In the mouth of Maddux

We’ve been saying since Christmastime that Maddi is thisclose to cutting her top teeth. By last week, they were literally full-fledged chompers that just happened to be covered in a thin layer of gum tissue. In fact, many times her bulging, white tooth-shaped gums were too-hastily hailed as actual teeth.

But all things must come to an end eventually, and Chris and I are pleased to inform you that Maddi’s epic teething spell has run its course. (Although now her second incisors are “almost out” — please insert sarcastic air quotes — so it’s not as if she’s really done teething.)

Maddi had one top tooth as of Sunday and two as of Tuesday. As for the next teeth, who knows? Could be tomorrow, could be April!

But one thing Maddi’s not taking forever to do is talk. No, she has figured out that verbal communication is a useful thing and is quickly expanding her repertoire, although she still performs only for Mommy. Maybe, as rumor has it, I’m crazy. Or perhaps spending about 80 hours of one-on-one time with her a week has given me a unique ability to key into what she is saying long before it is intelligible to anyone else. Just throwing out a theory there to those of you who doubt that we have the most perfect, certified-genius Renaissance baby that ever was.

My criteria for a “word” (as opposed to something that could possibly be a word) are that it sounds ever-so-vaguely like a word, and that the word it sounds like is applicable to the thing she seems to be “talking” about, and that the “word” is used repeatedly in the same circumstances and not often in others. I don’t require the word to be particularly well-enunciated or even intelligible to anyone else, just that it be consistently used to convey a specific idea.

But let’s take this a step further. The Catholic church requires that miracles be verified before they are acknowledged. So I’m not averse to having her vocabulary ratified by other knowledgeable sources, such as Chris, his mom and Cora, the gym’s childcare provider who watches Maddi for an hour and a half every day.

Words Maddi definitely says are “Mama” (verified unanimously), “Dada” (verified unanimously and often), “no” (said, or more often screeched, like “Nee-nee-nee!” or “Nah-nah-nah!”), and of course “cat,” which has gone through many permutations beginning with “kkk …. hact” and currently sounding like “cat” or “hat.” So technically, she has four words that she uses consistently.

But then there are also words such as “hi,” which Nana and Cora think they may have heard a few times and which I’ve heard many times (including her following the greeting with “kittycat”). Then there’s “kitty” or “kittycat” which I hear constantly, whether in reference to her stuffed cat or the real thing, and which Auntie Kathy may have heard around Christmastime (except it sounds more like “kit-kit” or “gikky” or “key-caa”). So that’s another two dubiously verified words, which gives us a total of six if we slacken our standards.

Then there are the words which Maddi has never yet performed publicly and, according to some, may exist only in my mind.

Those words would be “more” (or, as Maddi puts it, “mo”), “ball” (that’s “bah” in Maddish), “dog” (which sounds like “dah”), and “up,” which sounds just like it should, except she almost always says it in threes when she’s asking me to pick her up, so I didn’t realize for weeks that she wasn’t just babbling. So if you go by the most unreliable method of verification and accept all your information from a single, emotionally invested eyewitness, Maddi has 10 words that she uses regularly (I’m not even counting the possible instances of “again,” “eat” and “banana,” so you should be proud of me!).

However, don’t expect to hear most of them anytime soon. Being a sociable little girl, Maddi is way too busy smiling and flapping for fresh audiences to start thinking about kittycats or balls, and she’s usually trying to get down rather than up when she’s around her doting friends and relatives.

Her teeth, though, you can see for yourself in this picture of our adorable 42-week-old (alleged) chatterbox. Scroll down for additional cuteness.

* * * Breaking news update * * *

I completely forgot that Maddi occasionally says the word “book.” In fact, the very night I posted this, Maddi said “Mama boo” in reference to the book “I Love My Mommy Because….” And then this morning (March 1), Chris went downstairs and closed the door to the office. Maddi started to fuss a little, and I told her Daddy went bye-bye, and little Maddi stood at the baby gate, flapping a belated adieu and shouting “Bahbah, dada!” So “Hi, kittycat” was not a fluke after all. Our daughter is putting words together.

