Toddler creativity

Nearly every night after my son has gone to bed, I sit on my bed, trying to tap into my creativity to write stories that others will actually want to pay money to read. Monkey has an interesting take on creativity that I’ve been trying to remember as I stare at my keyboard in frustration.

He imitates everything. Then, he changes something and makes it his own. He doesn’t try to create something from nothing. His favorite Sesame Street episode involves one of the human characters turning into a cookie. As he spins around, saying “Hey! I’m a cookie!” my son does the same thing. Then one day, wrapped in a towel, he spun around saying “Hey! I’m a paper towel!” How did he come up with that? It was pretty hilarious, and he knew it. He seems innately aware of what will make grownups laugh the most.

He’s at the age where he will pretend to eat play dough cookies. Actually, almost anything can be a cookie – a pillow, a sock, a ball. He doesn’t wait for someone to tell him what to do, he makes it up as he goes along.  He’s using his imagination more and more every day. I am so incredibly excited to see it grow.

Writing is a bit different. I can’t act out my stories, I need to write them down. But maybe I should be following his lead and just go with whatever is in front of me. I don’t need to write the most original story, something no one has seen before. There are genres for a reason. People want to know what to expect when they buy a book. Monkey will watch the same video over and over, never bored, but taking something new from it each time. Readers do that too. They read the same type of books, over and over, because they want something familiar, with a few new twists.

At the end of the day, whatever I make will always be new because it’s mine. Monkey isn’t doing anything different than kids all over the world at his age, but because he’s the one doing it, it’s unique.

(Though as his mother, of course I think he is extra special unique and doing it better than anyone else. Hopefully my parents think the same when they read my books!)

New holiday traditions

Growing up, Thanksgiving meant spending the whole day with my aunt, cousins, and, when we did it as her house, her big dog. We alternated houses for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I always looked forward to the years she did Thanksgiving, since it meant we could sit around watching the parade in the morning instead of peeling potatoes. Besides that, there was nothing really amazing about the holidays that made them spectacular. But you get used to little traditions like playing the same games with your cousins, the same arguments between uncles, even the same ancient beaters mixing the whipped cream.

None of that happened this year, since we weren’t at my aunt’s house, but at my sister’s. And with two new babies in addition to an energetic toddler, to say things were a little crazy is an understatement. When we got there around 10 and saw the turkey still sitting on the counter, I wondered how we were ever going to eat at 2, as we always had growing up. But my sister had planned on eating at normal dinner time.

I wasn’t going to argue with a sleep-deprived new mother, but it got me thinking about the new holiday traditions we’re in the process of creating for our kids. Having been gone for nearly a decade means I didn’t create any new, adult traditions with my family. I am stuck a bit in my nostalgia for the holidays of my youth, and stressing about making sure my husband and son have the same memories. Which I realize is impossible, but it doesn’t stop me from worrying about it! While Thanksgiving is purely American and my husband has no particular notion of what it is “supposed” to be, I know that Christmas is a much bigger deal for him and as it’s his first Christmas away from his family, I am putting extra pressure on myself to make it special.

I keep reminding myself that Monkey is still too young to know one way or another what happens. He didn’t care that Thanksgiving was at 6 instead of 2. He won’t notice is we do an advent calendar this year and not next year. He certainly doesn’t care if I spend hours knitting him a Christmas stocking (though I hope he appreciates it in the future). But I’ve somehow convinced myself I need to figure it out by next year, when he might maybe start to remember things…

Holidays, family, nostalgia, youth. All sorts of emotions involved. I know the best thing to do is not to stress at all and just enjoy it, and they will too. Neither my husband nor my son will hate me if there’s not a picture of us with Santa Clause this year, or if we don’t see any Christmas trees other than our own. But their feelings about a grumpy and grinchy mother/wife will probably not be very positive and will have a much bigger impact on their memories of our holidays together.

 

Bébé’s adaptation to the States

So I’ve talked a bit about our adjustment to our jobs, and a new routine, but what about bébé? I’ve mentioned how much he likes daycare, but there are other things I started noticing almost as soon as we arrived in January that I wanted to be sure to get down before I forget. While I know so much of this is just related to his age (the 18-24 month period is full of new milestones), it’s hard for me to disassociate all the progress from the move. I know he would have done all of the same things in France, but I’ve convinced myself he is doing them sooner/better because the environment in the States is “better” somehow (just rereading that made me think “You’re crazy” but at least I know that I am!)

-When we were living with my parents, he was so great with my dad. He’s retired, and not that active, but bébé managed to get him up and running around (well, ambling quickly) every day. I’m pretty sure bébé thought he was a bear, because of his size, and it was amazing to see a connection develop so quickly. Bébé also enjoyed stealing grandaddy’s food, so that was a good way to get both of them to eat more vegetables.

-Speaking of food, baby food is very different here. I guess I thought since diapers were the same, food would be. The big thing I’ve noticed is the applesauce. There are tons of flavors of natural, sugar-free applesauce in France, but here it seems like everything designed for kids has sugar in it. It’s making me a little crazy. And there seem to be less brands of baby food and less “meal” options in general. Like his favorite had been couscous, but definitely not able to find that here. People said not to waste suitcase space on bringing his favorite things, but the first week I really regretted not bringing at least a few!

One difference that is nice are the squeeze packs of  fruit that include veggies. He gobbled those up at first, so at least he was getting some veggies.  Now of course he will only eat certain colors, and insists on using a spoon for everything, and only eating from my plate, so the struggle begins again. He is a very American kid and likes macaroni and cheese, but only sometimes chicken nuggets. He prefers sweet potato fries to normal fries, which I consider a huge mom-win.

