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May 2017

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Lately we've been talking about maybe keeping a tantrum log, as Sophie is having some pretty difficult episodes almost daily. I had meanwhile been thinking it would be a good idea to get back to frequent posting, just so that we have a record of what life is like kind of like in the early days, and so that we're not just dwelling on the worst of life (i.e. the tantrums). So the posting frequency here is about to ratchet up, but my purpose is more to record than to entertain so don't expect any great works of literature or witty blogging that will someday be given some inspirational or ironic title, OK?
Dear Sophie,

Here you are nearly a month beyond 3, and only now do I have a chance to sit and think about writing this next letter. Between Mummy's new job, the house move, your moving from nursery to Montessori school, and the whole round of December Parties, well, the time just got away from me!

If I had to choose a word to describe you right now I expect it would be 'intense', with 'forceful' a close second. If you are sad, you are screaming; if you are happy, you are singing and dancing. There is very little in between. Your schoolteachers and your childminder have been utterly charmed by you, and you seem to like both places. On the other hand, well, you've had to deal with a lot of changes in a very short time and it's clear that this is frustrating the snot out of you (quite possibly literally, given your permanently-encrusted nose...) and it means you're kind of hard for Mummy & Daddy to deal with sometimes.

I've been looking back at pictures and videos from the past ten months or so, and it seems sort of amazing to me that, last time I wrote, I didn't understand very much of what you said. Your language in both English and Swiss German is getting ever closer to fluent, and even though I sometimes have to puzzle out what on earth makes you so determined to go look for some cats at the shopping center, or why you feel the need to get on the bus SOOO LOUDLY, I have no doubt that this is indeed what you're saying!

You also vaulted the Big Girl Bar this year, in your typical intense and unpredictable style, by going all in on toilet training after months of making it clear that you would not even consider the idea and we'd inflict serious psychological damage on you if we insisted on trying. That came as a huge relief after not a little stress, and even the Big Move didn't trigger too many accidents. These days you don't even require us to come to the bathroom with you, although I suspect that is more about wishing to run the water in the sink unsupervised than it is about displaying independence.

And you are still dancing and singing, ever more tunefully. At school you got to be in a proper Christmas carol concert, although admittedly once you realized that you weren't going to be allowed to sing into the microphone like a couple of the older kids were doing, you lost all interest and preferred to listen to the singing while being pushed on the swing in the schoolyard. But the house has been echoing with renditions of Jingle Bells and We Wish You A Merry Christmas ever since, and you carry a tune surprisingly well for your age! You consider the piano a toy reserved for yourself alone (poor Daddy, who spent all that money on it) and have lately been extremely taken with other musical instruments like guitars and violins. I have no intention of turning into some sort of Tiger Mother but I sure hope this musical interest lasts a good long time!

But oh, Sophie sweetheart, the tantrums you can throw. They're really out of all proportion to anything we hear about from any of the parents around us. Just tonight you were screaming your head off for an entire bus journey, all heads turned toward us to see the spectacle, because I didn't let you do something patently unsafe. Daddy had to deal with a 45-minute-long kick-and-screamfest the other day for a similarly random and non-remediable reason. I think we've had maybe one day in the past two weeks that was tantrum-free, and sometimes we have four in a day! I do think you know you've lost control and just don't know how to get it back before you're exhausted, but boy it takes a long time or a sudden shock to exhaust you. Plain old distraction hasn't worked for a while. The only tool I have left is the Toddler Hold where you can't hurt yourself, me, or my glasses, and that is already pretty hard on my back, so I definitely hope you've mastered your temper before you're too much bigger.

Apart from that though, you are super-sweet, super-attached to the people who love you (even if you do treat Daddy rather like rubbish sometimes) and are off to a great start in the grand adventure that is school! I can't wait to see what ideas and interests and capabilities develop inside you in the coming months.

I am feeling the urge to tell more of the Internet about my running / maybe-possibly-triathloning exploits, so I am resurrecting my personal blog for the purpose. Just in case you are among the subset of "the interested". (It is syndicated here already, in case you prefer to read the posts through LJ.)
Dear Sophie,

I had occasion to be poking around on BabyCenter the other day, and discovered that apparently kids of your age should be starting to ask simple questions (e.g. "What dat?" and the like.) I always get a little amused / annoyed at how these websites can give pretty much any parent some excuse to fret over whether their children are developmentally delayed somehow, and your speech development is not rapid by any measure. But reading this put me firmly in the "amused" camp. I'm afraid I recognize a little bit of myself in you after all—you take it more or less for granted that you understand the things around you. So why would you need to be asking questions yet?

That doesn't mean you aren't curious, of course. Everything needs to be explored, and poked, and prodded, and manipulated. Preferably without any interference from these pesky grownups who always seem to think you want them to give you a hand, or show you how a thing operates, or maybe just inexplicably want to keep you from bending this bit back that way, which is obviously the thing to be doing here.

A good example of your confident certainty involves the Advent calendar we had from Grandma—a Flash-based thing installed on my computer that had a new video or puzzle every day. You refer to the characters in the videos as the "teddies" (since some of them are) and of course were entirely addicted. So a couple of weeks after Christmas was over, and the "teddies" season with it, you spied my laptop and remembered what wonders it once held, and started pleading for the teddies. There I was foolishly and inexplicably saying that the teddies weren't there anymore, but you just knew that I was wrong and you were right. So with this look of patient explanation on your face you grabbed the laptop, took it to the coffee table, unzipped the case, opened it, and started typing at the screen lock, leading me as far as you could down the perfectly obvious path that THIS is what I needed to do to show you the teddies.

Your daddy was away in California for a good chunk of the last two weeks, so while some of that time was covered with a visit from Grandma, the last few days have had a lot of Sophie&Mummy time. One of the innovations of the past few days has been letting you walk to the bus stop with me and ride the bus to nursery like a big girl, rather than being taken in the sling or buggy. Especially when you are wearing your dinosaur backpack, nothing makes you happier at the moment then walking along with me and sitting in the bus seat next to me and talking and singing all the way there. When I picked you up on Friday, as we walked down a path from nursery, you were talking nonstop and glancing up at me intermittently, very clearly telling me all about your day. I look forward to when I can understand more than about one word in twenty.