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


Maddi mania

Did you know you are, right now, basking in the virtual glow of the world’s tiniest celebrity?

Most parents of new babies hear the words, “Oh, she’s so cute,” or “What beautiful eyes he has” at least once a day. But I suspect that not too many babies have their own enormous fan clubs with chapters practically everywhere. (If they do, don’t tell us! We like to think our baby is special!)

For her fans who live far away, the wee one has her website. And her photo gallery has thousands of views. We’re not really sure how many thousand because it’s connected to a bigger gallery, but I’d say well over half of that gallery’s 49,564 hits (since May 1) are from Maddi fans.

She’s not without fans nearby, either. In addition to her doting family and extended family, who really are required to adore her, Maddi has a group of admirers at the health unit where we go to weigh her each month, supporters at local business establishments we frequent, and even some moms in playgroup who have admitted to me that she is indeed the cutest baby in the world.

Maddi’s biggest fan base by far is at the gym where I work out. For an hour and a half each day, she is spoiled rotten by the women who do child-minding there. As we walk in, Cora and Evelina pull out Maddi’s favorite piano especially for her! And if there aren’t other kids in the child-minding room, she gets toted around the fitness center, where yet more gym employees lavish their affections on our wee celebri-cutie.

A few months back, I discovered that the picture the gym’s electronic system brings up when I scan in was changed. Instead of my mug shot, a photo of our darling daughter comes up on the screen and alerts her fan base to our little VIP’s arrival. And when I brought her in today, the people at the front desk joked, “Oh, just leave her here with us; we’ll play with her.”

Because (and not to brag or anything) we have the most inquisitive, friendly and amusing little baby there is. We’re not conceited, just stating a fact! She is pure sunshine, concentrated into a wiggly ball of fat and set loose on Earth to clamber her way into people’s hearts.

When we’re out, we really can’t go five steps without another person coming up and saying, “I’m sure you get this all the time, but your baby is the cutest thing we’ve ever seen.” Really, it could go to a baby’s head! But so far, despite the VIP treatment and requests for handshakes, Maddi is still as down-to-earth as she was before her rise to fame (which coincided with her increase in cuteness around two months old). She not only takes the time to chill with her fans, she even seeks people out, making eye contact and showing off those gorgeous pearly whites before she’s even approached. No sunglasses and bodyguards for this little star!

Of course there are a few things every starlet requires of her entourage, and Maddi is no exception. She likes her food — whatever is on the menu — to be served with a generous side of Cheerios so that she may alternate mouthfuls. And she specifically asks that a box of toys be placed just outside her crib so she can reach in when she wakes up and grab a plaything or two (or five). And, I hate to say it, but she has even been known to grab a camera or two.

Her people, however, immediately released a statement saying, “It was just a joke. Maddi was playfully hugging the camerawoman and her actions were misconstrued. Maddi has the utmost respect for the mamarazzi.”

Would this face lie?

Daddy’s little girl

It took a few weeks, but Chris has finally witnessed the incredible “dada”-saying baby. Up until yesterday, she had said it sporadically but in a way that only a mother could understand. For whatever reason, our little daughter was having trouble spitting out her “D” sound, and so where I heard “Dada,” everyone else heard “Jha-jha” or “Rra-rra” (but a keen observer would have noticed this sound was only used around Daddy and cut that poor child some slack!).

However, in the interest of proving to Chris that I was not crazy, during one of Maddi’s “Jha-jha”-ing sessions, I looked her in the face and said, “That’s right, Maddi — Dada!” with the crispest “D”s possible. After about 10 minutes of making a fool of myself trying to get the baby to say an unequivocal “Dada” — which happens on a near-daily basis — something apparently clicked.

