Newsletter: month sixteen

Dear Ladybug,

Yesterday you turned sixteen months old, or as we mathematicians like to call it, “four-thirds of a year.” To celebrate, your mom and I went out and watched Ratatouille at the theater while you were in daycare. Cheers!

Actually, we also went out and bought you a plastic pool for your splashing enjoyment. If this month has taught us anything, it’s that you enjoy being in the water.

You spent the first three weeks of your sixteenth month in Hawaii, or, more specifically, in water in Hawaii. I mentioned last time your great affinity for your nana’s pool and the regimented program of water exposure your mother initiated designed to acclimate you the ocean through the process of repeated dunkings under the water and swimming laps like an Olympian. That was only after three days; by the end of three weeks you’d swapped out your bony endoskeleton for cartilage and were trying out for the part of Aqualad.

Truth be told, you haven’t learned to swim yet; rather, you’ve learned to balance on our hands as your mom or I zip you through the water. To allow you to stay comfortably afloat without actually holding you aloft, your nana bought you a “snorkel board,” which is a cross between a boogie board and a glass-bottomed boat. The little fiberglass hull has a small porthole affixed near the bow, allowing the rider to look through it all the way to the bottom of the pool without having to dunk their head in the water or wear a cumbersome mask. Granted, a glass-bottom boat tour of the pool is about as exciting as, say, a glass-bottom bus tour of Utah, but out in the ocean it allowed you to see all the fish and coral under the ocean’s surface. The basic operation of the board is as follows.

Step 1: Swim out to the reef, sitting safely on your snorkel board:

Step 2: Plunk your head in the plastic cowling and look at fish for hours. Ignore the fact that this vaguely looks like you’re puking into the ocean:

Step 3: Have fun!

I should note, however, playing in the water was merely your second favorite thing to do at the beach. Your absolute, all-time favorite activity, the thing that would send you squealing into apoplectic fits of excitement, was, of course, playing in the sand. It was as if the beach was covered with billions upon billions of teeny tiny rocks — ROCKS! — which, in fact, it was. You would dig holes in it, eat it, run it through your fingers, eat it, build sand castles (or at least, sand mounds) with it, and eat it. You were fascinated that contact with water would change the sand into a moldable mud, and would spend hours burying your hands and feet in the wet sand. You would scoop it up and drizzle patterns and curves with it along the shore. And then you would eat it. If there was anything better than sand in Hawaii, you didn’t want to know about it.

Actually, this was a pretty common theme during our entire Hawaiian experience: we would take you to places of unimaginable beauty, emerald green landscapes lush with palm trees and exotic flowers, vistas shaped by the unimaginable fury of nature and the relentless toll of time; you would squat down and play with the rocks. South Point? The southernmost point in the United States, a windswept beach of jagged cliffs and thundering waves? You played with the rocks. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau? A beach lined with palm trees and ancient tikis, a holy site once known as “the place of refuge”? You played with the rocks. Kilaueua volcano? A massive, smoldering caldera of geothermal spouts and otherworldly arid landscapes? You played with the rocks. Punalu’u Beach? A beautiful black-sand beach where you were mere inches away from a sea turtle napping on the shore? You played with the rocks.

To hell with Hawaii. Next summer, we’re vacationing at the Geology Department.

In addition to swimming, the other big highlight of your sixteenth month has been your blossoming vocabulary. You now know the words for “eat” and “grapes” and “milk” and “backpack” and the list goes on and on… Perhaps the most delightful word in your current vocabulary is “Papa,” which is what you call your grandfather. It’s a lilting happy word when you say it — Pah paaaaahhh! — and it reflects the great fondness you developed for him. Heck, the fact that you mastered “Papa” and “Nana” while actually visiting your grandparents has virtually ensured you a healthy inheritance down the road. (I’m expecting the same level of charm from you next month when we visit Nana and Papa Shoo… our future retirement depends on it.)

One of your favorite words is up. You say it to get held. You say it to get picked up. You say it to direct attention skyward. It’s so versatile! It’s like the Swiss Army knife of English! Especially cute is that you say “up” every time you climb a stair. While we in Hawaii, the sound of “up-up-up-up” meant that you were busy climbing the stairs again, an activity you delighted in precisely because it terrified your mother and grandmother. “Up-up-up” you’d go, and within mere nanoseconds your matriarchs would materialize at the foot of stairs demanding that you descend. In response, you would either (a) giggle maniacally and race further up the stairs (much to the perpetual irritation of your mother) or (b) giggle manically and suddenly attempt to descend the stairs in the most suicidal of face-first fashions (much to the perpetual horror of your grandmother). Ah yes, the stairs were a wealth of good family fun. On a related note, you spent a lot of vacation in time-out.

More recently, you’ve picked up down (or rather, “dow”), and one of my special joys as a dad is to walk with you, hand-in-hand, and listen your little voice going “Dow… Dow… Dow… Up… Dow… Up…” with every step we take, a charming topographical diary of our journey. You are gonna love “level sets” in Calc III, kiddo.

Another versatile word is hot, which you always say with a percussive flair while simultaneously signing it. Nana serves you steaming hot food? Hot! You see a fire? Hot! It’s warm outside? Hot! So far, so good. You eat ice cream? Hot! Your shirt gets wet? Hot! You step on scratchy grass? Hot! In fact, you say probably say Hot! about thirty times a minute, in response to pretty much any external stimulus. Your mom and I have tried to teach you that “hot” and “cold” are opposites, but that hasn’t yet worked: while you happily accept that ice cream is cold, you will in the same breath simultaneously maintain that it is also Hot!, a discrepancy I chalk up to you being blessed with an unfathomably deep understanding of the quantum nature of matter, and you mother chalks up to you being a bonehead.

Perhaps my favorite word in your vocabulary, though, is Eye-you, which is how you say “I love you.” More frequently you just blow a kiss in my general direction (with a new-and-improved “popping” noise when you smack your lips) or just smile your toothy smile and wave, but every now and then you squint your eyes and say Eye-you. As you are becoming more conversant, it is more and more evident to me that you are a no longer my baby, but my little girl. You’re growing up quickly, little Ladybug, and I’m going to miss all your little infant quirks so much… but if I get to hear you say “I love you” and see you run to get a hug from me, it’ll all be worth it.

Eye-you too, pumpkin.

Ba ba

Photo album

See more pictures from your sixteenth month of existence over at Flickr.

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