The great challenge at the moment revolves around toilet training. We got a toilet seat adapter for you a few months ago, when it seemed you were becoming aware of that sort of thing, but you instantly and adamantly refused to sit on it, ever. So we got a potty in case the toilet was just too intimidating, but you have refused to sit on that too. It's another case where I'm afraid you have thrown Mummy and Daddy for a loop—of all the things we might have expected, outright and instant refusal to even sit on a potty was not on the list. And it's not like you don't have the idea. A couple of weeks ago you saw the thing, and proudly squatted where you stood and said "Tsssssssss!" Last week you accompanied me, and went so far as to pull up your skirt and pull down your tights. But in both cases you refused the step of actually coming into contact with the potty. In some ways it makes the whole thing pretty easy on us. It's clear that there's nothing we can do. Still, Mummy would be a little reassured to know that you will be willing to try before kindergarten.

While she was here, Grandma commented that life around you was like being onstage in a musical—any passing event will prompt you to burst out into song. And occasionally dance. Sometimes I even recognize the song in question, or at least the original inspiration, but you are quite happy to insert your own lyrics involving Mummy, or the kitty, or whatever you are playing with. You are quite the little master of improv, and I still think it's nothing short of miraculous how happy you are so much of the time. It's exactly the picture that I would have needed two years ago.

Dear Sophie,

You are two years old today! The ground is covered in snow just like it was when you were born, and the Christmas lights are up everywhere, but apart from that wow life is different. Two years ago I don't think I could have imagined the you of today, and in those early weeks, quite frankly, it was hard to see beyond my tiny screaming breast-refusenik newborn who was trying so hard to figure out this digestion thing. I couldn't see to five months, much less two years.

But it turns out that all those people who tried to tell me "it gets better!" were right all along. I remember thinking you would always be this solemn mostly-unsmiling creature, and I am delighted to say that I couldn't have been more wrong. Today we had a birthday party for you, a small and cozy gathering of four families, and you were shy initially but once you realized that all the singing and attention and presents were for you, well, you turned right back into the little charmer that you've been since you were six months old.

Pretty much since you were born you have been most keen to work on your motor skills, and figure out how to operate the things around you. This has taken your nerdy parents a little by surprise—while many of our friends have stories about how their kids knew their letters and numbers by the age of two, we've got a kid who can operate a shocking number of clips, latches, buttons, and so on and who knew how to use a big-kid swing and slide down a slide all by herself months ago. It made for an easy choice for your headline birthday present: a shiny red toddler balance bike. It turns out that you're still a little small for the one we got you, since your toes (in shoes) barely touch the ground when you're sitting on the saddle. You dropped the bike and fell over a fair few times when you first tried riding it, and it hurt you a little, but your cries were more anxiety that I would take you off the bike than they were pain. You were *determined* to get the hang of that sucker, and ten minutes later you pretty much had it. You're still pretty precarious, and will be until you get that extra inch or so that will let you stand comfortably, but balance? Not a problem. You'll be riding with the big kids as soon as this snow melts.

That's not to say that you have no interest in books. On the contrary—we have had to step up the book acquisition for you of late, because you can't get enough of them. You'll even sit in your mini Poäng in the living room with a book in your lap, turning the pages and telling yourself (or Monkey or Little Lamb or Jojo) the story that you see there. You don't have quite enough language yet to appreciate the stories that the words tell, but you find the stories in the pictures far more interesting right now anyway.

And your language is starting to take off now. You've had a much harder time than most kids do, because we've sent you to nursery since you were seven months old and they speak a totally different language there than we do at home! If that's not confusing, well, I don't know what is. But you are really starting to get to grips with both languages now, and sometimes you can even get silly old Mummy or Daddy to realize what perfectly obvious word you're trying to say in the nursery language. Only last week it dawned on us that one of your most common "babble" sounds is not babble at all, but a word in the nursery language that means "more" or "again". You've been using that word for an entire year, and we never figured it out until now.

You remain just about the most strong-willed kid I know, and you are infinitely creative in coming up with ways to make it absolutely clear what it is you want. (Which may be a side effect of having language be so tricky for you.) A couple of days ago you decided that it was time for me to be up and out of bed and paying attention to you, so you came into the bedroom (whose door handle you can now reach, as of a week or two ago) and reached up above your head to grab the edge of the duvet and start throwing it back off of me. Just to make sure I got the hint, you took my glasses from the bedside table, unfolded them, and handed them to me ("here Mummy, now you can see and everything, no excuses!") and then resumed pulling on my pajama leg to get my feet on the floor.

But there is a big difference between now and a few months ago, when you'd have done the same thing had you been tall enough, and it is that you are starting to understand when sometimes things can't happen the way you want immediately. You don't like it, of course (who does?) and you don't always accept it, but more and more often we'll get the deliberating look and then a solemn "Yeah" and nod of the head. The world still revolves around you—you are only two, after all—but you are starting to understand that it has rules and limits.

Most of all, you're an intense, cheerful, social, clever, brave, strong, sweet, loving little girl and I couldn't be happier to have watched you become that over the last two years. And I can't wait to see what directions you choose for your incredible self in the years to come.

Dear Sophie,

I have been meaning to write you another letter for at least your past three month-birthdays, but it's really amazing how little energy Mummy and Daddy have at the end of a day with such an active and intense little girl. So let's talk about your last month-birthday, which also happened to be your parents' wedding anniversary. Six years! And for half of these now you have been part of our lives (though mostly in terms of cheerfully kicking me in the ribs for year #4.)

This year's anniversary fell on Sunday, and you decided at 5:30 in the morning that it was time to get up, after a rather bad night for sleeping regardless. Mostly the consequences of this sort of behavior fall on Daddy, but I got up this time too because I'd been gone for the previous week and you still don't entirely trust that I won't disappear on you again. (But honestly sweetheart, I won't sneak away without telling you. Unless it's just to the laundry room and back. Because then next thing I know you'll be making me open the building door and leading me off to Glattbrugg dressed in nothing but my pajama bottoms and an old T-shirt, and we can't have that.) So I knew that even if I did stay in bed it would only be a few minutes before a little head was poking over its edge saying "Mummy! Mummy!" and grabbing my hand to pull me unceremoniously out of it.