It wasn’t clear at first and sometimes she’d slip back into “Jha-jha,” but Maddi finally got her “D”s working well enough to divert a shocked Daddy’s attention from his business call. Now that she’s mastered this most jhifficult of consonants, our daughter has been hard at work making sure she hasn’t forgotten how to say “Dada.”

Unlike “Mama,” which she uses primarily as a form of protestation when placed in the crib or on the change table (and a few days ago, a “Mama, nee-nee-nee!” when I was suctioning her nose, which I think clearly places “No” in the “definite” category for Maddi’s vocabulary), Maddi can’t use her latest word enough. She uses it to get Chris’ attention in the car, chants it gleefully as she scrambles down the hallway toward the baby gate at the top of the stairs that lead down to Chris’ office, and sings it merrily as she bangs her toys together, as if to keep her skills sharp.

As dismayed as I may be that my name is used only in times of dire need while our little daughter chant’s “Dada” like a fan a rock concert, I am happy that she is using at least one of our names on a consistent basis rather than simply sticking with cat-related vocabulary. Speaking of cats, I have finally discovered what would happen to our feline family members were Maddi ever to get within a few inches of them unsupervised. When she sees her stuffed kitten (a plaything she recently picked out for herself at Toys ‘R’ Us), her typical greeting entails grabbing it around the neck, shaking it up and down and slobbering on its ear. (Yes, she kisses the cat; no, she hasn’t kissed a human yet — ever — and not for lack of effort on my part!) Yesterday, she gave the poor animal her usual affectionate greeting and then finished off by shaking poor little Suzy-Cat upside-down by the tail. Luckily for all, our cats don’t stick around long enough to let her lavish these affections on them.

Despite her propensity toward stuffed-animal cruelty, our now crisply-enunciating daughter is a baby worthy of applause. And as of yesterday, Maddi is able to give herself a big hand. Doing things in twos as usual, Maddi clapped for the first time about two or three hours after the “Dada” explosion. I was giving her a round of applause for some fine “Dada”-ing when I noticed she was putting her hands together and staring at them. I slowed my clapping and said “Clap hands!” and Maddi broke out in a huge smile. Then she flailed her arms in a spastic frenzy that looked a lot more like a drunken cowboy dramatically brushing the dust from his hands after winning a fistfight. I’m not sure that anyone else believes she’s clapping her hands, but I believe it and she believes it and she’s replicated it a half-dozen times since, so it’s going in the baby book!

Coming soon: Pictures of Daddy’s little girl at 40 weeks (finally longer out that in!).

Standing tall

On Monday, Maddi finished her ninth month having cranked out several accomplishments over the past 31 days. She’s perfected her crawl and is moving ever closer to taking her first steps; she’s expanded her vocabulary (although she still doesn’t speak on command, or when there’s a big audience); and she’s begun to realize that not only are she and Mommy entirely different people, but they also have entirely different desires — and Maddi is testing out ways to exert her agenda rather than be influenced by those of others.

Of course, it hasn’t all been progress. Remember when, a full month ago, I said Maddi was on the verge of cutting one of her top incisors? Well, that still hasn’t happened. Chris and I are continually amazed at how far one little strip of gum tissue can stretch. We swear, though, that the tooth will erupt sometime this month.

On the mouth-related front, Maddi (as always) started several foods this month. Our little girl is now eating broccoli (which prompted her very first use of sign language when the frantic sign for “milk” was employed between spits and gags), as well as oats, chickpeas and — once again — rice. Which once again gave her a rash, though she continues to eat wheat with no consequence.

When she was a wee tender thing of seven months, we tried finger foods per her baby-food manual, to poor reviews. Our little daughter, once so eager to swipe food from our hands, had become accustomed to being spoon-fed by accommodating parents. However, now that she is bigger — and consequently, has a bigger mouth and a quicker swallow — she has grown impatient with these laggardly handservants. Maddi has finally discovered the mantra, “If you want it done correctly, do it yourself.” Thus, she has finally allowed us to supply her with such delicacies as Cheerios and diced banana tidbits, which she crams in her mouth while I am preparing her food. Of course, her love of toasted oat cereal facilitates longer outings, too, which is a good thing for everyone involved.