I did bring enough formula for one week, thinking we’d buy more here. Also surprised to discover it’s very different here! So the switch to whole milk (probably a bit overdue anyway) was made, and frankly, he didn’t seem to notice a difference. I’ve been putting in almond milk too now, to see if we can stop buying milk altogether, and he also likes that. So hurray for his non-pickiness in certain areas!

-The past few weeks in particular he has been going through a language explosion. This is the area I try to remind myself would have happened anywhere in the world at this age. But it’s still so incredibly cool to witness.

Since we speak only French at home, and mamie recently sent him tons of French books, some things he says in French only, like colors, and body parts. I can see him working out certain things like green/gris(grey), but that’s production. Comprehension is fine in both languages.

He’s well into his mimic phase, and will repeat random things we say or that he sees in videos. Animal sounds are obviously the cutest. And he’s got some food words like “ju” which works in both languages, though he still says “lait” and “l’eau” in French. He also started saying “yucky” the other day (daycare thought he was saying “lucky”), and he knows the names of the other kids at daycare. Well, he says “Ana” which, since he also loves Frozen, he was already saying before he started.

-He is interacting more with other kids outside of daycare as well. And he seems to be getting over his wariness of men and has stopped hiding his face from strangers on the street. He’s been giving high fives (or “ha fah” as he says) and spent 10 minutes on the bus last week playing high five with a young guy sitting behind us.

The playground near our house has a basketball court as well, so there’s always people there. Last week there was a man with his two sons, one was about 8, and the other the exact same size as bébé (though when I asked, he was actually 5 months younger, so either he was big, or bébé is small!). They were tossing around a football, and of course bébé wanted to play with theirs, rather than the one we had brought. They were so nice about it, and the older one was obviously used to playing with his little brother, and was very gentle about passing it and chasing him. Bébé does seem to be more interested in older kids, and it’s nice to have so many things so close where he can interact with kids of all ages, which is definitely really helping his development.

 

In less than 2 months he will be 2, which is insane. He’s right on track with everything (even the tiny bit of language “delay” that I notice is totally normal for bilingual children) , and this is definitely a super cute age, when he’s starting to seek out cuddles and kisses, and interact with us and the world in totally new and interesting ways.

Firsts and lasts

With bébé’s first birthday behind us and his first steps coming soon, I’ve been thinking a lot about firsts. As a mother who works outside of the home, it’s inevitable that I miss a fair number of firsts. Almost without fail, when I see him doing something new, I yell for my husband, “Look! See what he’s doing!” and, much to my chagrin, he almost always answers “Yeah, he’s been doing that for awhile”. I usually try to hide my disappointment, though I definitely got visibly cranky when my mother-in-law gave him his first baby teething cookie the other week, because I wanted to be there to see how he reacted the first time.

Lately I’ve been trying to reign in these feelings, and to put things into perspective. I’m still trying to keep a positive outlook and not react so negatively to what is a very common situation for many people (being away from home and bébé for most of the day).

 

First of all, besides things you control, like first visits somewhere or first foods, it can be very hard to determine when the exact “first” time something happens. Was that a smile, or gas? Do we count rolling over by accident, or just when he meant to do it? Did he put the banana in his mouth on purpose, or just because he puts everything in there?

While it is very exciting to see him do something for the “first” time, unless it’s a truly unique face or word, it’s never going to be the last time, so I’ll always have another chance. Sometimes it can take a few days, but it’ll happen. When he first started eating bits of banana, he did it once, then seemed to forget how for a few weeks. Babies don’t work on the same skills all the time, and tend to do one thing a lot for a bit, then stop and do something else. This also makes the true “first” time difficult to pinpoint, because is he really doing something if he only does it once or twice, and then doesn’t do it again for awhile?

Also, he obviously doesn’t do things particularly well at first, and while his attempts can be heartbreakingly cute, it can also be frustrating. I think it took about 30 minutes for him to gnaw his way through a cookie with me, meanwhile getting it all over his face, hair, and clothes. It’ll be nice when he can just take a few bites and be done with it!

Finally, there are some firsts that I’m not too fussed about because I know he won’t remember. I spent a fair amount of time planning his first birthday, but that was more for the adults (we called it our “one year anniversary of being parents”!) And his first Christmas and Easter were cute, but I know he didn’t really care one way or another, as long as there were people to pay attention to him.

 

This first year has also been full of last times, which are more bittersweet, but at least we have a little more control over them. My last day on leave before going back to work, the last night he slept in his bassinet before switching to the crib, the last time he was in his baby stroller.
I decided when to stop breastfeeding, and made sure to get a few pictures of those last few nights, and really be present in those moments with him.

There will be more things like this in the future that we can predict, like his last night his crib before a big bed. But there are others that will be more fleeting. I don’t remember the exact last time he fell asleep nursing, or the last time he took a nap in our arms. So when I read that you have to cherish every moment (seriously, every single thing you’ll ever read about being a parent includes these words, it must be a law or something), I really try to, since for every first, there’s also a last. The first time is the first of many, and it will happen again and again. But the last time means it won’t happen ever again, and that part of “growing up” is over.

There are important milestones coming, and I’m not going to purposely be absent for them, but he’ll always be learning and doing new things (he already does certain things only for me, and other things only for my husband). I’m looking forward to his first steps, but I’m also trying hard to get these last few weeks of crawling and wobbly standing on film, knowing that the last time he crawls instead of walks to greet me at the door is right around the corner. And while we’re super excited for his growing language skills (he could just be playing with noises, but it really sounds like he can say both “cat” and the equivalent French word “chat”), his baby babbles are so funny and fleeting, I want to follow him around with a tape recorder all day.

 

I’d rather save my energy for trying to remember and capture those unexpected lasts, rather than stress about missing a few firsts.