Your optimism springs eternal, and you really love to figure out how things work, but sometimes this doesn't quite work out how you intend. Like when you, still in your sleepsuit with your bleary-eyed parents clutching their tea, went to the front patio door and started agitating to be allowed to go out. I looked at you over the top of my mug and said "you have GOT to be kidding, it's not even light yet!" and you paused, looked at me, and then lit up and exclaimed "STHOOOOOO!" [Shoes!] and ran off to find them. Because obviously if you had your shoes on you'd be allowed to go outside, right?

I said in my last letter that I do try to get up in the mornings because there is usually a snuggle in it for me; lately this has become mandatory. Oh, sure, Daddy (usually) tries to preserve as much sleep as he can for me, while you stand patiently outside the closed bedroom door asking "Mummy? Mummy?" with your hands behind your back. Sometimes he tells you that Mummy is still sleeping and usually you accept this, though sometimes it causes you to cry and, well, that'll get me to wake up. But you always get there in the end, being pulled into bed for a snuggle with me but then immediately grabbing my hand to drag your semi-conscious mother out into the living room to PLAY! and SEE things! A couple of weeks ago Daddy had to get to work early, so I woke up at 8:10 to an empty house and it surprised me how sad I was to have missed my morning Sophie-snuggle.

You have been working very hard on getting those last molars through - you know, the ones usually referred to as the "two-year" molars. I can't help but wonder if the teething is correlated to the other major two-year-old behavior we've been seeing from you lately - yes, I am talking about the dread Terrible Twos. You show all the signs, my sweet - whirlwind mood swings, utter meltdowns out of what seems like thin air sometimes and that can sometimes last for an hour, severe uncooperativeness when it is time to change your nappy or put on clothes, and a rather naughty and persistent habit of hitting your parents in the face when you don't like what they are doing. It so happens that you've also been sleeping pretty poorly at night most of the time, tormenting your poor parents with frequent nighttime wakeups, screaming, and then being perky and ready to play before 6am. Molars suck, sweetheart, and I'm sorry you are having to teethe them. But the good news is that after two more, you're done! No more waking with an aching head, and we all really hope that will mean no more waking at night.

At the same time, you have also started giving me real kisses, you love to snuggle (when it's not getting in the way of exploring), you're usually delighted with the world and the things in it, and sometimes I find you kind of stroking my shoulder the way I would casually stroke your back. It's terribly sweet and cute.

You are also working as hard as you can on plain old independence. Stairs hold little problem for you now - you went up 172 of them (yes, ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-TWO) all by yourself on Sunday, getting most of the way up a tower in a park. We took you up the rest of the way and had a very nice view, and we learned that this is what it takes to tire you out - an exciting restaurant brunch, an hour running around a new and interesting park, and then a 172-step tower climb to round it all off. No wonder we are all so tired by Sunday evening.

You've also started to learn to climb the furniture. And boy do you like to climb. You have also been working on clasps of all sorts - the ones on luggage, the ones on your booster chair, the ones on the sling, the ones on the buggy. It's perfectly obvious to Mummy & Daddy what lies behind this: FREEDOM!! You still hate being constrained as much as you ever did - you (usually) tolerate the buggy as long as it is moving, but once it is stopped you want OUT. Out to explore the bus, to stand on the seats, to walk around and visit the passengers, to go through these interesting doors that have just opened at a stop nowhere near our destination. And it really irritates you that we do not cooperate with you on all this. But you've figured out really well how to put buckles together, and the minute you learn how to spring them loose...just you wait.

All this activity and development has left you without as much attention for language development as some other nearly-two-year-olds. Being in a dual-language environment makes things interesting of course, and new additions to your vocabulary are as often (Swiss) German as they are English, and you understand a lot in both languages. But it's clear that you basically still think of speaking as kind of a party trick - the adults get all pleased when you say some words, but really you have more important things to do most of the time. We started to try to wean you off of the dummy since you are nearly through with teething and, when not in urgent need of it, you tend to forget about it until you notice it again. You've noticed the sudden and annoying dummy scarcity though, because that is one word you will use regularly (albeit in its Swiss German form) to get what you want.

One thing you do love to do is sing, when you're in a good mood anyway. You will sing and dance and clap and usually we don't recognize the tunes at all, but a couple of nights ago you did a shockingly good nonsense-word rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". Some of my favorite moments are when I'm riding the bike back from nursery in the evening, and there is a little bit of side-to-side swaying in my bike balance and I hear a singing Sophie-voice rising up from behind me.

As I write this, you've been sleeping fitfully for the past few hours but (so far) still sleeping. You barely napped at nursery today, so you were a poor exhausted thing by the time we got home. Rest up, little girl, so that Daddy and I will see your cheerful singing self in the morning.

Around the time of Sophie's birthday, I remember thinking that it would be nice to write her a letter for the future, if only I could think of anything worth saying. I also remember being pretty unhappy with myself for not having a clue on that score.

Lately though, that forceful little personality has started to shine through even the over-analytical blindness of her clueless-first-time mother, so that it starts to seem more natural to address these to her. Here goes nothing, eh?

Dear Sophie,

You're curled up in the next room, sleeping off the exhaustion of another full and exciting day. You had a bit of a furious scream a few hours ago—we finally worked out that you must be hungry, although when you are in that state it seems that the only communication you can manage is to struggle as hard as you can against anything at all, which makes it pretty difficult to figure out the problem sometimes!

In a way that is a mark of your personality now, and in retrospect it always was: you do everything as hard as you can. Back in the bad old days of reflux, it very often seemed to me that even your stomach was digesting as hard as it could, pounding the stuffing out of whatever milk and formula got in there no matter how much acid or gas came back up, and no matter how uncomfortable it made you. Come to think of it, that's pretty much the way you were born—full steam ahead, get straight out of there in three hours flat and damn the consequences.

As you get bigger and learn to do more things, this trait is turning into a real asset for you, and it is fun as anything to watch (usually). The last few weeks have been all about stairs. Up! down! up! down! up! down! You are fascinated with the things, utterly determined to figure out how they work, and the cutest thing of all is that you still try whenever you can to take one step per foot just like the grownups do, if you have someone to help you.

