*Mini is wearing a Sal E Pimenta swimsuit (they run small FYI) above and is playing with her beloved ice cream sand play set, which has been the object of affection of many other children in Central Park.
It’s been awhile since I did a proper milestone post on mini. She is now 18 months (sob/high-five) and, though I’ve said this about every phase of her life, I really love this stage. I hope other moms can relate when I say that every new phase is slightly terrifying at the start — terrifying in a way that can leave me wondering: “Oh my God, how am I ever going to get anything done anymore?” I felt that way when mini started staying awake longer and longer when she was maybe three or four months old. “Oh my God, I was so used to the old routine of eat-play-sleep that I’m completely out of sorts! When will I take my shower now!? When will I have a minute to just be on my own?” And then, when she started to crawl: “Holy. Crap. How. Do. Moms. Do. Anything.” And then, when she started to walk: “Oh good Lord — we live in a death trap.” But gradually the learning curve levels out and you figure out how to shape your life around your daughter’s newfound skills, and life goes on until the next big thing arrives and throws every semblance of routine and calm out the window.
But right now, at just over eighteen months, we are in a delightful groove.
Mini is sturdy on her feet and increasingly resilient when she does tumble. She has learned to play happily by herself. She enjoys sitting and turning the pages of her books. She loves to color. She spends long stretches of any given day setting up her tea set at the table, arranging the plates and spoons as she likes them, seating her dollbabies next to her. Many of these activities require far less supervision than they used to: she no longer eats the crayons, or rips the pages of her books (well, not often), or looks at me helplessly when she can’t retrieve her stacking toy from the toy bin. She is clever and determined and I’ve often observed her discover that something won’t work one way, and so she tries another tack, all on her own — like the other afternoon, when she was trying to spear a chunk of pear with her fork and it kept sliding out of her way. After the third or fourth attempt, she paused, turned the chunk of pear to the broadside, and speared it effortlessly. I was so proud of her for her silent dedication, for her ingenuity.
I love this age, too, because she has begun to communicate with us verbally. She tries to name everything: birds (which she pronounces “beeyyyyurds” kind of like she’s Australian?!), dogs, berries, cheese, eyes, nose, feet, dada, mama, book, baby, Moana, Gigi and Mimi (her grandmothers’ names). She babbles all day long and most of the time I have no idea what she’s saying. I love the wide-eyed, earnest look she gives me as she prattles along as though I should understand her — “mom, get with the program, don’t you see what I’m saying?!”. She understands everything we say, too; I’m constantly surprised by her ability to follow multi-step commands, like: “Can you get the crayons and bring them over here?” And she walks over to the bin, pulls out the pencil box filled with crayons, and brings them back to me. Or “Have you seen baby Lulu?” And she’ll wander around looking for Lulu — even once crouching to look underneath a bookshelf! — until she finds her and brings her to me.
And, did I mention that she’s exceptionally affectionate right now? She’ll run over and throw her arms around my knees when she’s been out of the house for only a few minutes. She’ll kiss me on the mouth in the morning. She’ll say my name in a happy sing-song voice — “Mama!” — when she sees me emerge from the bedroom. She’ll rest her head against my shoulder when I carry her. She’ll blow me kisses goodbye. These are the tendernesses that make motherhood.
So — yes, we are in a love valley where things feel decidedly easier than they did just a couple weeks ago.
Of course, there is always a tradeoff. Whereas I feel that she has become more self-sufficient and a little less physically demanding at this age (at least at home — outside the house, she is exhausting to keep up with), she is now keen on testing our limits at every turn. At Church last Sunday, as we walked up and down the vestibule, she noticed an open door and stepped cautiously outside and then looked back at me for a reaction. I did not respond. And so she stepped further, and further, until she was nearing the set of stairs that descended to street level. I walked alongside her and pointed to the gold sill at the base of the doorway. “Do not cross this line,” I said. “You can walk up to it, but do not cross it, or you will fall down the stairs.”
You can guess what she did next. She crossed the sill immediately and looked at me daringly.
It’s really really really hard not to laugh in these moments. Let me revise that: it’s really really really hard not to laugh or cry in these moments, because her audaciousness is either hilarious or maddening, depending on how many times I’ve set the boundary in a given day. I gave her a stern look and took her hand to help her back onto the right side of the sill, and then we engaged in a battle of the wills for a few minutes until I distracted her with a visit to the shrine of Saint Mary.
My parents have passed along only one bit of unsolicited parenting advice, and it is this: “Say yes as often as you can, so that when you say no, they know you mean it.”
This is the age where I understand why this approach is important — and how difficult it is to pull off. Mr. Magpie have tried to keep rules to a minimum, and to be consistent about enforcing them. But it is hard, guys! It is really hard. It requires patience and attentiveness and it can be so much easier to say “No, don’t do that” or to remove her from a situation wordlessly or to tumble into frustration. One example: mini loves to smear her food all over her tray and throw it onto the ground. It drives me bananas. It’s a waste of food and it makes a complete mess, and more times than I care to admit, when I’m on my hands and knees picking up the mess, she will toss something else onto my head and I’ll just think, “My God, what am I doing?” I had a long internal debate over how to react to this. Do I tell her “no” and discipline her? Do I ignore it and hope she stops?
In the end, I did a kind of combination of all things, but I never said “no”; I’m saving my “nos” for bigger fish. Instead, I try to keep tabs on where she is in her meal. The food-throwing usually takes place once she’s bored or finished — so when I see her slowing down, I intervene early: “All done?” Or I remove most of the remaining food except for a few bites. If she eats those bites, I’ll continue to dole out additional food in small increments until she’s done. If she does manage to swipe her food everywhere before I’ve noticed these cues, I say the same thing every time in a shrugging voice that (hopefully) masks the frustration boiling internally: “Oh, no. That’s too bad. Dinner’s over, I guess.” And I clear all her food, even if she’s not had much of it.
I do this because we are trying to save our nos for things we truly care about: hitting, biting, turning the electronics in our house on and off, and pulling on electric cords. Those are things we will not tolerate, and she knows it, though she will test us from time to time.
So yes, this is where we are: in a good groove, and yet constantly tested. Who else is navigating this territory?
+Our favorite gear right now.
+We’ve decided to bring mini’s activity center out of retirement, as it converts into a toddler table (#genius — this toy truly grows with the child!), and I know mini will far prefer coloring on it. I’m going to buy one of these to organize some crayons and stickers in so she can color to her heart’s content. I’ll keep the rest of her arts and crafts stuff in here.
+We’re still working to move away from the bottle to a sippy cup for milk. We’ve successfully separated milk from bedtime (woohoo!), but this is the last challenge. One day, she took her milk out of one of these Nuk sippy cups no problem but the next day, she was adamantly against it. I did buy these for when she’s ready.
+I noticed that mini enjoys removing all the duplos from the bin and then, one by one, placing them back inside. The same for crayons. She’s dialed in on the organization element of it. Everything goes out, then goes back in. (I wish the same were true for her toys more generally, but alas, they consume our apartment.) My mom found this sorting/stacking toy and mini LOVES it. She hasn’t quite yet mastered the difference between colors, but she does enjoy taking them off the peg and putting them back on, moving them around, etc. Really good buy. I also thought about buying these inexpensive colored clothespins and a few little bins in different colors so she could sort them by color but I think that’s a little too advanced for now.
+I am taking a solo trip to DC with mini in two weeks, and I’m already getting organized for it. It won’t be a big deal — just a few hours by train — but I’m trying to plan out activities to keep her preoccupied. (Also, this will be clutch.) I bought her a new book, this Pooh coloring and stickers set (she will flip), and I’m dangerously close to buying this hideous set. Mini’s favorite activity is going through my purse, removing everything from each pocket, and taking all the credit cards out of my wallet. I think she’ll get a kick out of it. I also recently discovered these darling peg doll sets and think she would love the little set with the car — but am I nuts to bring something like that on a train??? Bound to get lost…