reside. You love being fed bananas, or having your bananas sliced or diced and feeding them to yourself, which you do with a two-fisted gusto that will undoubtedly ensure you IFOCE fame in the years to come. You’ve even figured out the ASL sign for “banana” — which admittedly is not terribly difficult to figure out — meaning your mom and I must resort to spelling it out if we wish to keep it a secret from you. The downside of this approach is two-fold, since once you figure out B-A-N-A-N-A means “banana,” (1) your mom and I will be shit outta luck when it comes to euphemisms for the fruit and (2) anytime anyone in the future spells CANADA you will feel vaguely hungry for reasons you won’t fully understand.
Speaking of ASL, your mother has started you on a daily regimen of Signing Time DVDs, educational videos designed to help hearing children learn American Sign Language. The basic premise is that little children can master ASL very quickly, and this (1) bypasses the terrible twos by giving kids who don’t yet talk a way to communicate and (2) fosters a larger initial vocabulary in kids when they finally do talk. We’re already seeing the pay-off of point (1), since you’ve mastered the signs for milk (opening and closing a clenched fist) and more (touching the fingertips of your two hands together), although they pretty much mean the same thing to you right now — give me that stuff now — and you interchange them at random, much to the linguistic irritation of your mother.
As for point (2), I don’t think we’re gonna have to worry about you being a late talker. Oh no, you a yakker. Boy oh boy, do you ever yak. In fact, you hardly shut up any more. Some of your more common phrases include Ma ma ma ma ma, which can mean either Mommy or Woe is me, won’t someone please attend to me, sigh, depending on context. Similarly, your Da da da da da can mean either Daddy or Dammit dammit dammit!, depending on the inflection with which it’s uttered, and whether or not it precedes the fitful blowing of raspberries. With the recent addition of the “T” sound, you also have mastered Huh dat, which means What’s that? but carries the implied secondary clause You should pick me up and carry me to it, so that I may touch it and understand it more fully. Talking with you is a varied and multilayered communicative experience.
You’re also quite little mover. In China, you could sit up and pull yourself about a bit, but that was the extent of your ambulatory prowess. This was more a function of Chinese tradition than any developmental delay, as children in China usually go from being carried to walking with very little transitional period. The explanation for this, as I was told, is that Chinese culture views the ground as particularly dirty, ergo not a good spot for children. The Queen B and I, on the other hand, figure rootin’ around in the muck is good for littluns, since “God made dirt, so dirt can’t hurt.” Your initial foray into crawling had an element of inspired efficiency — you’d curl face down on the ground into a fetal position, and then push with your legs until they were straight, using your face as a sort of crude rudder, thereby freeing your arms to do other activities — but had the downside of giving your face second-degree rug burn if you wanted to, say, circumnavigate a small coffee table.
In short order, though, you figured out how to alternate your arms with your knees, and from that moment on you became a fully mobile crime spree, able to shatter expensive pieces of artwork and then disappear into another room before eyewitnesses could ID you. In the past month or so, you’ve set your sights on bipedal locomotion, and you’re getting there in record time. You can already pull yourself up to two feet without any assistance, and can practically sprint if you’ve got your hand against something to hold you up. You haven’t quite mastered the unassisted walk, though: able to take only six or seven steps (with a gait reminiscent more of Frankenstein’s science project than homo sapiens) before you fall down.
You’re a big fan of playing. Your favorite toy by far is your rolling telephone, which plays music, teaches animal sounds, practices counting to nine, and, creepily enough, occasionally calls you up at weird hours of the day to see if you want to play with it. Beyond your Fisher-Price-Twilight-Zone phone, you also have a set of Lego-like stacking blocks that you’ve turned into a game with me: I put them together to form aesthetically pleasing towers and structures, and you tear them apart, block by block, over and over and over again. You also like flipping through the pages of board books, of which you can never seem to have enough just lying around. In the past month or so you’ve developed a fondness for playing full-contact tag: a curious game of your own devising that involves alternately chasing each other across the floor and around obstacles until I become too tired to play, at which point you happily crawl up to me and knee me in the groin, thereby declaring victory. WWE Raw, here we come.
You also ready enjoy going out to the park, an infrequent adventure given the cold of South Dakota winters. When we go, we bundle you under sixteen layers of wool clothes and whale blubber and head off in your Jeep stroller, which more resembles a diminutive ATV than a means of baby conveyance. You enjoy the swings a great deal, particularly the whooshing by your dad’s head while trying to kick at him. Your interaction with the slide is significantly more puzzling: you love climbing up to steps to the slide and delight in crawling around on the platform at the top of it, but more or less impatiently tolerate the slide down to repeat the process.
But the thing you love most at the park, though, are the rocks. Play has never been so good! There’s just rocks everywhere and you can pick them up and throw them and grab them and sift your hands through them and pick up more and they never run out and OH MY GOD DOES THE FUN EVER STOP? When you finally tire from the sheer exuberance of the infinitude of rocks within your grasp, you will crawl to the edge of the play area and, one at a time and with great care and precision, move rocks from the playground to the grass in what I can only describe as the cutest indication of impending crippling OCD I’ve ever seen.
I could go on and on about all the cool stuff you do, little Ladybug, but I’d easily run out of bandwidth before I finished a tenth of it. So let me instead just pick a couple of things off the top of my head. I love being there when you wake up in the morning, still groggy from sleep but ready with a half-cocked smile and a predisposition to cuddle. I love watching your spastic happy laugh, the one that’s all gums and squinty eyes. I love your inexplicable fascination with the dishwasher, and the prospect of one day handing over the task of rinsing dishes to you. I love that you haven’t figured out how to make a straw work, and each attempt leaves you looking a little bit like Winston Churchill. I love that you can’t help but dance whenever you hear music or songs you know. But mostly, I love being your dad, Ladybug.
I love you, pumpkin. Come home soon.
See more pictures from your thirteenth month of existence over at Flickr.