Yesterday we went to Berne for the day, on a train with a play area for kids. There was a set of steps to get up to a tunnel, then when you doubled back there was a slide. And you got up the stairs all by yourself, and then to my amazement you came back down, holding onto nothing but the wall of the compartment! And then the train lurched and you somehow, miraculously, managed to hold onto your balance. Next you'll be climbing trees. (Just don't get it into your head tomorrow to try, okay?)

Of course, this also leads to its share of frustrations. You live life as hard as you can, which means that in the daytime the very last thing you want to do is pause in your labors, miss out on anything at all, for a nap. And boy do you need those naps, sweetheart, as much as you don't want to admit it. This brings me to one of the sad things about the last few months - you are at nursery on workdays, and even you have probably noticed by now that Mummy is not really at her best first thing in the morning (although I do try, since there are usually snuggles in it for me.) So off you go to nursery, and then by the time I pick you up, you are exhausted. Most days you've only slept for something like 45 minutes; the nursery has tried several tactics to get you to sleep longer, but your determined nature means that they never work for more than a few days. (Which is also exactly what happened with any anti-reflux measure we tried.) So this means that, Monday to Friday, most of my Sophie-time is with a super-exhausted little girl who is desperate to keep going her own way and melts down the instant she is thwarted (e.g. by being made to go on the bike when you would much rather be walking around and around the nursery's front yard, or examining other buggies, or pretty much anything as long as you get to be on your own two feet.) You're almost always asleep within an hour of arriving home, and the last couple of days you have slept fully thirteen hours overnight. You needed it, for sure, but it does leave very few of your weekday waking hours for when I'm there.

When I arrived to pick you up on Monday, you were wailing in frustration. It took me a second to work out why: you were pushing a doll buggy, and you had decided to push it up the steep slope in the nursery's back garden, and it WASN'T GOING because it was too steep, and no matter HOW HARD you tried it just WOULD NOT GO and life was TERRIBLE and no one would HELP. So I came and helped you, and we got the buggy up the slope, and you instantly perked up. One of the staff (who had been occupied with other kids) saw this and commented, "She always tries the hard things, doesn't she?"

Keep trying the hard things, Sophie. You've figured out already that that's how you learn.

We haven't had the most peaceful of nights here in the last couple of weeks. Sophie spent a good few days on that classic parent-terrorizing tactic of screaming bloody murder every time she was put down in her cot, even when she'd been asleep in our arms for up to fifteen minutes. I can tell you that we were going a little over the edge here.

Finally, FINALLY tooth #16 made its appearance two days ago, and we thought the sleep disturbances were behind us for now, but last night was pretty awful too. We are still not sure whether it was hunger, gas, or more teething, or maybe all three.

More teething?! Doesn't she have nearly all of them already, at just over 16 months? And yet. Several times today I've seen her sticking all her fingers in her mouth; there has been an odd little red blush on her left cheek (and yes, the teeth on the left always come in before the ones on the right); she sure seems interested in chewing on things back there; and quite frankly, the last few days have been far too much pain and drama for a single measly canine. So yes, I think the back molars are on the way already. I just hope they don't dawdle like the last two canines did.

Meanwhile she has a new hobby, which is to open Daddy's t-shirt drawer and pull out a shirt, or two, or three, or four, and march around the house with them, and sometimes put them back. Today she was practicing to see how many of the t-shirts she could stuff between one arm and her chest—methodically grabbing one, then picking up another and transferring it next to the one, then picking up another, etc. The downside was that she was tired from all this poor sleeping, and she kept dropping the shirts which led to abject wailing. She is improving her hold-evasive floppiness that goes with a proper toddler tantrum, and sometimes even kicking and screaming in classic grade-A fashion. It is probably wrong of me to point and laugh, isn't it...?

At any rate, the tantrums are annoying sometimes but they don't really bother me (yet). Nevertheless it is one of those great unknowables: how soon will she adjust to not always being allowed to do what she wants? Will it become better or worse when she can use words to communicate? If this is what she's like at 16 months, will she be an unholy terror at 30 months or will she have adjusted to constraints? And will anything we do now make one whit of difference?
We returned home today from a weekend trip to the UK that turned out to be a lot more work than relaxation for all of us, but particularly Daddy. I had a conference to attend (which was a great deal of fun I have to say, and very useful) so Mike was left to visit relatives with a Sophie in tow who was increasingly unhappy with the constant disappearance of M[ou]mmy. All was forgiven on the final day, when instead of disappearing I scooped her out of the car and took her in for one of the coffee breaks and for lunch, where she proceeded to charm the socks off of my academic colleagues and eat a whole lot of mini sandwiches and a couple of ginger biscuits. That was considered an extremely acceptable thing to do in Sophie-land.

One thing that is becoming distressingly clear to me is that Sophie has a constant need to be exploring everything, pretty much all at once. She isn't quite the little self-sustaining nuclear reaction that one gets in the most extreme cases, where the parents are crashed out on the sofa while the toddler is climbing all over the kitchen counters, but this is a kid who will insist on her right to examine everything that falls within her notice, and is determined to figure out the world through sheer interaction.

This has been making it kind of awkward all of a sudden to have her along when we are visiting other people. Home by now is pretty toddler-proofed; the floor lamps are secured to the wall with strings and eye hooks so that she can't pull them over, the breakable stuff has migrated to places she can't reach, and we've resigned ourselves to little grubby handprints on all the less fragile "grown-up" things, to having to replace books on shelves, to having to tidy up and move stacks of paper.

Most of this is done, I freely admit, to minimize conflict and tantrums. I have seen toddlers Sophie's age who were constantly being told "no!" with no real enforcement, and I'm determined not to let that kind of dynamic crop up between me and my kid. As a result, I always let her get her way unless there is a good reason not to, and I will only tell her "no" if I am able to enforce it. By now she very clearly understands when M[ou]mmy dislikes what she's doing, and it often gives her pause (though she is by no means one of these mythical saintly obedient babies.) She is learning all about the tantrum, and is becoming quite accomplished at flopping down to a sitting position in frustration and wailing when she doesn't get her way, but she doesn't get to just ignore me and I think that's important.