Maddi has gone from “sort of” crawling to closely resembling a greased pig racing through the house. Only this greased pig pulls up on things and cruises, and has managed to open drawers and remove their contents, pull up on her laundry basket and fling things hither and yon, and stand casually rummaging through the basket on top of the bin at the foot of her crib and smacking the buttons on her little CD player so she can listen to “25 Classical Favorites” all the livelong day. Maddi no longer needs both hands to stand against furniture, so now everything must not only be off the floor, but about 5 feet off the floor or her roving fingers will discover and destroy. She has also figured out that there are many fun things downstairs and the baby gate is the one obstacle in the way of pulling the kitties’ fur and playing with Daddy’s many shiny remotes. Thus, she races down the hallway, pulls herself up on the baby gate at warp speed, and proceeds to fiddle with the part where she knows it opens. Luckily, Chris bought a baby gate that is capable of containing Houdini himself, so I give her at least another six months before she can unlatch her prison bars.

Not only does she pull up on the crib, climb the glider and attempt to scale the gate; all Maddi needs to get herself upright is a wall. That’s right — our daughter is literally climbing the walls. She simply crawls over to the wall, places her hands against it, and pushes up on her legs until she is standing.

All this physical activity has not come without a toll. Maddi went seven months before she got her first bruise, but now it’s hard to keep track of them. She has one big mystery bruise on her forehead that could have come from any one of a number of head-butting incidents (she doesn’t discriminate between people and baby gates — whatever’s in the way must go!), a smaller mystery bruise which I suspect came from one of her favorite toys, and two bruises on her leg from where I grabbed her just as she was about to exit our bed headfirst after I foolishly turned aside to reach for my nursing pillow. Luckily for Maddi, these bruises bother us much more than they do her. She has recently invented a new game in which she deliberately bashes her head into someone else’s and laughs uproariously. If you want to initiate it, simply say “Bump heads!” and Maddi will delightedly comply. (More often than not, though, she will “surprise” you with this most exciting diversion when you least expect it. The babies in our playgroup are not appreciative.)

As Paleolithic as her favorite game may seem, her sense of play is not entirely without sophistication. On the seventh, Maddi was playing with one of her favorite “toys,” an empty bottle of ginger ale, when she suddenly removed it from her mouth and offered it to her teddy bear. When I asked her to, she also shared her drink with her toy kitten. However, her generosity stops at humans. When I ask for a drink, she simply looks at me as if to say, “Maybe I’d give you some if you were more generous with your food and drink.”

Maddi has very eloquent facial expressions to be sure, but she’s working on a vocabulary to match. I know that she understands a lot of what we say because she follows all sorts of commands now. “Come here,” “Go get your ball,” and various forms of “No” in combination with the names of the object she’s being told not to touch, pull or climb on are all met with quick compliance (well, 80 percent of the time). Invitations to play, like “Bump heads” or “Where’s Maddi?” are eagerly accepted without so much as a slight physical cue. The mere suggestion of Daddy, Cheerios or a ride in the backpack are enough to drive Maddi into paroxysms of flapping glee. And if she thinks she’s going into her bedroom for a nap, the verbal reassurance that it’s just a diaper change swiftly quiets the inevitable earsplitting tantrum.

Words she has said include — in chronological order — “cat,” “mama,” “dad” and “mo” (“more”). Words she may be saying include “hi” (a suspected, but never verified, part of her vocabulary for months now) and “no” (pronounced “Nee-nee-nee” when we disagree over whether it is time for her diaper to be put on, or time to crawl) and “kitty,” which — if it actually is being said — is only said in reference to cats. Of course, it sounds like “giggy” or “gikky,” so it is still up for debate. Things she probably hasn’t said, but which sounded awfully convincing, are “Again” (uttered so “clearly” during a tickle that both Chris and I thought that’s what she said) and “I love you,” which she pronounces “Ah-lah-loo” and doesn’t even look at me while uttering, but which I choose to assume is her profession of adoration for her dear mama.

