Wrapped around her little finger

They say that around the six-month mark, babies develop the ability to consciously manipulate their parents. We’ve been lucky with Maddi up until now, in that she is a happy little girl who is disappointed when things don’t go her way but who doesn’t really do anything about it.

The key words in that last sentence, in case you missed them, are “up until now.”

Now, there have been a few occasions of low-grade fussing when things were taken away from her. (Let me just say right now that the analogy “Like taking candy from a baby” was coined by someone who had very little exposure to infants!) And a week and a half ago, Maddi very nearly cajoled me into buying her a horrible toy with loud noise and flashing lights while we were at Toys ‘R’ Us shopping for another baby’s birthday. When I told her she couldn’t have that, she suggested I purchase an expensive keyboard for ages 3 and up.

This week, Maddi finally figured out that mildly fussing in her crib is a pretty ineffective way of getting parental attention when she doesn’t feel like napping, and that what really gets Mom and Dad running, no matter what, is her pain scream. So this afternoon, Maddi was playing in bed at naptime (her latest sleep-stalling tactic consists of doing pull-ups on her crib), when all of a sudden, ear-shattering screams echoed through the house. I raced into Maddi’s room, certain that she had somehow ejected herself from her crib or trapped a leg in its bars.

As I entered the room, our little daughter looked up from her screaming, beamed a huge smile at me and flapped hello. After checking to make sure all limbs were intact, I patted the dear wee one’s back, bade her farewell and made the slightest motion toward the door. Instantly, the pain scream resumed. I had been duped!

Of course, before I even finished walking down the hall, the nursery fell silent. I’m sure Maddi, as I type this, is dreaming up better ways to stall naptime, just as she has recently figured out that yanking my hair is always an effective way of being freed from her backpack carrier.

Despite her growing capacity for machination, however, Maddi continues to be very sweet-natured and agreeable for the most part. Even when she’s trying to snow us — for instance, she giggles and kicks in a most adorable manner when we’re tucking her in, so as to postpone bedtime — her nascent manipulations tend toward the amusing rather than the aggravating.

And when she pulls my hair out by the root as she thrashes around angrily in the backpack, I just tell myself, “At least she’s finally hit that social milestone.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


In other news, Maddi has tired of crawling and has instead begun pulling up and climbing. She can now crawl over toys, people and laundry and has pulled up on her crib, dresser drawers, the baby gate, storage bins, laundry baskets and the bathtub. Maddi has also tried unsuccessfully to pull up via my hair, a closet door and a gliding ottoman (hence the big bruise on her forehead this week). She still does a little shaky-kneed hula when she’s standing, but I predict that will be worked out in the next few weeks. Maddi is ready to conquer the world!

And here’s our 38-week-old Bradley Assault Vehicle preparing for her next mission: busting her way out of Fort Crib.

Miss Understanding

Once upon a time, I would talk to Maddi all day long, despite the knowledge that she understood absolutely nothing I said to her. Eventually, she started to recognize a few words, most of which were food and comfort related.

But now that she is a big girl of eight and a half months, Maddi is a very savvy young lady. She understands all kinds of things, and during my running narrative, if certain ideas such as “high chair,” “kittycat theatre,” “Daddy” or “bath” come up, she’s flapping and squealing excitedly before we so much as head for the door.

But a few days ago, I discovered that she understood much more than she’d been letting on. As you may recall, Maddi is single-minded in her pursuit of a certain sliver of cardboard wedged in a heating grate to keep the vent open. Despite my admonitions of “No vent!” our darling daughter has been racing as fast as her little hands and knees can carry her to that forbidden prize.

In her repeated forays to the heating grate, Maddi has had ample experience being told “No” and removed from the naughty vent. Yesterday, when she headed toward the vent, I looked at her sternly and asked in my best “suspicious parent” voice, “Maddi, what are you doing?” Our little daughter looked back at me with big, guilty eyes. Then she motored for the grate with the most lightninglike speed a beginning crawler can muster. I scooped her up and placed her on the floor with a toy, but to my dismay, she employed her latest trick: crawling around the opposite side of the glider, wriggling behind it and accessing the grate via that alternate route. I suspect she thinks Mommy doesn’t know what she’s doing when she “sneaks up” on the grate from behind the glider.