But also, I want her to explore everything she wants to explore that is not breakable or dangerous; the engineer in me wants to keep that amazing small-child plasticity of mind working for as long as it possibly can, and let her figure out the world in all its complicated wonder as much as I'm able to let her. And she is a kid who really clearly wants to do exactly that. The trouble is that it's hard to figure out what reasonable limits are, particularly at the houses of other people - Sophie's age says that everything is fascinating and *especially* if it is unfamiliar, but conventions of politeness say you don't touch other people's stuff. Short of strapping her down in a chair (which would basically be cruel and unusual punishment for a girl whose favorite thing is to walk around) or monitoring her from within arm's reach at all times (which makes social visits to other people pretty darn pointless, I can tell you) I can't prevent her touching other people's stuff. The people in question have varying tolerance for this, of course, but I'm always left with the feeling that I'm the textbook "parent who can't control child" after all.

It also occurs to me as I write this that maybe my nerdy engineering mind has overlooked the utility of those constant ineffective "no"s that trail some toddlers - they are meant not so much for the kid but for the onlookers, to signify that the parent means to control the kid even if s/he isn't doing it. Huh. (Still wouldn't outweigh the irritation of having a kid who ignores me, though.)

In "milestone" news, she used a spoon all by herself today to get food into her mouth. It wasn't a particularly neat or accurate job, and she still doesn't see anything wrong with getting pasta everywhere and/or overturning the plate, but there was definite scooping-guiding tool use there. And oh boy was she proud of herself for it.
Not that I post here much, but I do still read...

The username tla became available, so I jumped on it. As long as I have a permanent account I may as well hog the namespace, hm?
Today we took Sophie to the playground across the street, for the first time since November (since the day she and I flew to Boston, in fact.) The swing is still super-popular (so that if we took her out, she would start screaming) but she also likes the slide a lot (enough that it cured the screaming.) Somehow she's figured out how to stay more or less straight, going down the slide - of course, we don't know how often she might visit playgrounds with her nursery group, so maybe she has had some practice that we were unaware of. (We get told that they go out for walks, but it wouldn't surprise me if these walks end somewhere fun like a playground.) She has also started to interact more obviously with other kids - at the playground we ran into our neighbor and his kid, about a year older than Sophie, and she was very interested in what he was doing even if she couldn't follow most of it.

Her walking is ever more confident, although she isn't really up to running yet. She's also pretty reliable at catching herself when she falls, although she still bumps her head just often enough that the big bruise on her forehead is still not entirely gone. The highlight of last weekend was the acquisition of some sturdier shoes than she had, suitable for stomping around in dirt or snow as well as on clear pavement.

The oceans of drool still continue, as we wait for the next teeth to break through. Mike thinks he felt tooth #14 through the other day, but Sophie objects to parental prodding of gums so it's pretty hard to verify. The fact that there's been no remission of teething symptoms tells me that something, at any rate, is still on its way. She still isn't sleeping as much as she should during the day - sometimes one nap, sometimes two, but rarely more than an hour, and then she will often get super-grumpy in the evenings. We still can't count on a full night without any waking up, although she is rarely awake for long when it does happen.

The growth spurt of last month definitely ended - I can tell because I no longer look at her and think "when did you get so big?" Instead she seems pretty tiny to me, again (though of course I haven't forgotten how much tinier she use to be.) Relatedly, she is developing a nice little pot belly again, and a bit of a double chin, so I expect the next growth spurt won't be too long in coming.

There has been a lot of video and photography lately of variations on "Sophie doing a cute thing, with M[ou]mmy in the background." Every time I see a picture of Sophie with me in it, my mind goes straight to a vision of the future, when I am old, or maybe gone, and today's fun in the playground is an old memory from a long-ago past when Sophie was little and I was in the prime of life. I can't escape the consciousness of "this is what she'll have to remember me by." I know that kids will give a person the sense that time flies, but this isn't really what I thought everyone meant...
Life is a bit more peaceful in Sophie-ville than it was a couple of weeks ago. She still isn't napping all that much during the daytime, but at least the nights haven't been as interrupted and horrible as they were. We took our postponed trip to Freiburg this weekend, where she slept quite satisfactorily in the car seat, and was very pleased at having all these new places to explore. She liked the hotel room the most, what with its full-length mirrors and the slightly split-level layout which gave her a single step to practice going up and down, up and down. She's not very good at going down without a magic handle to prevent falling, but she was getting impressively good at going up as long as she had a wall to clutch.
14 months

Hi, I'm cute!

Her enjoyment of bath time continues, much to our relief - on Sunday we had the weekly Skype call to Grammy, and figured we could show off the new bath-enjoying Sophie. That was all fine until the wet toddler wanted desperately to get her hands on the shiny piece of technology being used for the call, and even then was okay until she stood up in the water and, while I tried to get a razor out of her reach (oops), slipped in a spectacular fashion down the end of the tub so that she was lying flat on her back in the water. No harm done, and no water breathed in, but a little scary for everyone concerned.

I'm pretty sure by now that the whole bath drama was also to do with her explorer nature - she really does not like being in situations where she can't thoroughly examine everything around her. Riding on the bus is sometimes a trial because of this - she wants to be let out of the buggy or the sling so that she can wander around examining the seats, the floor, the rails, the other people, and she really doesn't understand at all why I won't just set her free on a moving bus.

We are starting to get a little more evening time out of her, so that bedtime is back to being around 7pm (in the real nap-strike days, bedtime often needed to be 6 or 6:15 because she was crashing out anyway.) Still, half the time she is still sleeping at 7:45 or 8, so that we have to go wake her up, and still it's a rush to get her out the door and to nursery on time (which involves leaving before 8:30.) Last night's sleep was disturbed for a couple of hours in the late evening, and she's been drooling an awful lot for the last few days, so we have to suspect that tooth #14 is on its way. Sometimes I vaguely wonder what it's like to have a child that isn't teething.
It's not been the easiest couple of weeks here at Sophie Central. The bruise on her forehead keeps getting renewed when it looks like it might finally be about to clear up, so she still has those black circles under her eyes too. She doesn't fall over very often, but when she does fall forward she always seems to turn her head that one way.