And if you choose to believe Maddi’s lunatic mother, she has already possibly uttered her first sentence — cat related, of course, in true Maddi form. It doesn’t sound much like “Hi, kittycat” … until you notice that she only says it when she has just noticed a cat.

Unfortunately, thanks to the child-minding service at the gym, she has enjoyed another (not so exciting) first. I picked her up one day last week and was cheerfully informed, “She was such a great baby. She just sat there the whole time watching ‘Teletubbies’ and smiling.” Yes, despite my best efforts, Maddi has been introduced to television — and horrid children’s programming at that! Given her fixation with the remote, I should have known it would be but a matter of time. Be that as it may, there will still be no Teletubbies in our house — nor any other cheerful animated or costumed characters dancing across the screen as the wee one vegetates happily.

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, pictures of our cruising, talking, tantrum-throwing, Cheerio-snarfing nine-month-old TV junkie:

Maddi laughs in the face of our attempts to keep things out of her reach by stacking them atop bins.

Toys aren’t toys — they’re things to climb on so you can reach the really good stuff.

Now this is what I call a toy!

The fast and the furious

For months and months, our little girl was the same baby. She had the same skills, the same habits and the same mannerisms. She didn’t really develop a lot of new tricks over several months’ time, and I guess we assumed that she would stay that way forever. Over the past few weeks, however, Maddi has gone from being a calm, quiet baby who sat around playing and went down for occasional naps to a mercurial, jabbering baby who crawls and climbs and screams bloody murder as soon as she sees me going for the light switch.

In the past week or so, Maddi has decided that, since she can crawl and climb, it is she — not we — who should be deciding what she does and when she does it. If, say, I arrive at the top of the stairs around dinnertime and head right (toward her room) rather than left (into the kitchen), she immediately swings her body around and begins desperately trying to escape my arms and crawl there herself. When she realizes that I am still holding her and walking, she gently prods, “What is going on here? Are you trying to starve me to DEATH? I distinctly told you I would like to be given Cheerios and a spoon to bang on my tray with.” Of course, her verbal skills being what they are, this is all uttered in a most ear-piercing shriek. Similar conversations are had at nap time (especially nap time), when she wants to feed herself, and when she would prefer floor play over diaper changing (or when she is happily submitting to a diaper change, but only on the condition that she be allowed to suck on her nasal aspirator, and the diaper changer is unaware of this unspoken compact).

One of the most evident ways in which our wee one has grown recently is her mobility. She not only crawls; she races through the hallway like an excited puppy, panting and grinning. An avid explorer, she fancies herself a cross between Sir Edmund Hillary and Elvis Presley during his later years; she climbs — and devours — everything in her path and goes out of her way for those particularly juicy challenges. Her Everest is the glider in her bedroom. For one thing, it glides, so she can never get a good hold on it. For another, I pull her away from it before she can hurt herself. Naturally, this only means she wants it more. Ditto for the sides of the bathtub and empty laundry baskets. On one hand, it is the most wonderful thing to watch her race down the hallway as fast as her chubby thighs can pump. On the other, she is extremely fast and, 90 percent of the time, she has managed to suss out the one thing in the room that is most likely to harm her and is heading right after it at full throttle.

Unfortunately, Maddi has not yet been appraised of the laws of physics and is always shocked beyond words when she falls on her bottom. Worse yet, she tries to head-butt her way through crib bars, heating grates and playgroup pals, having no idea that two objects of matter cannot simultaneously occupy the same space.

