All posts by Abi

I Love You

Alex has been saying “I love you” (usually when prompted) for a week or two now. I reckon it’s about time – we’ve been saying it to him for almost 2 1/2 years (plus intrauterine time).

But today he said it in a new and special way.

He and I were walking to the bus, with a sharp wind blowing. I put his jean jacket on him. For some reason, he thought it should have a hood, and began to tug at the collar, saying “Hat, hat!” I told him there was no hat.

After a good half a minute of this, I spoke sharply to him. “Look, Alex, there is no hat on the jacket!” His face crumpled, as it often does when he suffers any form of reverse. He struggled to regain his composure for a few minutes, but was clearly devastated at the thought that I was irritated with him.

Finally he looked up at me with big eyes and a quivering lip and asked for a cuddle. I crouched down and he came into my arms. He clutched me tightly for a moment, burying his head in my shoulder, and said, “I love you, Mama.”

And everything was better.

Tell me a story

Walking home from nursery yesterday, Alex told me about his day.

He had been playing at crying (he likes the drama, the contorted expressions, and the mock-mournful voices we do when we discuss what it’s like to be sad.) Then he turned to me and said, “I cry. I cry more.”

“Yes, Alex, you cried.” I thought we were still discussing the present, though I wondered why he cried “more”.

“I cry thumb,” he said, holding out his forefinger. This was a new turn; we had not been discussing the reason he was pretending to cry, though I had asked him if he was “sad”.

“Did you have an ouchy thumb?”

“Goose kiss better.” (He calls all the nursery attendants Goose, because their aprons have Mother Goose on them. I’m trying to get him to learn their names and use them when he says bye-bye, but with only indifferent success.)

I conclude that he injured his finger at nursery that day, and that one of the nursery nurses kissed it better. Talking about crying must have triggered the memory, which he wanted to tell me about. I have often, while soothing him to sleep, talked about the day with him, and I guess the idea of telling over the events of a day has taken root.

The Conversationalist, Part II

We were walking home from nursery this evening when we were overtaken by an older child on a scooter. Alex watched him with evident admiration, then turned to me and said,

“‘Cooter. Po ‘cooter.”

I agreed that it was a scooter, and that Po had a scooter.

“Te’tubbies ‘cooter. Po ‘cooter.”

I agreed that there was a scooter on the Teletubbies, and that it was Po’s scooter.

Then the conversation took a turn I hadn’t expected. Talking of Teletubbies , was the unstated introduction to his next comment: “Nana baw.”

“Yes, I said, LaaLaa has a ball.”

“Tinky bag. Dipsy hat!” finished the boy triumphantly, having listed all the Tubbies’ favourite things.

“What color is Po?” I asked, trying to establish how visual his memories of the Teletubbies are.

He answered promptly, “Red.”

“What color is Tinky Winky?”

“Blue.” We discussed this for a while, and agreed that Tinky Winky was actually purple.

“What color is LaaLaa?” “Yewwow.” “What color is Dipsy?” “Geen.”

This doesn’t necessarily establish the level of detail he remembers, since the colors of the Tubbies are significant and memorisable facts, like their favourite things. So I asked the clincher, something that isn’t generally emphasised in the show.

“What color is LaaLaa’s ball?”


He’s clearly got a visual picture of the Teletubbies in his memory banks somewhere. Very observant bunny.

Perfect Day

June 6, 2003

(With apologies to Lou Reed)

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spend it with you
Oh, such a perfect day…

Summer has finally hit Scotland, with (intermittently) sunny, (relatively) warm days. Long days, too, this far north and this close to the solstice. I got all the housework and laundry done yesterday, so I decided that today would be an adventure day. Would we take the train to Perth for lunch with Alex’ grandparents? Or take the bus to Peebles for a walk, or Portobello for an afternoon at the beach? Or would we go to the zoo?

Alex had only been to the zoo once, on his first birthday (a relatively cold day). He was too young to last long – a couple of hours were enough to exhaust him. But now, at two and a bit, he was ready for a longer time on a warmer day.

We took the bus out there (two buses, actually, with a change on Princes Street) in the morning, arriving at 10:30 or 11. The first thing that greets you at Edinburgh zoo is a statue of an elephant, with a sign explaining that there aren’t the facilities there to keep real elephants. Alex liked the statue.

Over the course of the day, we saw more beasts than I can list: California sea lions, flamingos, ring-tailed lemurs, camels, zebras, oryx, maned wolves, lynx, a tiger (or its tail, at least), monkeys of various sorts, chimps, gorillas, meercats, pygmy hippos, a polar bear, very not-pygmy rhinos (the biggest animals there), giraffes, snakes, lizards, a bunny rabbit (eating the grass, not part of the zoo), four varieties of penguin, locusts, tropical fish, cassowary, etc, etc. Alex spent most of the time in the backpack (the distances really are too far for him to walk). He stared and stared, pointed and watched.