“Maddux Elise, what do you think you’re doing?” I said in my best impression of a stern schoolmarm (while laughing on the inside at her pathetic attempt to pull the wool over my eyes). Maddi looked back at me with frightened saucer eyes and a quivery little lip. “The vent is ‘no!’,” I reiterated. “Come to Mommy!”

And wouldn’t you know, our little one turned around (no easy feat when you are wedged behind a glider) and crawled obediently right back to me!

Now, half the time, Maddi will look back at me with a hand-in-the-cookie-jar expression and then motor for the vent anyway, but a good portion of the time, she is able to rein in her impulses and crawl back to my arms.

It may have seemed pointless when she was a wee newborn, but my incessant jabbering has finally paid off!

And here they are: Adorable pictures of our 37-week-old!

Here’s Maddi doing something that’s a “no”:

And here she is chasing the cat after pulling its fur (another “no no”):

Even objects that are obviously out of her reach are not immune to her curiosity (we’ll have to find a new place for Mrs. Butterfly!):

And just when all the mischief has started to wear thin on Mommy, she makes her “I’m so adorable you can’t resist me!” face. (And no. I can’t.)

Bathing cutie

Last summer, it was all about lengthening your legs poolside with a pair of metallic heels. This swimsuit season, the look for legs is softer. Softer and a lot squishier. And did I mention that rolls are going to be big?

Really, really big. Clean-them-out-with-a-Q-Tip big.

Look out, world! Maddi is coming to a swimming pool or beach near you!

After an auspicious start last summer at the Halcyon Hot Springs resort and eight months of practicing in the bathtub, our little fishie has finally made her public-pool debut. This morning at 9:15ish, we loaded up the car and headed to the nearby Johnson-Bentley Aquatic Centre, where our wee one enjoyed a rollicking half-hour of floating, splashing and playing with oversize bath toys. She was a little hesitant at first, but her friend Alex from playgroup was there, and he’s an old hand at this swimming-lesson thing.

He showed her how to play with a beach ball, although it didn’t really sink in, as she wouldn’t get her hands anywhere near the thing and basically tried to pretend it didn’t exist.

Maybe it was a matter of temperature, because once we moved from the graduated pool to the warm tub (not to be confused with the hot tub, which we would never inflict on such a tiny thing!), Maddi perked right up and thoroughly enjoyed Ring-Around-the-Rosy. She didn’t much appreciate having the big yellow ducky taken away from her at the end of class, but then, who among us does give up this season’s “it” accessory without a bit of reluctance?

Anyway, much fun was had at the pool by all. Here’s a picture of our little water baby sporting the hot new chubby-thighed look. (Mommy’s trendy thighs are simply too fabulous in their chubbiness and will blind the undeserving; thus, they have been concealed beneath board shorts so that other people won’t feel insecure about their stringy, scrawny chicken legs.)

Baby a-go-go

As any new parent will tell you, when you exult in the joys of your sweet and wonderful baby, there is always some kind person who is more than willing to utter these encouraging words: “Well, just wait ’til she starts crawling.”

These are usually the same people who, in the third trimester when you are falling asleep on your feet because you were up all night peeing, slapping your tingling legs awake and enjoying the spirited performance of Riverdance inside your midsection, offer up this oh-so-helpful gem: “Better get your sleep while you can!”

Of course, we all finally discover that while colic, projectile vomiting and babies who never sleep are indeed no picnic, it isn’t as bad as the gloom-and-doom set make it out to be, either. Sure, there are lots of things about babies that put a definite cramp in your lifestyle, not least of which is the fact that you may never wear nice clothes or get more than four hours of uninterrupted sleep again. But one wonders why these people never tell you about the joys of having a sleepy baby snuggle in against your chest, or the excitement you’ll experience when they pass those important milestones, the warmth that will fill your heart when your little one laughs, or that wonderful smell that can be found only in baby hair.