Her exploring is not limited to land. Maddi has been going to “swimming classes” for the past several weeks — basically just playgroup in the water, submersions optional. While Chris and I aren’t ready to dunk the baby just yet, our fearless adventuress has no problem trying to dive headlong into the water while we are sitting poolside waiting for the instructor to show up. Today, it was all I could do to keep Maddi from leaping off the edge into the warm pool before her turn. And during tonight’s bath, while I tried to stop her, a slippery and determined Maddi stuck her face directly in the bathwater. The only reason she cried at all was because mean Mommy held her in the recovery position while checking to see if the smiling baby was still breathing (hey, it could happen!).

As for eating things, one night last week I had just finished vacuuming the floor when Chris asked what Maddi had just put in her mouth. Lo and behold, the only piece of cat fur anywhere in the house had made its way into our daughter’s voracious maw a mere five seconds after she hit the floor. She also enjoys chasing down lint, stale cheerios that fall out from the folds of her legs 10 minutes after a high chair session, and any other microscopic minutiae the vacuum cleaner fails to pick up.

With all this scooting around the house, standing up on furniture and her latest trick — pulling up on her playyard and cruising along it while trying to lure passers-by into picking her up — you would think Maddi would be way too busy to polish those verbal skills. But as is her wont, Maddi is doing things in clusters.

Long gone are the days when our little girl uttered nary a babble or a jabber, choosing instead to occasionally blurt out the word “cat” to her favorite members of our household. Now, Maddi can be heard over the monitor at naptime yelling “Mom! Mom! Muh-muh!” And the other evening, as I was putting her down for her nap and she was crying “Muh-muh” to me as I patted her, she realized that I wasn’t going to pick her up and stall naptime with fun and exciting diversions. But she knew someone who she could count on to do just that. In the midst of her tearful “Mama”ing, I swear our little daughter looked accusingly into my eyes and wailed “Dad!”

She also has begun occasionally saying “Mo!” when I’m not shoveling food into her mouth quickly enough for her tastes. I taught her the ASL sign for “more” long ago and expected that would come first, but Maddi’s one and only instance of signing occurred when I was feeding her broccoli for the first time and, between gaggy, spitty mouthfuls, she signed “Milk.” Since then, I have diluted her broccoli with cereal and she hasn’t signed since. But she consistently says “mo” in the high chair. Things she may or may not have also said recently include “ball,” another instance of “Daddy,” some “No-no-no”ing on the diaper change, and a very suspect hearing of “again” while being tickled in her crib (did I mention that thing about stalling bedtime with exciting diversions?).

Now this next one you aren’t going to believe. Not even Chris believes it, even though he should have been able to hear it from the next room but is apparently as deaf as a stone (or maybe I’m as crazy as a loon). I swear on a stack of baby books that our little daughter has said — on multiple occasions — “Hi, kittycat.” Now I’ll grant you that it comes out sounding more like “Hey, giggykaa.” But, as everyone who has listened to an excited toddler tell a story can attest, just because the child needs a translator doesn’t mean she isn’t verbal. Maddi has flapped hello and said “Hi, giggykaa” to her newest stuffed animal about four or five times and a couple of times to her living, breathing co-rulers of the house. She has not, as yet, said “Hi” to anyone else (except possibly Nana), let alone “Hi, giggykaa.” Disbelieve if you will — it’s hard to catch her talking since she’s quieter when lots of people are around, and goodness knows it’s not very clear — but I’m convinced that she’s begun greeting her feline companions.

Needless to say it has been a busy week for all of us, not least Maddi. Crawling, climbing, feeding oneself, asserting one’s autonomy, and practicing talking can wear a baby out. Especially a baby who would rather crawl and head-butt her crib than nap. (Did I mention the day she woke at 6:30 a.m. and didn’t nap until after 5 p.m.? That was interesting.) Maddi is sleeping a good heavy sleep right now, as her next two milestones (maybe?) continue pushing their brutal way through her tender little gums. She’ll be up bright and early tomorrow, ready for another day of racing down hallways, conquering furniture and jabbering at the kitties.

Who knows what will be next?

And here’s a shot of our 39-week-old, the taking of which was no easy feat because of her cheetahlike alacrity: