Skills and thrills

This week was a big one for Maddi, with a few firsts and the continuation of what I was beginning to worry were lost skills.

Her first milestone occurred at playgroup on Tuesday, when — out of the blue — she stood for a good 30 seconds just playing with a toy. You may recall that in late March, Maddi stood on her own, but unfortunately, she didn’t make a habit of it and indeed, when prodded to stand or walk, would instantaneously lose all muscle tone in her lower body and behave very much like a sack of lead. I was beginning to think that, out of spite for those of us who wish her to perform like a trained monkey, Maddi would live out the rest of her life being conveyed about on my hip. But apparently, after watching several of her friends standing and walking, our wee one finally decided that bipedal mobility was no longer beneath her.

She stands for longer and longer stretches of time, often seemingly unaware of it as she fiddles with toys (and sometimes keenly aware of it as she drops those toys over the play yard onto the unsuspecting cat). Twice she has tried to walk, albeit unsuccessfully. More often, she opts for the old crawl-and-climb, since Maddi is a baby who knows enough to stick with what works well.

As a crawler and climber, Maddi is fearless. Take your eyes off her for two seconds (literally! Two seconds!) and she is clambering onto the hearth — or, as she did at the same playgroup session — up a few stairs, even though she hasn’t been allowed to practice on them at home. She has even been observed inserting a few toes into the diamond-shaped holes in her play yard and attempting to use the tenuous foothold to boost herself over the fence to sweet, glorious freedom. Because a 63-square-foot playyard is not playyard enough for this little girl.

Despite her, er, lively nature, the wee one nearly managed to escape her first year as a rough-and-tumble adventuress with nary a scrape (although plenty a bruise). Alas, a mere week and a half before her first birthday, our intrepid explorer has sustained her first fall.

Groggy from having just woken up and showered, I foolishly put her on the bed for just a second while I pulled a fresh bra from the drawer. Now, according to the literature, babies of this age are cautious after having experienced heights and will not go careening headfirst onto the floor. Unfortunately, Maddi a) is impetuous to say the VERY least and b) has always been watched too closely to have ever experienced a fall that wasn’t directly related to sitting or standing.

No sooner did I open the drawer than I heard an ominous rustling of sheets against hands and knees, quickly followed by a loud “thud.” I whirled around to behold my daughter doing a headstand on the floor and managed to catch a surprised Maddi before her body flopped onto the floor.

While my wee girl was screaming her little heart out (and while I was feeling like the worst mom this side of Britney Spears), I happened to notice another “first” — Maddi’s first chewing tooth. On her lower left jaw, there is what looked like half a bicuspid poking out from some very inflamed gum tissue. Sure enough, it was a tooth — and her upper right canine is thisclose to breaking through, too.

So now I know the reason for Maddi’s bad temper of late. Not that the Tylenol we’re giving her is helping much, but at least there’s a reason that she screams for 30 only seconds when she falls headfirst off a bed but lately fusses endlessly at naptime and bedtime.

As Maddi enters her very last week of babyhood, she’ll be easy to spot. She’s the baby who’s standing on two feet, sporting a big old premolar and a scraped-up countenance.

And here they are — the latest pictures of our 51-week-old girl!

No, she’s not allowed to do this!

Here we go again!

It’s official! After unofficially trying for another little one since my six-weeks-postpartum appointment, and after scheduling a doctor’s appointment for this coming month to see if I’m still ovulating, we have unequivocal evidence that my ovaries are indeed fully operational. That evidence came in the form of a positive pregnancy test after Chris determined my period was five days late.

I had noticed for a few days that I had to pee an awful lot, but I blamed it on the Cherry Vanilla Diet Cokes I’d been drinking. I’d also noticed that they tasted funny, but maybe we just got a stale batch, I reasoned.

Nope, the reason for the peeing and the funny tastes had nothing to do with Coke, stale or no, and everything to do with the wee embryo swimming, unbeknownst to me, in my uterus.

If only I’d thought to take the test 30 minutes later, it would have been a bona fide birthday present. I’m still considering it one, of course. And better still, the baby looks like it could be an anniversary present, as he or she is due on Jan. 1

Temper, temper

Chris and I enjoy most of Maddi’s developmental milestones. Yes, there are a few, such as sticking hands in poopy diapers and opening the central vacuum outlets, that we could do without. But by and large, we are delighted to see our little girl becoming older and more independent.

However, one of her newest phases definitely falls into the “we could do without” category. It used to be that Maddi would register disappointment with a wide-eyed look of wistful bewilderment and perhaps an outstretched arm as we passed by the forbidden object of desire. Lately, that disappointment has been registered far more often with an arched back and an insistent, high-pitched whining sound that is quickly followed by what is known as the “Shriek of Doom.”

After practicing all manner of screaming and shrieking noises over the past several months, Maddi has finally settled on a bloodcurdling, face-reddening, rage-filled shriek next to which all other incredibly loud and irksome noises pale. It is two parts insane Mynah bird and one part angry mountain lion, with a little extra intonation reminiscent of an exorcism thrown in for good measure.

Parents not coming to retrieve one from a nap quickly enough? Diaper change rather than playtime after aforementioned nap? Forbidden from sampling Mom’s soft drink? Barred from climbing up the tub walls and gnawing on the faucet? Time to employ the Shriek of Doom. Even when it gets absolutely no parental response, this horrendous noise is apparently so enjoyable to the shrieker that it takes a good minute of thrashing on the floor and screaming before one even realizes that nobody’s paying any attention to the earsplitting cacophony.

In other news, I’m thinking of renting Maddi out as a babyproofing-efficacy tester. You see, every time we go to playgroup, she finds something to get into even at the most heavily babyproofed homes. Whether it’s finding tiny knicknacks on the third shelf or pulling heating vents from the floor or attempting to gobble up cat food, Maddi seems to get into all the tempting things that the other babies inexplicably leave alone (at least until she teaches them her tricks). Even at our house, where every outlet is plugged, furniture is tethered and wires are hidden behind things, she still manages to hunt down the odd electrical cord, open the central-vac outlets and splash in the water cooler.

Some of her mischief is beyond the scope of even the most imaginative prediction. Yesterday, while I was on the computer, Maddi, two feet away from me in her huge play yard, began laughing uproariously. I turned around to behold our dear daughter tickling the cat’s footpads as the helpless cat squirmed, stuck to the other side of the play yard. Poor Deva, tempted by a toy with which Maddi had taunted her (a break from her usual pursuit of dropping blocks over the play yard onto sleeping felines), had sunk a claw into the plush plaything and gotten her foot stuck — leaving her vulnerable for the affections of Maddi, whose latest hobby is tickling the feet of both humans and, apparently, animals. Let me just say that it was not exactly the idyllic scene we envisioned when Chris purchased that play yard.

On the language front, Maddi learned two new words this week and debuted them both in a 20-minute span. Last night, she said “bath” for the first (confirmable) time when I stripped her down and asked her if she was ready for her bath. Then, while in the bath, she said “duck” a few times in reference to her bath duckie and clapped when I asked her if she said “duck.” Of course it sounded more like “dud,” but she’ll perfect it eventually, just as she did with “cat.” Her new bath-related words bring us to a total of 28 words with a few weeks to go yet before her first birthday.

Coming soon: Pictures of our little air-raid siren at 50 weeks!

Goodbye kitty

Maddi lost one of her dearest friends this past weekend, although she doesn’t know it. Our beloved cat Selkie, who used to lie on the stairway landing with all her fat spread around her like a furry manatee, had rapidly become skin and bones and didn’t have the energy to roam the house as she used to. We were heartbroken to find out Saturday that she had irreversible liver failure — either from cancer or from not eating — and needed to be put down.

As we got in the car to go to the vet and say goodbye to our kitty, who hadn’t responded after two days of IV nutrition, Maddi clapped her hands in excitement, making the situation even sadder than we thought possible. How do you tell a baby that she is about to bid farewell to the best cat a baby could hope to have?

While her sister Deva either scurried from the room or put out a threatening claw when Maddi came near, Selkie was an eternal optimist. Each and every day, Maddi was given a new chance to learn to be gentle. For months, Selkie presented her fur to our rough-and-tumble little one, and for months she was rewarded with blows and fur-tugging. But Selkie soldiered on, purring as she endured what must have been torment at the hands of her little human sister. It’s as if our cat was waiting patiently for the inevitable day when Maddi would not smack her or yank her long hair, but would pet her sweetly. And in the last few weeks, Maddi finally did come around, just as Selkie knew she would. Maddi finally began stroking the cats’ fur gently and controlling her urge to shriek and flap her arms up and down. And then, as if her work was done, Selkie left us.

Maddi’s too young for the memories of her fur sister to linger — we’re not even sure she realizes there’s only one cat now. But Selkie left an indelible mark with her patience and sweet nature, and if it weren’t for her, I’m sure our little one would still be rough with animals.

In other news, Maddi learned three more words this week, for a total of 26. The first word was “yellow,” pronounced “yeddo” (she can also differentiate between objects that are red, yellow and blue, but hasn’t tried to say “red” or “blue” as far as I can tell). She also says “Cheerio,” which sounds more like “Cheew.” The third word is “boob,” uttered just yesterday, and we’re kind of hoping that she’ll go back down to having just 25 words again. Now that she talks so much, it’s time to either wean or start spelling more things out.

Coming soon: Pictures of our newly-gentle, 49-week-old animal lover on Bunny Day.

T minus one month

Yesterday marked the beginning of the final month of Maddi’s first year. Not only does that mean I have but a mere four weeks to plan a party, it also means that we have precious few days to enjoy with our baby before she becomes a toddler. (Hey, she may already be throwing tantrums, constantly saying “no,” and deliberately tormenting the cats to see their reactions, but technically she hasn’t begun toddling yet!)

This month, Maddi cut two more teeth, began eating four new foods, more than doubled her vocabulary, began routinely allowing us to help her “walk,” began climbing onto the sofa, and stood on her own for the very first time. She also celebrated a few less-delightful milestones, such as learning how to unzip zippers, remove pants and sleepers, dig around in her poopy diapers, and drop toys over the wall of her play yard onto sleeping cats. Once this month, I picked her up from the gym’s day care after 90 minutes and her caregiver pointed to a chaotic battlefield of dumped-out toy boxes and displaced furniture in the previously tidy room and told me wearily, “This was all Maddi.” And indeed, the only other child in the room was all of nine weeks old and completely incapable of laying waste to the daycare. A mere few months ago, Maddi just sat there, too, looking wide-eyed at a world full of things she couldn’t reach. Now that she can reach them, it’s everyone else who’s wide-eyed and helpless!

Now that she’s working on walking, I’m hoping it will temporarily slow her down. Currently, Maddi usually crawls about as quickly as an adult’s brisk walk, which — in case you’re not familiar with crawling speeds — is top speed for your more laid-back tot. At her top speed, employed when she is attempting to access wires, electronic equipment, the central vacuum outlet or a tempting hunk of cat hair, Maddi is nearly invisible, her extreme alacrity creating a vortex around her like that surrounding the Tasmanian Devil. In theory, Chris and I should be able to enjoy at least a week of slow toddling before Maddi figures out how to race around at lightning speed on two feet.

For now, however, she’s content to stand for a few seconds at a time. She can get down from a standing position with no support, which makes it all the easier for her to bend down from the edge of her play yard and grab new toys to drop on the cats. As with her couch-climbing skills (also new this month), the cats are predictably unenthusiastic about the fun and games.

This past week, I got to see what a normal baby is like — something I vaguely remembered from my long-distant babysitting days, but I had begun to doubt my recollections and suspect the mothers had tranquilized their children before handing them over to me. For the past 10 months, I’ve wondered what life is like for mothers of wee ones who take long naps and play with their toys. Last week, Maddi had the misfortune of getting her lateral incisors while she had some sort of yucky, snotty flu. Consequently, she took three naps a day (falling asleep within minutes of being put in the crib!) and actually sat down and played with her toys rather than trying to climb up this wall and that gate or stick limbs into the central vacuum outlet or pull things down on herself. I must tell you it was quite bizarre having all that time on my hands, and it would have been quite relaxing had I not been so worried about this shadow of my former baby. Happily, she spent this morning trying to use her ball as a stepping stone to escape the confines of her play yard and then spent much of the afternoon gnawing the paint off her crib rails and somehow wiggling free of half her overalls (yes, overalls!) rather than napping, so I’m glad to say Maddi is feeling like her old, energetic self once again. I can’t help hoping, though, that the next baby will just naturally be a little less energetic.

As much as keeping up with Maddi can wear a person out, one bonus of our active baby is that her energy spills over into the mental sphere. This month, she learned 12 new words — the latest three of which emerged just in the past few days. After months of enjoying a pull-string hippopotamus that speeds around her bathtub and being toweled off afterward with a hooded hippo towel, Maddi has begun saying “hippo” at bath time. At first it sounded as if she was saying “chuppah,” but now she’s got it down to a pretty recognizable pronunciation. I guess it was easier than “bath,” which remains on the suspected but unconfirmed list. We’ve also been working on stacking her little blocks, and our wee one now has been known to come up with such utterances as “blop” and “blob” while playing with her Peek-a-Blocks, and “shtad, shtad” while stacking them. While she hasn’t got the “ck” sound down just yet, I’m very proud to say that Maddi enunciates her Ls quite clearly. At 11 months, our loquacious little lady has a vocabulary of 23 definite words and a number of things we think she might be saying but aren’t sure about (such as “hungry, Dada,” which was used a few days ago in the proper context and fairly clearly, but only once). She also has kept up with her “sentences,” saying things such as “Hi, kittycat,” “Mama, mil(k),” and once, something that sounded an awful lot like “Down-down, see Dada,” said while standing at her bedroom door and banging on it after she heard Daddy downstairs.

In addition to her new words, Maddi finally has begun using the ASL sign for food rather than indiscriminately signing “milk” when she’s hungry. She still signs “milk” most of the time, but when asked if she wants food (accompanied by the appropriate sign) she will usually correct herself.

This month she got four new foods to enjoy — butternut squash, yogurt, blueberries and raspberries. She also was reintroduced uneventfully to green beans, which had previously been the prime suspect in a bad diaper rash. We discontinued most of these foods for the past 10 days when she got another diaper rash, but eventually it became apparent that it was a teething-related rash, probably from the copious drool since she had more redness under her chin. Sure enough, after the teeth poked through, the redness abated even as she dined happily on yogurt and raspberry cereal.

Alas, with her week of teething, our plans to eliminate the early-afternoon nap were foiled. But it is a new week, and with the wee one destroying her crib right now when she should be napping, it is time for a new attempt at scaling back nap times. If she’s tired enough before I put her down, the thinking is that there will be no energy left for her to remove pants or paint.

Standing tall

It’s only happened once and Maddi was even more surprised than I was, but I’m proud to announce that as of March 25, we have an independent stander. One minute, Maddi was pulling herself up on my knees as we sat on the floor, the next she had removed her hands and was standing all by herself, smiling at me. She stood for a good five seconds until my wild applause rattled her concentration and, with a wide-eyed mixture of delight and confusion on her face, our baby toppled over.

Since then she hasn’t done any unsupported standing that lasted more than a second, but she has tried taking steps from one item of furniture to another. Unfortunately, her endeavors have earned her nothing so far but a bruise on the forehead.

She still refuses for the most part to walk with an adult holding her hands, but she does, however, “dance” with me, which is just as good. Even better, really, when you consider the cuteness factor.

In other news, Maddi’s favorite thing to do lately is hide underneath her crib. Because there’s a dust ruffle, it’s like a little fort under there, and for the last several weeks, she’s spent a lot of time crawling underneath the bed and playing with the old Bumbo we keep there. The past week, she’s also been dragging her toys into the “fort” and has annexed the area behind the glider, which I suppose is the equivalent of an outpost. Occasionally, while we are playing on her floor, she will smile at me playfully and then race under the crib to be “captured.” Being a baby, of course, she still labors under the misapprehension that if she can’t see you, you can’t see her. So if you peek under the crib, chances are good that if Maddi sees you coming, she’ll crane her neck so that her face is as high and difficult to see as possible!

This week also marked the very last week of Maddi’s afternoon nap. After weeks of curtain-yanking, sheet-unzipping, pants-removing fun during what was supposed to be her naptime, we have thrown in the towel. Although she is crabby as can be when “naptime” rolls around, I’m now combining the afternoon and early-evening naps into a single 4 p.m. nap. We are still ironing out the kinks — yesterday, Maddi got NO naps — but soon we hope to have naptimes that involve actual sleep rather than the devastation of her sleeping quarters.

This week marks the first in months during which Maddi has learned not a single new word. However, she does have a new game. When asked, she can point to my nose, eyes, mouth and belly button, and she can show you her hands and feet. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to our wee one yet that she might also have eyes, nose, mouth and belly button — perhaps because she can’t see them. Her understanding of anatomy has made it much easier to dress her, because she understands commands such as “put your arms up” and “put your legs down.”

Diaper changes, however, remain a challenge as our wee one has decided that the ultimate good time would consist of removing a poopy diaper and flinging it merrily from her change table. So far, she has managed to move a dirty diaper a few inches, but I fear it is only a matter of time before our persistent princess prevails. Just last night, she managed to plunge a pacifier into her freshly diaper-creamed nethers. And we will not speak of the kicking, scratching and hitting that occur when her attempts to escape the tyranny of the diaper are foiled.

However, as I see it, Maddi’s new ability to stand can only help in her efforts to walk, and when that happens, we’ll be that much closer to the ultimate goal, which is potty training. Sweet, sweet potty training!

Coming soon: Pictures of our 47-week-old stander and non-napper, doing one or the other.