Doomsayers’ somber declarations aside, Chris and I have done our waiting and Maddi has started crawling.

She is, as the expression goes, “into everything.” In a week’s time, we’ve gone from having a baby who could theoretically be left unattended in an unbabyproofed room for an hour and come out unscathed (not that we’ve tested this theory!) to tending a tot who is on a mission to devour every hazardous object in the house and create a big mess doing it.

Her arms and legs aren’t quite coordinated yet, so sometimes her arms will be moving at a half-mile per hour and her legs, attempting to break the 1 mph barrier, will propel her directly onto her face. Conversely, her arms may move faster than her little legs and she will do a bellyflop on the floor, with legs flailing desperately for a foothold. But despite her silly-looking crawl, she’s getting more proficient by the day and has developed several new tricks.

In addition to traveling into the hallway from her bedroom while I check on the bathwater, Maddi has begun making a beeline for the one nonbabyproofed part of her room — a heating grate where we used a tiny strip of cardboard wedged into the adjuster to hold the vent open. Her deepest desire is to remove this chunk of cardboard goodness from the grate and sample its fine, woody flavor.

The cats, perhaps, are the ones most affected by Maddi’s crawling. Over the past several days, they’ve learned that sitting two feet away from the baby — just out of lunging range — is no longer a safe option. Maddi isn’t the fastest crawler, but she is fast enough to surprise an unsuspecting cat who is used to a nonmobile baby. Now, if the cats get close enough, they sit poised to run at a moment’s notice and keep a wary green eye trained on the little fur-grabber.

Her other tricks, however, have actually improved our quality of life — much, I am sure, to the chagrin of the “wait ’til she starts crawling” people (who, I am convinced, hate babies but didn’t discover it until they had one of their own that they couldn’t give back when it pooped or began crying). Before we had a mobile baby, Maddi began to cry each morning at the crack of 7 when she awoke. But now, she doesn’t start fussing until 7:30 or perhaps even 8, when she’s hungry. The reason? Our little genius has discovered that if she crawls to the foot of her crib and snakes out a wee arm, she can snag the box with her small toys and pull it toward the crib.

One morning last week, I heard Maddi fussing and went to her room to pick her up. There sat our baby in her crib, surrounded by about five different playthings. Later in the day, I asked Chris, “Honey, did you put toys in the baby’s crib?” Nope. Our daughter had pulled an assortment of her favorite rattles and teething toys into the crib and amused herself for probably an hour, allowing Mommy to get some much-needed extra shuteye. And in fact, every morning since, she has had at least one toy in her crib by the time I’ve been summoned for her morning meal.

Before we had Maddi, while we were planning her nursery, we ran across these crib sheets that fit around the entire mattress, and you just zip the top on. They make for quick, easy sheet changes and there’s no possible way your baby can get tangled up in sheets that have come off the mattress.

Another bonus to these nifty sheets is one that Maddi’s discovered. Twice, we have discovered the sheet partially unzipped at the top. I don’t know about Nana, but the time I zipped it back up, the zipper pull was covered in slobber. Apparently, Maddi is working on her unzipping skills at the same time she’s amusing herself in her crib.

She’s no longer a lap baby, either. Maddi won’t be content until she gets onto the floor and crawls around. If the person holding her doesn’t get the hint when Maddi stares at something on the ground, our wee one will then do her best impersonation of a freshly-caught sturgeon until she tires her holder out or is carried from the room, protesting all the while.

Sure, things are a little more difficult in some ways now that Maddi is mobile. Although we’re no longer on “fetching duty” for toys out of her reach, we’ve got to watch her like a hawk, and plopping her down in one part of a room if there’s anything unbabyproofed somewhere else in the room simply isn’t an option, because babies apparently have a special kind of radar.

