You turn one tomorrow! I can't believe it. Somehow this year has gone excruciatingly slowly and far too quickly at the same time. You still look like my baby, but you are fast starting to turn into a little girl.
"Who are YOU looking at?"
Life with you just keeps getting better.
You have the most adorable cheeky smile (and you know it!) You love to play hide and seek, and to get me to chase you. And when I catch you and whirl you up in the air and kiss your tummy, you giggle like crazy. That is the best part.
Here are some giggles with an ice block:
You say 'dat' (I want that), 'der' or 'der idiz' (there it is!), and 'ta' (thanks), and sometimes 'bel' (ball), 'sda' (star), 'duck', 'dad', and 'gah' (car). You push your toy dump truck around saying 'voom voom voom'. You also put your hand in a fist to your chin repeatedly if you want food, water, or a breastfeed. When you do that I say: 'water?', 'food?', 'num-nums?' and you giggle when I say the one you want. If you want a breastfeed and I'm not giving it to you, you point very definitively at my boobs and say 'dat!' I didn't teach you to sign that way - you worked it out on your own.
You understand far more language than you can say. You can point reliably at the right object when I say: blocks, box, container, baby, mum, dad, granny, Bethany, ear, nose, toes, fingers, foot, belly button, head, wee-wee, piano, slide, swing, door, light, fan, boy, girl, baby, car, moon, star, sky, sun, dog, cat, duck, bunny rabbit, teddy, book, keys, cross, sippy cup, bath, jamies (pajamas), nappy, food, water, hat, shoes, leaf, outside, peg, pen, steps, and lift. You also understand 'where's the [x]?', 'ta for [x.]' (meaning give what you're holding to x], 'get the [x]', 'put it back', 'put the [x] in the [y]', 'put your arm through', 'press the button', 'bye-bye', 'cuddles', 'splash', 'shake', 'sit on my lap' and 'lie down'.
Sometimes you can distinguish between 'where's mum's nose?' and 'where's your nose?' but mostly you have trouble with that one - any nose will do (and occasionally an ear instead). As far as you're concerned 'no' means yes, and no amount of feminist exhortations have thus far convinced you otherwise.
In the last few months, since you learned to walk and have started to understand language, everything has changed. Now, for the first time in your life, you are not perpetually frustrated.
From the day you were born, you seemed so frustrated to be trapped in your baby body. You were never a baby who would just happily lay there and gurgle for more than a couple of minutes at a time - and god forbid if I tried to enforce tummy time (this is about 3 months):
You didn't even like being held in a cradle position across people's chests. You had to have your head up on their shoulder so you could see around. (Fortunately, this seemed to compensate for the lack of tummy time when it came to neck and back muscle development). As soon as you could lift your head, you were frustrated because you couldn't crawl. As soon as you could crawl, you were frustrated because you couldn't walk. But whatever you couldn't do, you would try and try to do it, and not quit even if you were in evident pain. I would have to pick you up and give you a cuddle just to get you to take a break.
So compulsive was your desire to move and explore that you never stopped to have a cuddle, except to breastfeed or be rocked to sleep. I wondered if I had done something wrong as a parent that you didn't want to cuddle me, or look into my eyes. You screamed at being restrained for more than ten-fifteen minutes at a time, whether it was in your car seat, a stroller, or in a high chair. I took to the perilous practice of letting you ride in your stroller sitting up and unstrapped - until we ditched the stroller altogether. I fed you on the floor so you could crawl around. I stopped the car half way through a twenty minute journey just to calm you down.
You never let me just put a spoon in your mouth. People say babies learn to say 'no' at 2 years. Well, you might not know the word, but you have been completely clear and determined to say 'no' when you don't want something since 5 months. Even your Dad gave up trying to get you to take food off a spoon, and he's the most stubborn person I know. We watched amazed as you somehow 'knew' what was a vegetable without even tasting it, even when the whole meal was covered in curry, and methodically picked through the finger food we gave you, throwing every vegetable on the floor until you found a piece of meat to eat.
Then, within days of learning how to walk, around ten and half months, everything changed. You started to give me cuddles, and just stare into my eyes when we breastfed, and you spontaneously lie down on a pillow or mattress and give me the biggest grin. You play happily in your car seat and even relax and fall asleep. You still don't like to be in the highchair for very long, but you are getting better at it. And I can see now that what I hoped was the case was true - that you were so upset at being restrained because your urge to move was constant and compulsive, and because you had that first, intense separation anxiety where you were learning that I would always be there for you. It was just a developmental thing that came and went all of its own accord. I can also say 'in a minute' or verbally redirect you to another activity when you want my attention, and mostly you will go and do that for a few minutes.
We have had some hiccups in working out these new ways of communicating. While I don't believe that you can be deliberately 'naughty' at this age - you just like to experiment, and you are interested in my reactions - I have been willing to use punishment to deter behaviour that is actually dangerous, if the danger can't be removed. For example, we cannot keep the hot oven out of your reach, and sometimes we go to places near roads. It worries me that I can turn my back on you and you could severely injure yourself or worse.
I tried a severe, grumpy 'no' to keep you away from something hot. You thought it was funny. I tried a smack on the hand. You thought that too was hilarious. Then I tried moving you abruptly and said 'no', and you burst into tears. I calmed you down. Then you tried to touch the hot thing again. Not so successful. Physical pain seems to be little deterrent for you. Even when you got your arm caught between the sliding door and window at the bank (bad mother!), and you cried for a couple of minutes, you ran back to exact spot it got caught! At that point I ruled out using smacking for the time being, just because it was completely ineffective. I suppose it makes sense. You fall over and smack your face into the tiles several times a day and it doesn't remotely deter you from walking.
(Quick aside: Big thanks to the ANZ lady who came running over to me to ask if I needed an ambulance, and when I responded with 'hang on, it's probably ok' replied, 'We just don't want you making a claim against us'. I was touched by your concern.)
I was thinking I just had to be vigilant until you were older. But then on the weekend I was cooking and I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back at you you were walking towards the hot oven. I cried out and just managed to grab you in time, my heart in my mouth. I cuddled you to me for a little while, then when I put you down you looked warily towards the oven and pointed. I got down on the floor with you and shook my head very seriously, and said 'no, very dangerous, you'll get hurt', my voice still shaky. And to my amazement, you understood. You didn't go near the oven, although you did point to it a few more times and look at me questioningly.
And I thought - wow, you actually care what I feel! It means more to you than physical injury. I have tried to follow the positive discipline path by limiting how much I say no, and redirecting, and not punishing, but I have to say I've had a lingering skepticism about whether it will work. To have it work more effectively than punishment has just been wonderful.
My biggest method of guiding you is playing games. I want to rehearse those neural pathways until certain behaviours come naturally to you. We started with the 'ta' game, which is just handing objects back and forth and saying 'ta' - to get you comfortable with letting go of objects and to teach you how to do so politely. The game 'put it in' and its more recent variation 'put it back' has also been very helpful. We are also trying a 'loud' and 'soft' game.
Sleep is still not your strong suit. But after persisting with the partial night-weaning, you now wake for 1-2 feeds a night plus usually 1 resettle - which is all in all a massive improvement over the 3-10 month period, when 5 wakings a night was a good night. I'm still sleeping on a mattress next to you. Funnily enough, I know when you can finally sleep through without me, I will miss our midnight snuggles. I will miss looking over at your beautiful face, your soft hair. You are perfect to me just the way you are.
You have taught me to be strong and flexible. I can get up in the morning with little to no sleep and be patient and pleasant, or even go to work for the day, without caffeine and even when sick. I can fall asleep anywhere for any time. I can carry you in one arm and bags in the other and walk for about 10 minutes. I can start and stop writing in 10 minute bursts. I can do an amazing number of things one-handed.
Physically, you are very capable and quite coordinated. You bump into less door frames than I do. You have beautiful baby rolls but quite a lot of muscle underneath, I think. You are 9.6kg (which is about 70th percentile for girls), but quite short at 71cm (which is about 15th percentile for girls). I am afraid you've inherited the short DNA from my side of the family. The truth is that your Nanna is descended from the rather short 'Runting' family, and yes, they were aptly named.
You are into books. I tried to read to you perenially from when you were born, but for a long time it only frustrated you or you would take the book and try to eat it. I didn't push it - just tried a few pages every week or so. Then one day it was like a light switch went on (round the 10.5 month mark) and you got right into them. Now you bring me a book and want to sit on my lap and have me read it to you 10 times in a row. Then you get another one.
Food wise, you love meat, carbs, and curries. You are a baby with the food preferences of a 19yo boy. It is only in the last week or two that you have started to be happy to eat vegetables and fruit.
You also are into slides since your Granddad Peter introduced you to them about a month ago, and you love climbing up and down steps. I have spent a lot of time with you practising how to negotiate them safely.
You adore your Granny, who looks after you twice a week when I go to work, although you are very happy to see me for your lunch-time num-nums.
You love to come into work and 'help':
It has been wonderful that both your Granddad Peter, your Nanna Rain, and your Aunt Steph and Uncle Leighton have been able to see and spend time with you a few times over this first year, given we live so far away:
You were definitely the cutest flowergirl-in-arms I've ever seen:
Finally, just for fun, here's a photo of you and me, both at around 12 months. You have your dad's eyes but there's no doubt you're my daughter! (In case you can't tell, you're the one on the right.)
So here's saying thank you for a wonderful first year, for teaching me so much, and for inspiring me to learn and try harder.
Lots of love,