The trouble is, she's more prone to clumsiness and falling when she's tired, and she has not been doing too well in the sleep department lately. Around Christmastime she started resisting daytime naps as hard as she could, and while she doesn't do this every day, she does it often enough to cause some real problems. There's no question that she needs the naps still - she is tired, staggering, staring into space - she just doesn't want to take them.

What this tends to mean is that we pick up a severely overtired baby from nursery, who can't really even handle the half-hour trip home before she is wailing from exhaustion and misery, and crashes out pretty spectacularly either on the way home (if I'm lucky) or as soon as I can get her into pajamas and fed some milk. When she goes to sleep overtired, of course, she sleeps fitfully, and wakes up repeatedly overnight, thus shattering her parents' (mostly her daddy's but also my) sleep. We're not really sure why this is happening, but we've had quite enough of it, and yet since we haven't got any idea of the cause, we have no reason to believe it will end anytime soon. It is massively frustrating to have a baby screaming with exhaustion, barely able to even keep her eyes open, who keeps pushing you away and struggling to sit up whenever you try to rock her to help her sleep. C'mon, kid, put 2 and 2 together.

It's also winter bug season, and our little biological weapon has brought home several. Somehow they almost all seem to be GI bugs this year, rather than the cold/flu sort. We had to cancel a planned weekend trip to Freiburg yesterday morning because all three of us were pretty sick (though Sophie perked up fairly early in the day, she was back to being tired and whiny for much of today.) She's been running an on-and-off fever since Wednesday, so that she has yet to manage a full week of nursery since the New Year. The fever returned this evening, so we don't know yet whether she'll even go to nursery tomorrow. At any rate it's yet another thing that interferes with sleep.

She is certainly growing though - pretty sure she's hit 75cm, as now the top of her head pokes over the dining room table. So that is about 4cm in 6 weeks. She's also walking more confidently, despite all the falling, and in the last couple of days she's started to learn the trick of breaking her fall with her arms, to keep her head from hitting the floor.

As for language, she's held onto "bye-bye", but more or less dropped "ga-gee" ("thank-you"), and not really come up with anything new that she uses consistently. I'm fairly sure that the sudden appearance of words was related to the fact that we were in the UK, ergo in a completely English-speaking environment, for nearly two weeks; now that we are back in confusing multilingual-land, she's back to not quite having sorted out what the sounds mean when. I'm not worrying about language (and won't until she's much closer to 2), but man it would be nice if she could tell us sometimes what is upsetting her.
[The following is a guest post by Mike, who figured that the ongoing story of Sophie's bump ought to be told.]

This morning Sophie woke up a little early and in a grouchy mood. As soon as I turned the light on I could see that the big lump on her forehead had not diminished overnight but had grown. Not only that, she now had an impressive, dark multicoloured bruise on her forehead and more bruising around her eye, and when she opened her eyes it was suddenly clear that she couldn't actually open one of them due to the swelling.

This responsible parent pondered. I could take her to nursery anyway and just warn them to keep an eye on her on the assumption that everything was okay, but then again, well, the swelling was awfully big and the eye thing was a bit worrying so ... yes, she should probably be checked out by the doctor. It was very unlikely that they'd find anything seriously wrong, but I couldn't really take her to nursery like that with a clear conscience.

One phone call to the surgery [N.B. for Americans: "the doctor's office"] later and she had a 9 o'clock appointment. The paediatrician took a good look, asked the usual questions (Vomiting? Nope. Loss of consciousness? Nope.) then pondered for a bit and decided that while it mostly looked fine to her the fact that Sophie was still a bit grouchy and fussy meant that she should be referred to the Chidren's Hospital. They'd probably keep her in for 24 hours for observation and do a CT. And did I need a letter for my employers so I could have the time off? I declined the letter (my employers wouldn't need a letter anyway), took the letter they gave me for the hospital, and headed for the tram stop. [Ed. note: At this point I was of course a bit frantic - my little girl in hospital for a whole day without her m[ou]mmy nearby for a reassuring cuddle??]

The Kinderspital seems to have been built at the point in the city of Zürich furthest from a tram stop, so it was a bit of a schlep. I found the emergency department, who knew we were coming already, did some paperwork and did an initial evaluation of Sophie.

After a short wait the junior doctor on duty arrived to take a proper look. Sophie had her blood pressure taken (with a teeny-tiny blood pressure cuff that went on her ankle), had her pulse taken (with a teeny-tiny sensor that attached to her teeny-tiny toesie-woesie), and was found to be generally normal (and quite cheerful). After a bit of poking and prodding the bump was declared to be very hard and therefore not the kind of thing there was any point in X-raying. Moreover, as far as she was concerned there was no need for observation in hospital as Sophie was happy and playful and flirting with anyone in sight, which meant that there was most likely nothing to worry about. They would be happy to keep her in for 24 hours if I really wanted them to, but I was happy to decline that offer. After all, if there's a medical position closest to "specialist in bumps and bruises on toddlers' heads", it's being an A&E physician at a children's hospital, so I was happy to trust her judgement over that of our paediatrician.

Feeling mightily relieved that she wasn't going to have to put up with a stay in hospital I took her to my office, where she ate some lunch, rampaged around and charmed my co-workers despite the massive shiner above her eye, and then we went home.

I was warned that while the swelling will go down gradually the bruising is likely to spread down her face before it clears up. Well, at least she's going to have something cool to show the other kids at nursery.
About a week ago, while we were in London, Sophie face-planted on a tile floor and collected an impressive bruise on the right side of her forehead. Friday, at nursery, she evidently fell onto a toy radio she was playing with, and collected a small cut on her right eyelid and a mark underneath that eye. Today we heard a 'thunk' and a scream; by the time Mike turned around, she was already sitting up, but an enormous bump was developing right on top of the nearly-healed bruise. When we put her to bed this evening she was feeling okay, but looked really astonishingly beetle-browed. Now we know where the word 'shiner' comes from, too - the bump is blue and huge and shiny.

My parents have since informed me that I had a more-or-less permanent bump, right in the middle of my forehead, between the ages of 1 and 2 or so. They had evidently convinced themselves that a unicorn horn was going to sprout there. I guess Sophie takes after her mother?