But as for regrets, we are sorry to announce to those who make ominous pronouncements regarding how much we’ll enjoy (or rather, not) our lovely baby once she starts crawling, walking or talking, we are still having a great time with our little one! (We just can’t say the same for the poor cats, is all.)

And here’s a shot of our little one with a bunny poached from her toybox:

Super Eight

Maddi turns both 35 weeks and eight months old today. I know I say this every month, but it’s hard to believe she’s this old. There are still days when I wake up assuming as I always have that I’m footloose and fancy-free, and then remember, “Wow, I have a kid.”

And what a kid she is! This month, Maddi got her first two teeth and is thisclose, I think, to cutting two top incisors. She’s pushing up on all fours and crawling a few shaky steps at a time. She’s also got a very handy new skill — getting back into a sitting position from crawling (or at least trying to crawl). She simply tucks her leg in toward the other and pushes back onto her bottom. Maddi can also pull into a standing position from sitting if she’s got something good to hold onto, such as Mommy’s hands or a Rubbermaid bin. Thankfully, she’s a cautious baby and has not expressed any interest in cruising. Between that and her two-steps-at-a-time crawling, we are probably the only parents of an eight-month-old who haven’t had to babyproof yet.

This month, Maddi began eating all kinds of fun foods: chicken, peas, pears and bananas. She loved chicken and bananas, liked peas, but was not so fond of homemade pears. (Gerber pears apparently passed the taste test, though.) She also had a touch of flu for a few days, which necessitated the early and not-on-schedule introduction of garlic, which went over about as well as the homemade pears. And here we thought we’d never find a food this baby wouldn’t open her mouth for!

In terms of cognitive ability, Maddi figured out this month that when we hide one of her omnipresent Roll-Arounds balls underneath a blanket, it’s still there. She knows what to expect when we cover our faces, and she knows that in her little book, “Where is Baby’s Belly Button?”, the belly button is under Baby’s shirt. The past few days, she’s even taken to covering her face with a blanket and then yanking it down with a gummy grin.

Her vocabulary is expanding as well. While she started babbling in November, it didn’t really pick up until the last week or so of December, when she began to say “ba-ba-ba-ba” while rolling on the floor and “Mama” in the crib and “Dada” in the car. We’re pretty sure “ba-ba-ba-ba” doesn’t mean a thing, and “Mama” and “Dada” are up for debate. But she’s definitely said “cat” a few times and mispronounced it a few dozen. She also understands quite a bit of what we say.

If we ask if she wants food, she flaps and starts yelling “Mmm, mmm, mmm!” If I ask, “Where’s Daddy?” or say, “Look, a cat!” her eyes shoot toward the doorway. If I ask, “Do you want Mama?” nine times out of 10 the little one puts out her chubby arms to be picked up. “Wave bye-bye” is another one she definitely knows, although she often reminds us she’s not too keen on performing like a little circus monkey. Other commands she obeys every time — she figured out several months ago that “No biting” means babies who bite get cut off from their food supply. And this past week, when I say “No pulling hair,” she’s actually begun loosening her grip on my ‘do or the cats’ fur before I have time to start prying the strands from her mitts. And for the past two nights, while drawing her bath, I’ve been able to stave off in advance her usual pleas for me to return to the room by telling Maddi, “Mommy will be right back; it’s time for your bath!”

Last but not least, Maddi has gone from two naps most days to one, which is not as bad as it sounds. When she was a twice-daily napper, each of those naps lasted 30 to 45 minutes — just enough time for me to use the bathroom, eat and run a brush through my hair. Now, our little one often enjoys an hour to 90 minutes of napping at a stretch, meaning I can luxuriate in usable spare time at least once before 8 (provided she takes her nap).

Who knows what the next month will hold? Maddi’s working very hard on all her skills and I’m nearly positive those new teeth are almost here.

