Two Daycares: Quite Beautiful

When I picked Owen up from daycare today, I asked him if he wanted to go back the next day. I’ve finished my teaching and marking, so I thought if he wanted we could spend the day together.

“I want to be at daycare every day, Mummy,” he said, causing his teacher to swoon.

So I decided that a calm day at home would suit me just fine.

After I picked him up, I brought Owen over to his old daycare. He attended from 7 months to 2 years. On the way there, Owen narrated from the back seat. “At my old daycare my teacher was Nadine. At my new daycare my teacher is Mimi. I love Nadine and Mimi. I love both of them.”

When we got there, several of his old friends were still there, colouring pictures. Nadine was thrilled to see him, and even had a little Christmas present for him. The space was bright and calm, just as I remembered it. Owen remembered faces but had to be reminded of names, “I remember Jeanne! I no remember Alex.” Lori, now three and a half, was the only one to remember Owen’s name. He settled in, coloured a little, then played with his new puzzle.

A little while after we got home, Duncan arrived and asked Owen if he had gone to visit his old daycare. Owen, exhausted with his long day, was sprawled on the couch, pacifier in mouth.

“Ya,” he garbled, “I’wsqbtf”

“Take your suçe out, honey. We can’t understand what you’re saying.”

He complied. “I went to my new daycare and my old daycare,” he said. “It was quite beautiful.”

Stating the Obvious

Either Duncan and I are asking silly questions lately, or Owen is a master of stating the obvious. For instance:

“Mummy, bye! Going work.”

“OK. Have a good day. What do you do at work?”

“Work,” he says, then clarifies: “Working.”

“Oh. You do work at work?”

“Yup. Work. Bye Mummy!” (and around the living room he goes). “Back!”

To be fair, for a couple of months, the answer to the question of what he did at work was invariably: “Ham” (as in the sandwich meat). Not sure what that meant.

***

Owen almost never gets to the library because in our town, it’s closed on weekends (which makes no sense to me) and is open from 12-8 most weekdays – and I just never feel the desire to go to the library in the evenings – even this summer I wanted to go on rainy mornings, but alas, could not. But he loves the place, and I should really make an effort. Every time he sees the library, Owen laments, “Libraddy no open.” To fill the void, Owen has adopted one of Duncan’s library bags and has taken to putting his books (and snacks) inside the bag on his trips to the “library” (he basically runs to the front door and back).

“Mummy, bye! Libraddy”

“You’re off to the library? What are you going to get there?”

“New books.” He runs around the room. “Baack already!” (And repeat).

***

Last night, I was making a curry, involving squash, which I had cubed and placed in a bowl. Owen was helping me cook, so I got him out a pot and spoon, assuming he was going to pretend he was cooking.

“What are you making, Owen?”

“Ham and cheese sannich,” he said, stirring the pot steadily.

Then he got more practical. He had some cheerios in a bowl from that morning, so they went into the pot, and then when I wasn’t looking, he grabbed a handful of squash and stirred them together. Intrigued, I asked what he was making now.

“Cheerios and squash,” said he. Silly Mummy.

Translations from a Toddler

Last night after his bath, Owen sat brushing his teeth. Duncan and I pretended we didn’t know what came next in Owen’s bedtime routine, which has been the same for about a year now. Owen motions to Duncan’s pockets, saying: “Suçe.”

“Suçe?” we ask. What’s that?

“I don’t know what he means. What’s a suçe? What is he asking us for?” (Oh, aren’t we clever, we think. How is he going to explain this one?)

“Pacifier!” says Owen, with a grin. “Ooohhh! Pacifier!” he crows. How silly parents are. We hand over the desired (oh-so-desired) object.

The above is a perfect act of communication, though there are many words Owen says that still leave us mystified. This morning, for example:

“Mummy, look window. Tuck,” said Owen.

“You looked out the window and saw a truck?”

“No” (shake of the head) “Tuck.”

“A truck?” (I don’t have much imagination)

“No. Tuck. Ooohhhh TUCK!” he says, imitating me when I finally get it, except I still don’t.

“Show me,” I say. We go over to the window. He points to our neighbour’s yard. Sure enough, there are three white ceramic DUCKS in the flowerbed.

“Oooohhhh, DUCKS!” I say.

“Yah,” says Owen, and we go downstairs for breakfast.

On Sad Diapers and Other Tricks of Language

Can I just say how fun it is for me to listen to Owen’s language skills developing? For a while his speech was all nouns and adjectives, and then verbs started trickling in, and now he’s even trying his hand at pronouns, though he confuses “me” and “you” and has no concept of “hes” or “shes.” Owen is currently obsessed with the concept of opposites or negatives. The business of opposites is new, and seems to be a way for Owen to clarify concepts. Not only can he say what something is, but he can also affirm what it is not, at least in theory.

For example, we see a blue car: “Blue car! No no no yellow car!”

Or: “Owen wear red shirt! No no no black shirt”

Or: “Pasta hot hot hot! No no no cold.”

