I did not realise that a year and one month into this parenting gig that I would be doing that thing. The thing that my parents used to that used to irritate me witless. S-P-E-L-L T-H-I-N-G-S O-U-T. Of course, they used to do it when I was about seven or eight and I could actually spell quite well.
One of our favourite stories when we were little was when my mum would tell us how she and her older brother would say to each other in front of their younger brother:
“Oh, do you know where I’m going tonight?”
“I’m going to B. E. D.”
“No way, can I come too?”
Grudgingly. “Oh…OK then.”
By this time the younger brother would be jumping up and down shrieking, “I WANT TO GO TO B. E. D.!!! I WANT TO GO TOO!! RIGHT NOW!!!”
Just after she turned one, Small Z suddenly went on verbal steroids. From saying ‘baa’ and making noises like a donkey, she went to trying to say everything that was pointed out to her. Pelly (pelican), moo, miaow, pool, out, blue, pup, dadda, mama, nana, bear bear bear, boo boo, nunga nunga (nectarine), schlide (slide)…you name it, she’ll try it out. She doesn’t tend to try and say what an animal is, but rather the sound that it makes. A snake is a ‘sssss’ and cat is ‘miaow’ and a car is ‘brrrm brrrm’. It’s very cute. Tune out now, because I’m on a baby roll.
Of course, this is all a HUGE secret. It’s the way she wants it. Try to get her to talk in front of anyone except my mother and she looks like she was clubbed over the head at birth. Just to reinforce the point, she grabs at her ears and makes an inarticulate sort of cawing noise. She does the same in front of cameras. This drives M to distraction. He takes her to the pool and people always ask him whether she has started talking yet. He tells them that she has, and asks her what a sheep says. She looks at the sky, the roof and pulls at an ear. The people smile understandingly at poor deluded M, and move away. BAA! says Small Z, too late to save M. BAA!
She is like a little sponge. I know that baby brains are at the pinnacle of neuroplasticity – merely that they are learning like freaks and it’s not that hard, whereas learning French when you’re sixty tends to be substantially more tricky. So not only is it verbal, but she listens and knows things. She has started grabbing my finger while we read. I don’t know much about one-year-old motor skills, but I don’t think she can physically point with her finger at specific things yet. So she uses me. As we read, she grabs my finger. I say, “Where’s the pelican?” She points my finger at the pelican.
Along with her words and sounds, she had equally suddenly begun to use the babysigns we’ve been doing for months and months. I thought the idea of babysign was so that they could say things using signs that they couldn’t tackle with their tongue. I’m not sure it’s quite working out that way, but it can’t hurt. Naturally, her best sign is ‘more’, but she also can do ‘fish’, ‘swing’, ‘out’, ‘rain’ and ‘sun’. But mostly ‘more’…
Since realising how cluey she is becoming we have to spell out certain things, some of which sound like we have a dog. P-A-R-K and W-A-L-K. And definitely S-L-I-D-E and N-E-C-T-A-R-I-N-E and S-W-I-N-G, unless of course we will be encountering any of those things in the next five minutes. And then there is her latest discovery. Aided by my good self, and by her Mudcakes cd and the song ‘No No’ she has learned the dreaded word. Sometimes she uses it in context, screaming NO NO NO with full body flailing in order to escape the nappy change. Other times she’ll wake up in the morning and say it caressingly, in her little baby voice ‘no-no-no-no-no’. I have tried to turn it into ‘nose’ – which is another object of fascination, but I don’t know whether it’s working.
Tonight I heard her wake up after she had been asleep for an hour or so. I went in, and was about to feed her, boob at the ready. “Mama,” she said. “MOO!” I have never felt more bovine.