On those rare days when I wake up feeling well-rested rather than to the sound of crying, and forget for a groggy minute that I’m an indentured servant to a tiny bald slavedriver, it’s mindblowing to think we’ve had her for eight long months. After all, it doesn’t feel like I’ve done a thing since May. But when we look at how big our daughter’s gotten and how many milestones she’s passed, it’s hard to believe it’s been only eight months. If only adults experienced life as fully as babies do!

The fat lady swings

Something is missing from Maddi’s room tonight. Her Ocean Wonders Aquarium Cradle-Swing, which earned many times its weight in gold over the six months we’ve used it, has been retired. One day, we hope it will emerge from the storage room to cradle tiny new Phillipses. But for now, it’s gone the way of the dinosaur.

And oddly enough, a dinosaur has taken its place. After Christmas, I realized Maddi had way too many toys to fit in her tiny little room. We had two choices — either give up one of the larger bedrooms to make room for the burgeoning tide of colorful plastic, or jettison a few of her less-used belongings. Since we like our bedroom and office, and her big sister Kaija’s room is full to bursting with 30,000 stuffed animals as it is, I realized that Maddi’s swing — once essential — was now taking up an awful lot of space and is only marginally useful.

Once upon a time, when our little sausage was but a wee 10- or 11-pound cocktail wiener of a baby, she enjoyed hours upon hours of sleep in that swing. And I really do mean hours. About five a day, since she resisted sleeping in her crib once daylight emerged at 7 a.m. After her morning meal, she would sleep in the swing. During her erratic, often nonexistent naps, she was in the swing. And while I showered and dressed and sometimes even washed dishes, she was in the swing.

But now that Maddi is an 18-and-some-change-pound bratwurst, things are different. For one thing, the swing groans beneath her weight. If the batteries are less than fresh, our little sausage isn’t going anywhere. And since she’s started rolling and trying to crawl, Maddi’s not content to just sit and be entertained. She is a baby on the go. Our wee one would much rather flop about in her crib and tire herself out stalking the animals on her mobile than sit strapped in a swing.

I had begun giving her toys and stuffed animals to play with while she fell asleep, but she quickly discovered the joy of flinging them to the ground — perhaps fancying herself a balloonist releasing ballast — and then wailing for assistance. So for awhile now, she has taken her 8-to-11 a.m. nap in the crib, whose bars are too close to allow her rattles and balls to be thrown willy-nilly.

The last straw came this week, when we assembled Maddi’s new Drop ‘N’ Roar Dinosaur. This toy of Jurassic proportion has swallowed up much of Maddi’s room, not counting the 25 bazillion little Roll-Arounds balls that either came with it or other toys or inexplicably purchased separately on different occasions by each parent. (What can we say? There are balls for every possible baby occasion!) These Roll-Arounds are so numerous that they need their own special toybox, and their round shape and omnipresence invariably bring to mind — even to those like me who aren’t fans of the oeuvre — a Star Trek episode titled “The Trouble With Tribbles.”

That, along with her 47,000-odd other Christmas presents, made walking space in Maddi’s room a precious commodity. So last night, as Maddi blissfully flicked the spinning butterfly on her colossal new dinosaur (as yet, she has expressed no interest in its main feature, the ball chutes), I lugged her swing out of the room and moved the crib down the wall to make room for the mindboggling array of plastic.

Maddi didn’t seem to care that she has her floorspace back, but I’m sure in the coming weeks, as she hones those crawling skills, that she will come to appreciate her new, pared-down room.

Perhaps one day, her nursery will once more hold a kitten-tiny newborn and the cradle-swing will return. Until that day, dinosaurs rule the earth.

And here’s Maddi at 35 weeks, enjoying the space freed up in her room as she frolics in the shadow of the big plastic dinosaur (notice that one of her friends has come to visit).

All Fours

Just when it seemed she had gone awhile without a new trick, we have a baby who is (if you play fast and loose with the word) crawling and possibly talking.