Today's enormous milestone was a bath that she enjoyed! We were amazed. Yesterday she toddled into the bathroom, and peered over the edge of the tub, so on a whim we just stood her in it fully clothed with bare feet. There was a tiny bit of water left over from an earlier shower, but other than that it was dry, and we let her stand there for a little while poking at things and playing with the duckies (which slide very satisfactorily down the foot of the tub.) So today we braced ourselves for the usual bathtime screaming, put her in, and she started to splash experimentally, and decided she quite liked that, enough that she didn't even start to fret when I washed her legs. She did get unhappy when I started to wash her head, but I had Mike pick her up and tip her all the way back for a hair rinse, to avoid soap getting in her eyes or mouth. (It is tear-free baby soap, but I imagine it doesn't taste very nice, especially when she is screaming too hard anyway to be convinced to shut her mouth, or even to look upward. I tried to avoid the face in the past but not always successfully.) She didn't like that, but she seemed a little surprised when it hadn't got in her face, and then she was happy to resume splashing. Then she sat down in the water, which is an absolute first for her, and continued splashing with great vigor and interest. She got her face a few times and looked a little surprised but didn't cry about it. Then she was rather annoyed when we pulled her out, though the baby in the mirror cheered her up, as did playing peek-a-boo with the hood on the towel. I think regular (clothed, dry) visits to the bathtub are on the cards for the next week or so.

She has been pretty unsettled, sleep-wise, for the last couple of weeks, including when we got back from the UK after New Year's. This has been driving her parents a little spare, not least because part of the disturbance has been her absolute refusal to be put down until she is fairly well off to sleep, and then having this repeat 3 or 4 times in a night. Combine that with her new toddler habit of fighting to stay awake, and well, one can see why this was getting out of hand.

We were pretty alarmed when she didn't settle once back in Zurich; there was yet another tooth on the way, but it was taking its own sweet time about appearing, which had me wondering whether teething was really the issue. It did occur to me that she had had hardly any time properly at home since before Christmas - we arrived back about half an hour before her bedtime on Tuesday, then Wed-Fri she went to nursery (and refused to nap much, so crashed out in the buggy on the way home). So I was looking forward to a nice quiet weekend when Sophie could re-acquaint herself properly with her home environment. Saturday morning she was pretty clingy and naptime was a real battle, and the afternoon a bit less so; bedtime was a little annoying, but then she only woke up once, evidently because she was genuinely thirsty. After drinking her milk she made a little "gol!" noise of contentment, let me cradle her a bit, then pushed to go right back down in her cot and fell back asleep without any problems. This morning she was much more 'herself', naps were okay, and bedtime was not too difficult at all; we also felt a corner of that long-awaited tooth this evening. So we are both really hoping that she is indeed feeling more settled, and maybe even that the teething pain is behind her for now. That makes 12 teeth, including all her front molars. I wonder how long a break we will have before the canines turn up...?

I am doubly hoping that Sophie's sleep settles since I am off again for a week in Leuven. I'm really going to miss my little girl more than ever. She is cuddly and almost always delighted, and fun to play with these days, and developing all the time, and constantly finding new things to explore. I am hoping that her new five-day-a-week nursery schedule will keep her happily occupied while I'm gone, though.
...though sometimes it doesn't feel like it.

I saw the meme going around, and wasn't going to answer it because I thought "well, I travelled a lot this year but mostly to the same old places". Then I got curious and made a list and, er, it was longer than I expected. No wonder I feel kind of worn out by work travel.

Zürich, CH
Nijmegen, NL
Vienna, AT
Darmstadt, DE
Leamington Spa, UK
Cambridge, UK
Walton-on-Thames, UK
Trier, DE
Leuven, BE
Den Haag, NL
Delft, NL
Birmingham, UK
Bastrop, TX
Palo Alto, CA
Schiphol, NL
Dublin, IE
Riga, LV
Oxford, UK
Rome, IT
Würzburg, DE
Cologne, DE
Somerville, MA
Athens, GR
London, UK
Sophie et famille have been visiting the UK relatives for Christmas and the new year, naturally because it is nice to see them, but helped by the fact that the nursery closed between the 24th and the 2nd. This saw the rather overwhelming spectacle of all the cousins gathered under one roof for Christmas.

There are three cousins, all on the British side of the family, aged nearly-10, 7, and nearly-3. The eldest had a great time helping with the bedtime routine of both toddlers, reading stories and the like. That was kind of fun. The nearly-3-year-old was very excited by the idea of seeing baby Sophie, until it became clear that baby Sophie doesn't yet know how to share and can't be sent to the naughty step yet for things like trying to knock her cousin out of the way of the very! shiny!! iPad!!!, and in general is making a grab for a bunch of the toys and also a bunch of the grand-parental attention. It seems to be a lightweight version of "having to cope with not being the youngest anymore", combined with the general unfairness of having to let babies have their way.

Sophie, meanwhile, is by and large having a blast. There are rooms in which to rampage, tons of things to explore, and nearly-unlimited opportunities for toddling around. She has a great big bruise on her forehead from having face-planted onto a tile floor a few days ago, but the following morning she had the entire floor of the Marble Arch Pret à Manger waving "bye bye!" to her, and engaged in other egregious acts of charming the socks off complete strangers, so clearly the knock to the head didn't do much damage.

On a related note, we now have certified words. It was maybe last Monday or Tuesday that she started waving her hands with an accompanying "bah bah"; in the next couple of days she started to understand that this had to do with walking away from someone, e.g. when Daddy was getting her dressed in the morning and she rolled over, pulled herself up, and marched away mostly naked waving and saying "Bah bah!" Or when I was headed out the door for an hour on Wednesday morning and said "bye bye" to her, and she burst into tears. Hm. :/

Her next word followed the next day. For a few weeks now she has known how to hand me things, and I've taken them and said "Thank you!" and then usually let them go back to her outstretched hand. This time she said "Gah gee!" when I handed the thing back. Then she repeated the trick for her grandpa, who was thoroughly impressed. Now "Gah gee!" is what she says when she wants something to be passed either to or from her hand, and is more an order than a form of etiquette.

Other than that, she is babbling up a storm, and we still have yet to recognize any sound that refers to a particular noun. This either means that Sophie is unusual (most babies' first words refer to things) or that her parents are exceptionally slow on the uptake. Her grandpa, of course, considers this a sign of how advanced she is (and it is undeniably true that she is a very social little girl, so maybe not so strange to have her first words be social forms.)

We went to the Science Museum in London the other day and met [personal profile] rmc28 and family; while there, Sophie insisted on walking as much as she could, and had no compunction about blocking the path of complete strangers, grinning up at them, and clapping her hands in glee. The nice thing about a museum like that, fortunately for her parents, is that pretty much everyone there is bound to be kid-friendly. (And how could you not be friendly to such a cute kid, I ask you?!)

We'll return to Zürich on Tuesday, and she'll return to nursery on Wednesday, and they will basically get a whole new baby from the one they last saw on the 22nd. Her parents, meanwhile, will relish the peace and quiet of being back in demanding jobs.
Life with Sophie lately is a life constantly on the move - now that she has got the hang of this walking thing, she wants to do pretty much nothing else until she has conquered the hell out of it. It means she is usually pretty cheerful, though we have seen a couple of signs that she is starting to wake up to the idea of what a tantrum is.

Her toddling is pretty solid by now, though she seems to have realized that tiny steps are easier than the big strides she used to want to take, in terms of not falling over ignominiously. She will quite happily cover the entire length of the apartment, from Daddy's desk in the living room all the way to the cat bowls in the kitchen, where she wants to cause chaos. We have a new game meanwhile, which I refer to as "setting a Sophie trap" - I sit on the floor, arms held out wide with a manic grin on my face, and she toddles toward me with her arms up and smiling madly. When she gets close she tips forward, and I scoop her up and give her a great big snuggly squeeze. One Sophie, caught in a trap.

It turns out that while we had mostly babyproofed, having an independent walker with an increasing knack for getting into tight spaces is showing us all the gaps. For example, the cat bowls - she hasn't learned yet about liquid and gravity, or at least hasn't learned that there is any problem associated with picking up a cat's water bowl (after splashing her hand around in it of course) and holding it sideways while the water goes out on the floor. So we have to tail her and lift the bowls out of harm's way when she goes to the kitchen. Likewise, she has discovered that if she pulls on the pole of a floor lamp, it has the most interesting rocking motion; her little mind hasn't yet encountered the concept of a center of gravity, or the consequences of pulling the lamp far enough over to discover where the center of gravity no longer is. I really wish I knew of a good way to secure these lamps.

Yesterday I looked over at where Sophie was hanging onto Mike's desk, and commented "I'm sure she wasn't that tall a minute ago." Suddenly she no longer fits under his desk while standing; suddenly she can just about reach the contents of the third shelf from the bottom of the bookcases, and when I was clearing the bottom two a month or so ago it seemed like that would be well sufficient until she was 18 months old at least. There's that sound of the universe laughing at me again, yes.
Yesterday Sophie had her 12-month checkup, which included The Dreaded MMR. It was also the first time she's been officially measured since she was 6 months old. I was a little stupidly worried about this, as she hadn't seemed to grow much (in height anyway) at all since about October, and I knew she had got herself up off the bottom of the percentile charts since July so I wanted to be able to show this off like some sort of dumb Competitive Mommy. (No, see, I am not starving my child!) But it seems I had little to worry about, and meanwhile I learned the difference between Americans and everyone else. Her height is percentile 38 for the CDC, 33 for the WHO; her weight is also percentile 38 for the CDC, but 60 (!!) for the WHO. There you have it, American kids are heavier.

I also discovered while there that the checkup comes with a bunch of developmental tests. So pretty much the first thing the doctor did was to ask me if I ever hold out my hand and get Sophie to hand me things., it hadn't really occurred to me to do that. (Okay I hold out my hand sometimes to take something when she holds it out to me, but asking her to give me something? Not so much.) So was there a whole chapter of the parenting manual that I managed to skip, or what? Was my lack of vigilance going to doom my daughter to developmental slowness and medical intervention?

Fortunately for her remiss parents, Sophie got the idea of handing something when asked pretty quickly. She also did okay enough on the other tests to be declared healthy. Then it was time for the dreaded needles. She whimpered for the first one but took it pretty well, but then when she felt the antiseptic spray on her other leg she got this look of utter betrayal on her face and screamed like hell, and sobbed for a couple of minutes afterward in that way I rarely see her do. Poor little thing.

Today was something of a milestone for the parents. Mike's company held its Christmas party this evening, and he signed us up to go, which meant that we were finally forced to track down some local babysitters. It was something of an adventure, finding one who then texted in sick this morning, but offered up a friend of hers who could do it instead, not getting ahold of that friend initially, finding another prospect who turned out to be booked up tonight after all, then finally having the first girl's friend get back to us. It all worked out in the end though, and now I have phone numbers for three or four prospective babysitters. Party time!
This has been one of those days where you literally see the kid developing before your eyes.

I have, over the past year, heard a whole lot of comments to the effect of "They change so fast!!" Whether because I'm of the "instant gratification" generation, or because I'm too literal-minded when people would say things like "overnight", or because I had unreasonably high expectations to start with, this was never a sentiment that really resonated for me. Sophie is developing fine, and normally, but the way she goes about it is generally by signaling well in advance that she is nearly able to do something, and then making us wait for it. Today...was not like that.

She took her first tiny steps in mid-November, while we were in Boston; she took her first steps in an "I know what I'm doing here" fashion a few days later. Since then, she has had this new skill of walking short distances unaided, but generally preferred not to exercise it too much. If pressed, she would just whine and hold out her hand until Mummy[*] or Daddy gave in and offered a Magic Handle (that is, one of our hands).

I came back from Athens to find, yesterday, that she had more or less dropped the requirement for Magic Handles, and had the confidence to toddle short distances with carefully judged momentum. This morning started out like that - she mostly cruises, and uses walking to bridge the gap, although she was starting to be able to pause in the walking and stand still for a moment.

Over the course of the day, well, the skill just took off. Halfway across the room? No problem. Stand in the middle of the room and then continue? No problem. Come walking straight over to me the instant she sees me with an enormously pleased grin on her face? Absolutely. By the evening she was casually walking stretches that she would have cruised yesterday.

Just as well Mike got those cabinet locks and power socket covers today.

[*] I have finally given in and accepted the fact that I will be Mummy - after all, the person who uses this word most frequently to describe me is British.