Or: “Di’sor up up up up? No no no down down down.” [i.e. the dinosaur is coming upstairs with me.]

Or: “Push Mummy. Mummy sad. No no no happy Mummy.” [Sometimes bad Owen also turns into a “no no no happy Owen” too].

Or: “Dirty dirty diaper. No no no happy diaper. Sad diaper!” (To be fair, the opposites aren’t at all opposites. The opposite of virtually everything unappealing: stinky, sweaty, dirty, bad, yucky – is happy, and then they sometimes switch again and become sad. Which, well, kind of makes sense?)

Duncan runs a lot. And sweats. Earlier this week Owen ran up to a very sweaty Duncan, just back from a run, yelling “Daddy home!” and giving him a big hug. Owen then recoiled: “Oh no! Stinky stinky Daddy! No no no happy Daddy. Sooooo stinky!” was Owen’s assessment. Poor Duncan. After his shower and even the next day he was still declared to be “Soooo stinky” (accompanied by a gesture of his hand flapping up and down to demonstrate emphasis and disgust) by his judgmental son.

We haven’t even watched this in a while, but it used to be one of Owen’s favourite videos:

An Owencentric Universe

Duncan remarked the other day that right now, Owen views the entire universe as revolving around himself. His is the geocentric as opposed to the heliocentric universe.

The Ptolemaic System
Owen and some "Planetary" Spheres

This is probably a toddler phenomenon, but it actually affects how Owen communicates. Right now, one of Owen’s most predictable comments is whether someone has gone away or has come back. Usually, this dynamic is straightforward. Duncan goes to work: “Daddy a-wayyy”; Duncan comes home from work: “Daddy back!” But the same happens when Duncan drives Owen to daycare. “Mama a-wayyy!” (no, mummy is at home – Owen went away). Or the other day, when Duncan brought Owen back downstairs after changing his diaper: “Mama back!” (note: I had not left the kitchen).

Owen has also started to insist that we participate in certain activities with him. This morning, he was up at 5:00 and, while I was willing to get up with him, I was unwilling to actually wake up for real – so I got him some milk and put on YouTube videos and lay down on the couch. After about 15 seconds, Owen realized that I was not “participating” in the video session. “No Mama dodo! No Mama dodo!” (dodo=sleep). I lied through my teeth: “Mama’s not sleeping. I’m watching. See, the mummy is chasing the baby with clothes and the baby is turning into a bird” (it helps that I’ve seen the video hundreds of times). My ruse satisfied him for a while, but he kept checking to see if my eyes were open, so I had to be careful to keep the blanket over them to obscure his view. I really think he suspected me, but didn’t quite want to accuse me of lying. That will come, I’m sure.

The benefit to the Owencentric universe is that Owen genuinely believes that everyone is delighted to see him, all the time. We walked on the boardwalk last night and he was friendlier than usual. Every group or individual we passed got a wave, a grin, and a “Hiii!” – and those who responded were graced with a “Bye!” – then Duncan and I heard Owen comment “People a-wayyy. Bye bye people.” He has a knack, this child, for bringing smiles to strangers’ faces, and it’s such a delight to watch him work the boardwalk. As much as I know he will (and must) learn that the world doesn’t revolve around him, I hope he can keep a healthy dose of this confidence and assurance that he is loved and adored, so he can reflect that love back out to the universe.

A Sample Conversation

“Happy Mama?”

“Yes, Owen, very happy. Thank you for asking.”

“Happy Nunny?”

“I don’t know. Do you think the bunny is happy?”

“Unh Huh! Happy. Mmmmmah. Happy Baby Cheechos?”

“No! If you take the baby’s Cheerios, he will be sad”

[Side note: Owen walked up to an unattended stroller in the park Sunday and proceeded to take some Cheerios off the snack tray.]

“Waahhh! [mock crying] Baby sa?”

“Yes, the baby will be hungry and sad because he will have no more Cheerios.”

“Uh oh. No mo’ cheechos”

“Should you take the baby’s cheerios?”

“No, no, no, no, no.”

“Right. You wait until we get home and you eat your own Cheerios.”

“Yellow Cheechos? Num Num?”

[Yellow Cheerios are the ones in the yellow box, unlike the alternative, Multigrain Cheerios.]

“That’s right.”

“Happy, Mama?”

“Yes, sweetie. I am very happy when you’re around.”

“Happy Cheechos?”

[And on…]

*** I am putting this here (A) to record the cuteness of Owen’s speech right now and (B) so I can hopefully stop narrating our conversations to every adult I meet (I am sure they don’t care, cute as he is to me). How easy it is to become THAT PARENT, who won’t shut up about her child. I am totally THAT PARENT. Oh well.

A Daily Conversation

“Owen, what would you like for breakfast?”

“Cheese”

“What would you like for lunch?”

“Cheese”

“What would you like for supper?”

“Cheese”

“Does cheese make you happy?”

“Cheese, happy, happy, cheese, uh huh!” (bright smile)

“Can you say cheese please?”

“Pees! Cheese! Pees!”

“Owen, what did you have for lunch at daycare?”

“Cheese” (this is a joke, similar to his other joke: “Who did you see today at daycare?” Answer: “Tasha” – Natasha is a friend of his he sees occasionally, but not at daycare. He thinks it’s hilarious)

“What do you eat with macaroni?”

“Cheese”

“Crackers and…”

“Cheese!”

My boy loves cheese. Did you notice? He takes after my cousin Conor who apparently once showed up at my parents’ house to visit for a couple of days with his very own personal brick of cheese (or was that two?). My mother didn’t understand why until she saw him devour the stuff.

So serious is his obsession that we have tricked him into eating things that look vaguely like cheese (say, yellow peppers) by LYING to him and saying they are cheese. Feels dirty, but it works.

“Say cheese!”

“Cheese!”

Happy, Happy

Owen’s newest word is “happy,” which is so fun. We discovered he could say it yesterday when he was looking at his Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, in which there is a page about emotions and actions and such, and there are three pigs in a row, one laughing, one smiling, and the third crying. Owen already likes to imitate crying. After he’s has a particularly bad crying episode (I don’t want to be at this birthday party or some other weird integration problem), we tease him about it afterward, asking what he looked like when he cried before, and he usually obliges with a rubbed eye and a boo hoo hoo (and then a grin).

When he looked at the images of the three pigs, he said “happy, happy, boo hoo hoo (eye rub)” … and I think I reacted so delightedly that he’s been saying happy ever since. “Hapy, Happy! Owie Happy! Owie Happy! Mama Happy!” – And it’s true. A happy Owen makes a very happy Mama.

Sweet Music to my Ears

Owen has been able to say “Mama” for the past couple of weeks, and I never realized how much it would make me swoon. When he names me “Mama!” and I react, I jump, I answer “Yes, that’s me!” He’s been saying Dada for what feels like forever, but now he calls us all out, his little verbal family, Mama, Dada, and Oooooo (morphing into Oooooowe but not quite Owen).

It’s like he is corralling us together with his limited words. When it’s just the two of us together, Owen will keep asking about Dada? Dada? making a little “don’t know” hand gesture. I will tell him that he’ll see him after supper or that he’s on the train, and Owen will nod and say “Wooooo” (which is what comes after choo choo choo choo). When the three of us are together he goes from one to the other, naming, pointing, naming, pointing, uniting us as the little family that we are starting to be. In a weird way, I didn’t feel like we were a proper family until Owen kind of called us one – until he registered our togetherness and hailed us as his two necessary parents. Owen’s recognition of us as a family made us one. And we weren’t complete until he got Mama… and Ooooooo.

Make Believe

Yesterday morning, Duncan and I watched in amazement as Owen engaged in his very first game of make-believe. He took the closed bubble bath bottle over to the empty bathtub, and tipped it over, making a “psssshhh” sound. As we watched, he put it back in the cupboard and then went back to the bath to “pour” it in several more times (evidently enjoying our enjoyment and cheers).

I had no idea that a child Owen’s age could pretend to do something. He pretends to sweep the floor, but it’s more because he’s not a very good sweeper that it’s not real. He plays with toy trains, but since he has had hardly any exposure to real trains, there’s no reality he can compare it to. He’s more interested in the magnets that hold the trains together than in making them go around the track.

Owen’s foray into the world of the imaginary made me think about Daniel Keyes’s short story (and later novel and play) “Flowers for Algernon.” The short work of speculative fiction is told through a series of progress reports through the voice of an initially mentally challenged man, Charlie Gordon, who has an operation that triples his IQ. After the operation, what is more remarkable than Charlie’s improved spelling and vocabulary  is his ability to understand figurative, rather than literal language, and his ability to imagine. I hadn’t really considered (before reading that story) how important the imaginary is to intelligence.

Don’t worry – I’m not getting all carried away thinking my son’s a genius. (Brief digression: At the Children’s Museum in London in the “doctor’s office” exhibit, there were posters up about how if your child hadn’t spoken 20 words by 18 months, you should consult your doctor. That kind of incendiary provocation infuriates me – so much like all those baby books that tell you that everything you are doing is wrong. Of course, it also worried me. Owen will be 18 months old on December 21 and has MAYBE 5 words. If you count “uh oh.” He communicated with language for the first time yesterday, asking his dad for his “sus” (pacifier). So he’s not a genius but he’s also not cause for alarm, you irritating poster people).

Imagination, though, is to my mind a more impressive development that language (which will come in its own time, I’m sure). One of my favourite books as a child was Josephine’s ‘Magination, in which a very resourceful child makes dolls out of her mother’s broom scraps (her mother makes brooms for a living). Her imagination allows her to transcend and transform her everyday life. As he develops his imagination, Owen will gain another entire world, layers of worlds, and the capacity to transform his surroundings. He will also develop his own inner life, one that I cannot access, taking another small step away from me (as I cheer him on).