I say this at risk of her not incorporating her latest skills for another month, but this is perhaps the very last week Maddi will get around by rolling. For the last week or so, she’s been getting up on hands and knees and rocking back and forth, and on Friday, she started almost crawling.

I say “almost” because while, technically, what she does is crawl, she doesn’t do it for very long at all. Friday night, she was playing on the floor of her room when she noticed one of her brand-new Christmas toys, a ball with lots of sliding segments that make a great “clack-clack-clack” noise when she shakes it, had rolled beneath the crib a few feet away.

Rather than look at it wistfully for a few seconds, then give up and grab something closer, Maddi pivoted toward the ball and planted her hands in its direction. Then she not only leaned over her tucked-in leg, but then put that knee on the floor along with the other. She crawled one step forward with the first leg, then pushed her knees off the floor so that her bottom was pointed straight to the sky. Then she did kind of a frog-hop, which pulled her legs in toward her hands, pushed off again and handily retrieved her toy!

Proud mama that I am, I had visions of Maddi crawling all about the house in short order. But that was not to be. As you may know, when it comes to things other than food and strangers, Maddi is a cautious baby. Whether it’s a bath or her crib or tummy time or her hat, our little daughter takes a lot of time to acclimatize herself to new things. And so it is with crawling.

Maddi will try to crawl only if something is within two or three feet. Otherwise, she will simply get there via rolling (a method of transportation, you may recall, which not too very long ago was also met with no small measure of reluctance). So far, she hasn’t taken more than one or two little crawl-steps at a time. Only time will tell whether this is yet another skill she will master, but wait months to employ.

Speaking of skills she masters but seldom employs, Maddi has finally uttered — correct pronunciation and all — the word “cat.” As regular readers may recall, she has been trying very persistently to say “cat” since she a little before her six-month birthday. At first it came out sounding a lot like “kkk … hakkt” and to this day, much of the time it sounds like “caa..” or “kit” or even like she’s a cat and is hissing or perhaps conjuring up a hefty hairball.

Unfortunately, I am the only person who has witnessed the two times (that we know of) when Maddi has correctly pronounced “cat,” so I’m pretty sure people are saying I’m completely loony. Auntie Kathy and cousin Becca got to hear Maddi mumbling “kit-kit-kit” last week, and Daddy has heard the ubiquitous “hakkt” several times, but Maddi does her best work when the cats suddenly pop into her bedroom and surprise her. Needless to say, I don’t think anyone really believes she’s said “cat.” But I assure you it is true.

The first time it happened, Maddi was in the hallway and our fat cat, Selkie, was a few feet away. Maddi looked at Selkie, wide-eyed, and whispered in a reverent tone, “cat.” At that point, not even I was sure whether to believe my ears.

But on Friday, the same day she crawled (is it just me, or does Maddi always do things in twos?), she was lying on the floor of her room playing with that same silly ball when Deva, our smaller cat, slinked into the room and gazed at the fat, pink “alpha kitty” suspiciously. Beaming from ear to ear, Maddi looked over at me and said, clear as you please, “cat.” Not “hakkt” or “kit” or “tiktik” or her horrible hissing hairball noise that frightens her beloved kitties away. Nope. “Cat.”

She has also been babbling “Mama” and “Dada” and “Ba-ba-ba-ba,” but who knows whether the “Mama” and “Dada” are intentional? It’s not as clear-cut as when a baby says something difficult like “cat.”

In other cat-related news, I’ve noticed that Maddi has been making funny kissing noises with her mouth. At first I thought she wanted to give Mommy kisses or maybe was trying to tell me, in a rather goldfishy way, that she was hungry, but then I realized those are the same noises I make when I call the kitties over.

“Are you calling the cats?” I asked our little daughter. “Here, kitties, pwa-pwa-pwa!”

Maddi laughed and made more little kissing noises. I am certain that in her dotage, Maddi is going to be one of those old ladies who leaves everything to her 37 cats. She certainly seems to like them better than dear ol’ mom and dad!

And here’s the lastest pic of our crawling, cat-calling 34-week-old.