Sunday, February 16, 2014

18 months!

"Use your words!" I found myself saying. She certainly has enough of them. But sometimes screaming is still her preferred method of communication. Anyone who has ever been trapped in a small space with a shrieking infant can appreciate how stressful it is. Sometimes it's all you can do to keep from driving into oncoming traffic. We were on the way to Michelle's 18 month checkup/needles and she screamed for most of the drive. She was cranky and tired but wouldn't sleep. She cried for her soother, which she had spit out but was still attached to her. She screamed for her milk, which I tried to hand her (reaching from the front seat while trying to drive on the highway I might add) but she kicked away. There are days when she is simply impossible. She can't stand being confined -- so if she is awake and in her carseat or the stroller, she is screaming. It's brutal. I can barely go shopping anymore. It was easier when she was smaller and I could wait until she fell asleep in the car then gently lift the seat out and click it into the stroller so she'd stay asleep (most of the time at least) while I shopped in peace. Now she is in the stage 2 seat which can't be removed so if she falls asleep in the car I have to lift her out to sit her up in the stroller. A couple of times I got lucky and she went right back to sleep so I could shop in silence. (What a treat! It was like winning the lottery!) Unfortunately, especially on the sort of freezing -30 degree days we've been having, she usually wakes up the instant I lift her outside. So she screams and I either don't get to shop at all or I have to race through the store, stressed and embarrassed.

By the time we got to the doctor's office, I was pretty frazzled. "She screamed the whole way here" I told the receptionist. "That must have been stressful," she said, sympathetically. Sometimes it feels good to be acknowledged. "A little," I nodded. One time in a store as I was struggling to hold Michelle while checking out, the clerk kind of tilted her head and looked at me knowingly. "It gets easier," she offered. I'm not sure anymore. In some ways it has gotten easier but in other ways, it's harder than ever. It's like Michelle is going through the terrible twos and she's only 18 months. Though I guess mentally she is more like a 2 or 3 year old. She wants her way NOW! And if she doesn't get it, there is Hell to pay.

At 18 months there is apparently a checklist of milestones that need to be met (even according to the government.) The doctor went through the list with me and Michelle breezed right through all of them. She was far beyond where she needs to be developmentally. For example --
"Can she say at least 5 words?" the doctor asked.
I chuckled. "She can speak in 5 word sentences. Her vocabulary is over 1000 words now."
"Wow." She might have thought I was exaggerating until she saw Michelle walking around her office, pointing to things and naming them, asking to draw with the doctor's pen.
The problem, I told the doctor, is that Michelle is demanding and difficult. I can't get her to sleep. Can't get her to do anything really if she doesn't want to. The doctor explained (as I had already surmised) that it's just the trade-off of having a gifted child. Exceptionally bright and highly sensitive but overwhelming. Their minds are so active, they need constant stimulation, they're easily frustrated. The more clever, the more complicated they are. "Would you rather have had a simple child?" my Mom asked. "No," I said, "I guess not." Though admittedly sometimes I do glance with envy at the children who don't say much, who sit there still as dolls, good as gold. It would be easier. Of course with parents like she had (yes her father was clever, complicated, moody and demanding too. And I'm no picnic either.) I guess Michelle was destined to be trouble. When she's not being a monster she is a joy to be around though. She certainly is unpredictable. After screaming all the way to her appointment I was expecting some real shrieking once she got her immunization. Shockingly she didn't shed a tear. Luckily the doctor was kind enough to give Michelle her pen and some paper to draw with so she was so distracted she barely noticed the needle. What a relief!

Life has been so hectic I realized mid-January that I hadn't taken any photos in a while. I decided to set up a little "photo shoot" with Michelle. So I dressed her up in some pretty frilly clothes and snapped away. It didn't last long (she bolted after a while and would barely stay still so most of the pictures were a blur) but I did manage to get a couple of keepers.

I even got a couple of videos of Michelle at 17 months singing some of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (she sings all of it but not on camera apparently) and naming members of the family (again, she can name all of us, even all of her uncles and cousins but she would only say a few of us on video).

Here are the videos from Youtube:

My mother was concerned that Michelle still only had four teeth. "Ask the doctor if something's wrong. Why isn't she getting more teeth?!" I was pretty sure it was fine. Some babies get teeth at 7 months (Ouch! The very thought gives me shivers. Breastfeeding was tough enough as it was!) and others don't get them until they're 18 months. Sure enough the doctor said it's perfectly normal. "Besides," the doctor added after a brief glance in Michelle's mouth, "it looks like more will be coming in soon." When I looked back at home I realized there are little white buds in the gums about to break through. Great. She'll be even moodier.

