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?