A very funny moment came when we were at the rhinos. They were dozing in the sun at the very edge of the enclosure, right below us (their enclosure is sunken on the uphill side). Alex said “Rhino horn nose.” “Yes,” I said, “rhinos have horns on their noses. These ones are asleep. They’re taking their nap.” “Alex twinkle rhino,” he said, then launched into his abbreviated version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star . “Twinkle star,” he sang. Then he waved his hand in the air, about six feet above the huge grey beast, and said, “Shhh, shhh…” I hope the rhinos slept well after being shushed by my bunny.

Edinburgh zoo has a tradition that I haven’t seen at any other zoos I’ve been to: the Penguin Parade. Apparently, in the 1950’s, a zookeeper accidentially left the gate open when he left the penguin enclosure to go about his business. A little later, he looked round to find himself at the head of a column of penguins, who were themselves surrounded by an intrigued crowd of humans. Someone smart latched onto this, and now any of the penguins that fancy a stroll gather at the gate at 2:15. The keepers let them out and herd them gently along a triangular route, while the humans stand (behind yellow painted lines) watching them. Today it was king penguins, going slowly, pausing from time to time for mating displays (head up, wings out, hey baby, look at me !)

We left the zoo at quarter to five. Alex hadn’t slept a wink all day (he usually takes a 2 hour nap in the early afternoon). I made a tactical error and bought him a plastic elephant, giraffe and sea lion, so he played with them instead of falling asleep on the bus. I got off at the West End of Princes Street and walked east with my best soothing walk. Even the elephant couldn’t keep him awake more than a minute. He slept nearly an hour in the shadow of the Scott Monument.

Martin arrived while he slept, and completed the day by taking us out for a pizza dinner. Alex, despite chips and some hot dog at lunch and ice cream in the mid-afternoon, was starving by about 6, and loved the idea of pizza. The final cap was set on the day when the waiter gave him a yellow balloon! He was feeling so good that he flirted with every attractive female on the bus ride home, despite being ragged with exhaustion.

We’re home now, a little pink in the cheeks. Martin has put the boy to bed (with a framed photo of one of the penguins in his room – I love digital cameras and photo printers!). I expect a sound night’s sleep from him.

My knees hurt. But it’s a small price to pay for a perfect day.

Disease Boy

Alex has finally recovered from the worst illness of his short life.

It all started on Thursday, May 15, when his temperature started to climb. As always for Alex, this illness was rapidly followed by vomiting. (Actually, he had thrown up a little bit the previous day, but we didn’t see anything unusual in that.)

Friday was no better, with 39 to 40 degree fevers barely responding to paracetamol and periodic barfing. We were struggling to keep him hydrated – food was right out of the question. He was listless and delerious, his pulse was racing, and he was just not himself.

By the Saturday morning, Alex seemed a little better. He was alert and cheerful. He took a walk with his dad, even ate some bread. But he declined again that evening, lapsing into a daze.

He remained very unwell throughout Sunday , May 18. His grandparents Sutherland came over to see him (and give Martin and me a bit of respite). But even the social stimulation didn’t make him feel better. By that evening, Alex was so much worse, and his fever was so uncontrolled, that we called the out of hours doctor’s office. He ended up in the emergency room of the Sick Kids hospital for observation. They gave him some ibuprofen as well as the paracetamol (the two drugs don’t conflict.) It brought the fever down (he was running about in the nude in the examination room at one point, dragging a pull toy and laughing madly).

Then he relapsed again. He was fevered and delerious throughout Monday, lying limp in my arms most of the day. (I stayed home from work to nurse him.)

On Tuesday morning, he staged another partial recovery, but was back to half a degree of fever by the end of the day.

This was a problem, because we were booked for a five-day trip to Rome from the 21st. It was a close thing, whether we took him to the airport on Wednesday morning, or to the doctor’s for a note for the travel insurance. We decided on the airport, and very nearly regretted it when he threw up at the departure gate.

The day’s travel was actually easier because Alex was so sick. We kept him hydrated, and he slept a lot. The only difficulty was his alarm at takeoff and landing, which was severe. We got to the hotel at about 9, and all collapsed in bed. Alex and Martin slept for over 12 hours, well into Thursday morning. (I got up and sat in the sun in the Piazza del Populo).

The story from then on was one of slow, steady recovery. His appetite returned gradually (encouraged by a newfound liking for pizza), his energy levels climbed, and by Friday he was our mischevous, flirtatious boy again.

Saturday, our final day in Rome, was a delight after all that illness.

(Alex’ illness unfortunately corresponded with a severe backache on Martin’s part, which kept him home from work for two days and made the entire time very painful.)

The Conversationalist

Alex is beginning to remember, and talk about, the events of the day. He’s even becoming capable of making conversation, which seems pretty abstract for a two year old.

A couple of examples crystallised this for me.

On Sunday morning, Alex and I went out to the Elephant House cafe on George IV Bridge in central Edinburgh. It was Martin’s morning for sleeping in, and I wanted to get us out of the house. While we were there, I treated Alex to the house specialty, a sugar cookie shaped like (surprise!) an elephant. He ate it while showing Mr Elephant (the larger of his stuffed elephants) all the elephant bric a brac in a cabinet.

That afternoon, he was washing dishes with his father. He turned to Martin and said, “Mama effant cookie”. He’d clearly remembered the incident, and wanted to tell his Dada about it.

Then, today, I was talking on the phone to my mother. Alex asked for the phone (“A’ phone!”). He loves talking to his Pepa (Grandma, somehow) Foley on the phone. So he said “cow moo” (talking about the cows we’d seen on the way home from nursery), then cooed like the doves that have been nesting in the neighbourhood (we’d heard and commented on them on the way home).

But then he said, unprompted, “Duck. Quack-quack.” Now, to my knowledge, he hasn’t seen a duck in weeks, so he wasn’t describing the day’s events. And he didn’t have any toy ducks nearby. I think he was filling the conversational gap…it was toddler shorthand for “Did you know that a duck goes ‘quack-quack’? Isn’t that interesting?”

We already have a chatterbox on our hands, but it’s fun watching him mature into a conversationalist as well.

Alex and the Pussycats

We went to a party last night, in Crail, near St Andrews.

Our host, Paul, throws an Almost New Year’s party every year, full of good food, plenty of drink, and wonderful company. He has a cozy Victorian house, full of beautiful things, which he shares with two black and white cats. Somewhat is the bolder of the two, and Muchly the sweeter.

Alex doesn’t know any cats. Martin’s allergic, you see, so we don’t have pets. I didn’t know what to expect from their meeting. Would Alex be afraid? Would he be too bold, unaware that cats can be hurt, and get scratched or bitten as a result? Would he just hate them, or they him?

His first encounter was not encouraging. We had just arrived, and were taking off our coats in Paul’s front hall, when Somewhat came downstairs, calm as a king. Alex took one look, and decided any further observation was best done while clinging to my legs.

But friendships take time, and parties allow for many encounters. Half an hour later, Alex was feeding me Pringles in Paul’s main sitting room when Somewhat came by again, no doubt to investigate the short human. He sat down calmly and looked up at the boy. Alex reached out, and I kept a hand on his wrist, ready to gentle his touch or help in a swift retreat.

There was little need for my intervention. Alex stroked and petted, but did not hit or grab. And Somewhat tolerated the familiarity, even rubbing his head against Alex’ chest and chin. Alex’ face was a mix of surprise and delight. He must have decided Somewhat was a new kind of teddy bear. And what you do with teddy bears is lie down and cuddle them, right? So he lay down on the floor, on Paul’s horsehair rug, and patted the space beside him. He looked up at Somewhat and patted again. The message was clear: Come lie down with me.

Somewhat, being a cat, was too dignified to roll on the floor with a little boy. Moving in gradual figures of eight, he segued toward a sofa. Alex followed, enchanted.

I sat with the two for a while, until I was sure the friendship was secure. Then I backed off and watched from a distance. From across the room, I caught the moment when Alex raised his shirt to show his new acquaintance his tummy. Somewhat kept his poker face, but I was laughing for both of us.

Muchly only appeared for brief spells, and was inclined to flee when Alex expressed an interest. Somewhat, however, had several pleasant encounters with the boy, allowing himself to be stroked and petted with bemused tolerance for the young. They parted as friends.

And yet, throughout the party, I met adults who bore the claw marks of Alex’ new friend. I myself got a warning glare for daring to stroke him once too many times.

I wonder how he knew that Alex was young, and to be extended extra courtesy?

Vocabulary List

I made a list of all the words that Alex knew last weekend, and it’s already out of date. He’s learning so fast that I can’t keep up.

Words He Could Say On Saturday

  • Bye
  • Ball (he can spot one a mile off)
  • Nana (banana)
  • Boo
  • Cheek (while pointing to his cheek, very cute)
  • Shoe
  • Row, row (meaning, shake me all about)
  • All gone (OK, it sounds like Caw Cah, but it means all gone)
  • Vroom, vroom (when he wants to pretend to drive a car)
  • Jes (his teddy bear)
  • Ta (as in thanks – but he says it when giving things away)
  • Mama (still a bit vague on who this is, but he pronounces it clearly enough)
  • Dada (likewise)
  • Yay (usually accompanied by clapping)
  • Up (more Uh, but the meaning is clear)
  • Down (OK, Duh, but he knows what he means)
  • [Uh-oh] (very cute)

New Words This Week

  • Peas (he caught sight of them cooking on the stove)
  • [Noo-noo] (his pronunciation is weak on this one)

Words he Understands

All of the above, plus:

  • Go outside (one of his earliest, and the signal to go stand by the front door. If he were a dog, he’d have his leash in his mouth.)
  • Nose
  • Ear
  • Eye
  • Tummy (he lifts his shirt and points, with a secret, confiding smile)
  • Head (he pats it)
  • Mouth
  • Knee (very ticklish)
  • Foot
  • No (understands, yes. obeys, no.)
  • Big Hug (he pats you on the back when he hugs you. There, there…)
  • Clap, clap
  • