How Toddlers Are Like Pelicans

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My kids are like pelicans. This realization struck me yesterday when I went with my sister to see the movie Pelican Dreams at the Regent Square Theater. I love birds, and pelicans hold a special place for me, having grown up watching them on the California coast.

I love everything about pelicans: The way they glide in threes over the water like cargo planes, the way they bob on the surf like ducks, the way they throw their impossibly long necks back to swallow a fish whole, and the way, gliding through the air, they suddenly twist and rocket down into a school of herring with a splash. Pelicans, with their long, prehistoric faces, clicking bills, waddling feet, and small, sensitive eyes are the exact shape they need to be. They are beautiful.

Of course, all birds are beautiful. That must be part of the appeal of bird-watching: seeing a soul so at home in a body, so unconscious in its pecking or hopping or singing that it makes us feel more alive just to see it.

In one part of the movie the filmmaker followed juvenile pelicans learning how to fly. A group of two-and-a-half month old pelicans heads to the top of hill. One climbs onto a low stump and starts vigorously flapping its wings as if it might take off straight up. Another just balances awkwardly on a rock. But then a third gets a clumsy, running start and jumps off the side of a hill, and suddenly it’s just floating out into the air, graceful.

I was reminded of my twins, now eighteen months. M no longer walks anywhere, she runs. She runs runs runs runs runs, and it is such a joy. Now she is trying to learn how to jump. She lifts one foot and then the other, she bends her knees and then straightens them, then reaches up to the sky as if it might pull her up. She is like that bird on the stump flapping its wings. She is learning what it is to be human, what this body of ours can do.

Watching the twins is like watching birds. E squatting down to look at some books on the bottom shelf, or working to fit a puzzle piece into a puzzle, or lifting a sippy cup to her mouth with her two chubby hands. This is what we are made to do. Our bodies are evolved for this. What a joy, a body, what a joy to be in the world, to be creatures here, like pelicans.

Last weekend we took a family trip to the National Aviary. M and E loved seeing all the birds. E stood for a long time at a window where you could see the penguins swim by underwater. Each time one flapped past it was like a small miracle, she was so thrilled. And now, when anyone talks about birds, M looks up in the air waving her arms as if pointing to them flying around up there. “Bee! Bee!” they say in high little voices, with wonder.

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A Dictionary of Babble (Toddler Edition)

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To the uninitiated, the twins’ babble might sounds like…babble. But I tell you, something essential has changed. Slowly, from out of the chatter, language is emerging. The words so far are mostly one-syllable interpretations of the world around them, but the list grows rapidly. For those of you venturing to toddler-land, or at least to our house, I’ve compiled here a Spacemonkey/Common English dictionary. Following are the words M and E, now 18 months, have down pat:

Ah!” (Hat): Especially fun to say while pointing at head in a questioning way, as in, “Why am I not wearing a hat? Please bring a hat,” then said more and more insistently until said hat appears. We’ve been having many meals wearing hats.

Awa” (Flower): When I walk in with an orchid bought on sale from Home Depot, E points and says excitedly, “Awa!” “Awa!”

Ba!” (Ball): Imagine E, holding a red ball, then yelling “BA!” and throwing it down forcefully. Balls are their favorite toy, and “ba!” is definitely their favorite word to say. They point out balls everywhere we go. Ba! Ba!

Mih” (Milk): I love the way M says this, with her four little beaver-teeth showing in the front when she enunciates the “ee.” E’s interpretation is closer to “mah.”

Wa” (Water): Thank goodness they can tell me when they’re thirsty. Major life improvement.

Chzz” (Cheese): Very important to be able to ask for cheese. M is particularly good at this one.

Bee” (Bird): Said while gesticulating wildly at sparrows chattering in a bush, or recently, M pointing out a hawk overhead, “Bee! Bee!”

Bee” (Bear): Distinguishable from ‘bee,’ bird, because pointing at a bear.

Na” (1) (Nose): I love the way E says this, curling up her nose into a very nasal ‘n’ while putting one finger on a nostril, “nnna.”

Na” (2) (Snow): Said while pointing out the window at snow. Or M, being carried out to the car in a light snow, her face lit up with joy, “Na! Na!”  and pointing all around.

Na” (3) (Snack): Said while making the universal hand sign for ‘more.’ Most often while sitting in stroller, occasionally while staring intently at whatever food you walk into the room eating.

Ma” and “Da,” (Mom, Dad): M has these down. In addition, E may also be saying “Ma” to refer to M (which is correct). E is also occasionally calling Daddy Ma, though, which makes me wonder if she thinks “Ma” means, “person I love” or “Person in the family”?

Da” (Duck): I remember when E was pointing to everything and calling it Duck… Now we’re in a different era where we know what a duck is, but there’s no more ‘k.’

Shz” (Shoes. Not to be confused with “Chzz”).

Ba-Ba” (Bye -bye): Said while waving goodbye, most often after person has already left the room and can no longer see.

Though maybe not proper words, sounds are definitely a forte. Following a list of sounds:

VROOM!” (Car): E does this with particular gusto.

BA BA,” (Sheep): Often E will point at a picture of a sheep, say “ba ba” and then start dancing–she’s waiting for you to start singing “Ba Ba Black Sheep.”

BA BA” (Chicken, ie “bock bock”)

WOOF” (Dog): This one was probably both of their first words. They would say “Woo Woo” whenever we’d pass a dog.

UH OH!“: This one is a new favorite.

BZZZ” (Bee)

AAA!” (Lion’s roar)

There are also the occasional moments where we think they are saying multiple words together. Yesterday, E crying and pointing to M who was playing with a ball, saying “Ma ba”…D and I look at each other. Did she just say “My ball?” Or M putting her hands in the air and saying “Pi Uh” (Pick up). Lately M likes putting both her hands in the air palm up, as if to say, “Who knows?” or “How funny is that?” and at the same time she chuckles to herself and babbles as if she’s telling a really funny story. This goes on for a long time sometimes at dinner.

We’ve been told by other parents that when kids learn to speak they can remember things from when they were a year old, before they knew how to talk. What will they say? How will they remember this time?

Love in a Time of Toddlers

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At dinner I look over at E to find her craning over sideways in her highchair, toward D, making her lips into a kiss.

I’m in the kitchen, chopping something at the counter, and I feel two little arms hug my knees. I look down to find E and hug her back.

M wakes up crying from a nap. When I lift her from her crib she squeezes me tight. I hug back.

Holding both twins in my lap I give them each a kiss on the head. M looks at E and leans over to give her a kiss. E kisses back.

Seeing a cat at a friends’ house, M tries to give it a kiss.

We’re reading a book, Panda Bear Panda Bear, What Do you See? M leans down to give the water buffalo a kiss, and E kisses the lion.

We’re reading a book about shapes. M gives a kiss to the square.

At first, seeing that, I feel disheartened. Maybe they don’t really understand.

But on second thought, I think that square feels better.  I think they know about love.

Sleep Diaries

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Nighttime, for the past couple weeks, has been a bit rough. If this post is somewhat incoherent, I’m blaming it on the lack of sleep.

Last night we almost made it. We slept solidly from about 9:30, through the night with no interruptions…until 4:40 a.m. At that point, the crying in my dream became crying in reality, and D and I were awake in the bedroom in the dark. At first waking, I somehow assumed it was 6 am. My first thought was, “man, I feel tired,” and I had the sinking feeling that I would never wake up feeling rested again. Then I looked at the clock.

When we became conscious enough we could tell the crying was M. This was hopeful. M is usually not so difficult at night. A quick visit crib-side, lay her back down, a soothing tummy rub for a second or two and she’s back out, breathing deeply.

This time D went in for night duty. I heard him make his way around our bed; the babies’ doorknob clicked, then the nursery floor creaked as he crossed to the crib. For a moment there was no crying. Sweet silence. Then the floor creaked as he made his way out…”waaaah” another cry started up, E this time. D’s silhouette reappeared in the bedroom, quickly crossing to his side of the bed. “Damn! Damn! Damn!” We lay in the dark for a moment, not breathing, praying for her to fall back asleep.  The cries continued, increasing in urgency.

After that I don’t really remember (did we go back in, rock her, only to have the creaky floor wake her again as we tried to sneak out? Did they cry intermittently until 6, waking each other? Did I go in fruitlessly after 5 minutes, then 10, then 20? Eventually we brought E into our bed. Or was it M we brought?The nights blur together. In any case, there was no more sleep.)

It’s 9:20. Maybe I should go to bed.

Herding Toddler Twins (Also, Fun In Leaves)

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Trips to the playground with the twins have gotten slightly more nerve-wracking lately (running in opposite directions, two wobbly, fearless toddlers, precipitous play-structure drop-offs), so I thought taking them to run around in an open field in Highland Park might be a relaxing change of pace.

It was a blustery fall day, and as we entered Highland Park leaves were raining from the trees and the sky was overcast. Still, I pushed the double stroller off the path and onto the grass under some tall oaks, got E out and placed her on the ground. Acorns immediately started raining down on us–eighty feet up in the high branches, a group of squirrels had chosen this spot to enjoy a messy nut feast. I grabbed both babies and moved us over to a different tree.

Soon M and E were both up and running all over the place, throwing handfuls of leaves in the air, bending down to look at sticks. At first, they came back every minute or so to excitedly hand me an acorn. Then they just took off down the path, not looking back. I followed a short way behind, but very soon got nervous about the distance between us and the double stroller. The stroller is my only way to transport both twins and must stay close at all times.

I picked up E, who protested loudly, and tried to coax M to walk back toward the stroller. That worked for about a minute until M yanked her hands. I set her down, ran to get the stroller and ran it back, at which point they both took off in opposite directions, both running toward the road.

I finally just ran and grabbed M, then E, carrying both kicking, incensed toddlers all the way back to the stroller, where I bribed them with some snacks. Maybe we need to buy some of those toddler backpacks with the leashes, and who cares what people think.

The Babies are Toddlers

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My watercolor of the twins’ now-retired baby shoes.

It’s funny how when you stop doing something, like running, or blogging, it gets harder and harder to jump back in. I had legitimate reasons for the blog break at first, mostly good things (we bought our first house (!), moved, I got some freelance work and launched my own design business website). But then I got out of the habit of writing, and I had too many ideas to just write one post. Also my desk moved from the middle of the living room to an office upstairs, which is mostly good but also means it’s hard to write a blog post with a minute here and there. And the twins aren’t content to hang around the house anymore, either, or to watch me type on the computer for that matter…

Anyway, I’ve missed my friends in the blogosphere. I miss keeping in touch this way with people I know in real life, too.

And I miss having a way to record what’s happening with the babies–who are not babies anymore, they’re toddlers. They’re tiny people not just walking but running, diving off the couch, pulling plugs from electrical outlets, offering each other toys, giving kisses, hugs, demanding to be picked up, taken outside, given particular plates or toys or spoons, wanting to play with my phone, drink from my water glass, and say words like ball, water, and milk.

There was a big milestone this past month: first haircut. We did it with them in their highchairs at the kitchen table, D held their heads while I did one cut for the bangs and one around the back. Came out sort of like a pixie cut. With the rush and stress of scissors near heads I didn’t do the most even job, but still I think it worked out. You can see their faces now.

What finally pushed me back to this blog, though, is that they got their first pair of real shoes. I finally had to accept that the little brown leather baby booties, their first shoes, were too tight and don’t work well for running around a wet playground. Now they have some proper boots, which is still kind of a shock.

Also, I’ve finally reached a parental milestone of my own: I’ve hired some help. Starting tomorrow, a nanny will come one morning a week. I’ll let you know if that’s life-changing.

Anyway, if you’re still reading this–hi!–how has your fall been?

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Stop the Press, We Have a Milestone

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M took her first steps yesterday. I sat on the floor and put her a few feet away from me, encouraging her to take the steps toward my lap. Maybe she was reassured by the soft landing pad of my belly, because she did. I’m not sure she knew why I was making such a huge to-do about it (after all she’s been walking with help for months), but I think she appreciated the attention.

This morning we went to story time at the library and she walked again, a few feet from the train table to the bookshelf. Then again from the stroller to a shelf. She stands carefully, getting her balance, catching herself with her hands, pushing herself up again, wobbling, catching herself, standing again until she is stable, then looking forward with determination and taking one step, two steps, a quick three four and grabbing the bookshelf. I got out my phone to try to catch it on video, I’m sure I was grinning ear to ear, and I wanted to call over the other parents, “Look! Look what she’s doing!” (but of course it isn’t so amazing when someone else’s baby walks).

Today I noticed E is getting two more teeth on the top, which will give her a grand total of six, four on top and two on the bottom. I’m going to miss her toothy, baby grin with the two teeth on top. I remember how I loved her gummy, toothless infant grin, too. I wish I could pause time for a second, just to breathe and look around a bit and appreciate these beautiful babies as they are now, 15 months old, at this moment sleeping peacefully in their cribs, dreaming about walking.