Michelle still doesn't have a lot of hair. During her "photo shoot" I made my first attempt to put her tiny bit of hair into pigtails. I loved it. Michelle wasn't impressed though. She was taking the barrettes out within seconds.

The last few months have been a challenge to say the least. I've never been a fan of Winter but this one has been particularly brutal, weather-wise. Ice storms. Heavy snow. Bitter cold. I've always hated shoveling the snow but I never had this many snow days before and it's even worse with Michelle because I can't leave her alone while I do it. I have to wait until she's asleep before I can head out. Sometimes that's not until midnight or 1 a.m. So there I am at 2 in the morning shoveling the bloody driveway. To add insult to injury I will have shoveled the whole thing only to have the snowplow go by and leave a massive iceberg at the foot of the driveway (even though I went to the trouble to even shovel THE ROAD in front of my house precisely so that I wouldn't have a big pile pushed in front of my driveway). Then I have to leave Michelle in the car with it running while I scramble to chisel the iceberg so that I can back out and begin my 15 hour work day (with the commute to my Mom's first). Some days I'm so spent I just cry out of sheer exhaustion and frustration. Sometimes I take it personally. Of course it's not just me. Everyone has had a rough go this winter. Some people were without power during the ice storm. And they've been getting snow around the world, even places that NEVER have snow and are not prepared at all for it. This is Canada after all so I guess I need to suck it up (or move to Hawaii, once I win the lottery!)

Finally I decided to surrender to Winter. If you can't beat it, join it. I thought Michelle should be able to get out and play in the snow at least once. She kept asking to go play in the backyard("Backyard ball?" she would ask and I explained that she can't play with the ball until the Spring comes and there is grass to run around on. She saw a beach on TV and asked to go to the beach. "Not until the Summer. It's cold out now. See the snow on the ground?") I thought I should take her out to experience the Winter a little but there were so many sub-zero days where you can get frostbite in seconds. I waited for a day that wasn't too harsh and that was nice and sunny at least and ventured out with Michelle bundled in a hand-me-down snowsuit. The snow was mixed with ice so it was hard to walk in. I had to clear a path so Michelle could even move. In the snowsuit her mobility wasn't good anyway. She got frustrated a couple of times when she fell over. I couldn't help but laugh. She made a snow angel. I had wanted to make a snowman but it wasn't packing snow, it just fell apart in your hands so instead I just chipped off a hard circle and made a tiny snowman. It wasn't long before Michelle was asking to go inside. At least now she understood why we don't go out in the winter. The one time I tried to take her for a walk in the stroller was a nightmare too. I had thought the sidewalks were clear but we kept coming across snowy patches and the stroller would get stuck and it was sheer hell. "We'll go out and play in the Spring" I told her. I'm counting the days to Spring myself.

Michelle has always loved books and loved having me read to her. Lately she's been trying to read herself. She loves the book and the movie "Cinderella." I watched her sit with her book, going page by page, babbling away and interspersing her made-up language with words that she knows: "Blah blah blah glass slipper" "blah blah dance with Prince." One day though, she absolutely astounded me by saying the beginning of the story almost entirely: "Once upon a time in a faraway land lived a rich gentleman and his beautiful daughter Cinderella." My jaw dropped open. Did that just happen?! I guess she'd seen the movie enough and heard me read it enough that she had almost memorized it. I managed to get her on video saying it. Here's the video on Youtube:

She picks up everything now, like a sponge. I have to be REALLY careful what I say. Some of Michelle's new expressions are "What the heck?" (I guess it's better than What the hell?) "Stupid Grandma!" (I don't know where she could have picked that up...Ok it may have slipped out sometime when I was frustrated in the store looking for my Mom and wanting to leave because Michelle was screaming.) I told her that's not nice and it's better to say "Silly Grandma!" She says "Oh God" sometimes. She tells me to "Calm down" and "Don't worry." She yells "Hurry up, Mama!" when I take too long. She can say all the colours. Even turquoise. She even corrected my Mom one day when Mom pointed to a colour and called it blue. Michelle said "No. Turquoise." She knows the days of the week (though she often skips ahead to Friday.) All her shapes. She even calls herself "Clever girl!" because she's so used to hearing me say it. One day she said "Good morning Princess!" to me and I realized it was because of Donkey saying it on Shrek. (Incidentally Shrek is her favourite movie. Even more than Cinderella. I don't know why she loves it so much. Maybe because her father was a monster and subconsciously she's drawn to that. I'm sort of kidding.) I even wound up getting Shrek 2 to break the monotony and thankfully she likes that one too. So now it's "Mama, watch Shrek?" or "Watch New Shrek." Some people say that kids shouldn't watch TV but to me it's educational. She's learned a lot from Sesame Street, Bubble Guppies, Dora and the Wiggles. I'm happy now that she likes actual movies so I can enjoy them too. A lot of the animated movies I had before I even knew I'd ever have children. I always loved them myself.

My Mom says Michelle is a mini-me, albeit a much smarter version of me because the things I was doing at 2 years old, Michelle already does. She loves drawing. I got her her own desk so she could draw, colour and read. Of course at this point her work is abstract but I swear it's as though she has a sense of composition and colour already. It doesn't seem like just random scribbles. She asks for particular colours and uses them in a certain way. Sometimes with very precise and small lines and other times with broad, sweeping strokes. It's like watching a real artist at work. Watch out Kandinsky and Pollock! Sometimes while she's working she'll be talking about the colours and describing things -- "Bird flying." I'm tempted to give her a canvas and paints and let her loose but I'm afraid it might be a disaster. At this point she's happy with washable markers. Here are a few of her masterpieces:

Yes I'm probably a little biased (and crazy!) but as an artist myself I can tell you Michelle does abstracts better than I do. Abstraction is actually more difficult than it looks. Some people might look at a Kandinsky or a Pollock and say "Well, that's just scribbling, anyone can do that." But it isn't so easy. Someone who tries to imitate it may wind up with something that seems forced and unpleasing. Abstract art is an expression of emotion, of life, colour and form. It is liberating because it is not representational -- it is not limited to just being a picture of this or that. It taps into the formless in the universe, the region of dreams and imagination. When I try to do abstract I'm usually over-thinking it so that it's somewhat contrived. Children are so free that they are able to express themselves without overanalyzing. To just let the picture flow through them. The result is something beautiful and organic. (OK I'm probably romanticizing it but I don't care. I'm a proud Mama! Besides, she certainly has the temperament of an artist so she might as well be one!)

So, that's what we've been up to for the past couple of months. I know that I said I probably wouldn't continue this "baby blog" since by definition she's a toddler now and not a baby but I think I do want to continue it at least until she's 2 or 3 years old. I like keeping track of what she's up to. I write new words and phrases she says and new things she does in a journal as well but I find this blog is a nice way to record her story, in words, pictures and videos. Speaking of not being a baby anymore, Michelle is now without her soother. I never thought the day would come but it did, somewhat accidentally. She kept misplacing her soothers (there were 8 of them) until I couldn't find a single one other than the brand new 18-36 month ones I managed to find. She tried the new one and hated it. "Don't like it" she said. The rubber part was larger than her old 6-18 month ones. I guess they are designed to not interfere with the child's teeth (it says orthodontist approved or something on the package.) I expected a big fight over it but when I explained to her that all the soothers were lost (her own fault) except the new one she didn't like, she accepted it. She always used to sleep with the soother and had it quite often through the day. I'm kind of relieved to be done with it. It's strange though. Just like giving up the bottle and moving to the cup, it's a reminder that she's growing up. It's happening so fast.

One day while I was in line in Walmart a friendly elderly couple asked "What aisle do you get those in?" (referring to Michelle.) "Oh she's one of a kind," I said and then joked, "Do you want her? She's a lot of work!" They told me that as difficult as she may be I will look back at this time and think how wonderful it was. I will miss her being a toddler. I know they're right. Already I get teary when I see a newborn and think, my God I miss her being that small (even though at the time it was sheer hell to live through.) "I know," I told them, "I wouldn't trade her for the world. Not even on her worst day."

It's not easy. Some days it's so hard I don't know how I'll make it. I've learned to tune out well-meaning "backseat parents" who try to tell me what I SHOULD be doing. The truth is no one can judge. Even anyone that has had a child before, they didn't have THIS child. Michelle is like no one else. What may have worked for their child may not for mine. I'm the first to admit I'm not perfect. I'm human. I make mistakes. I don't always go "by the book." Michelle and I are still co-sleeping which means I don't get a lot of sleep. I don't care. I have to do what I feel is right for her. No one has the right to judge or tell me what I'm doing wrong. Considering I have a child that is gifted, I must be doing something right at least.

And at the end of the day, I love who she is. Yeah, she can be a challenge but she is also the sweetest little girl I've ever met. She's loving and affectionate. She says "Kiss me" now and "I love you" (just in time for Valentine's Day!) When she smiles she makes my heart melt. When she laughs it is the most beautiful sound on Earth. She is my princess. Imaginative, bright, artistic, funny. She is my miracle. And every day she astounds me with something new. Yes there are days I'm tearing my hair out because she's driving me crazy and I never get a break. (People at work were talking about their vacations -- tropical destinations, cruises -- and I said coming to work is the closest I get to a vacation! That's the only time I'm away from Michelle.) But most days she is so amazing she makes me incredibly proud and happy. I couldn't be more grateful to have this little girl in my life.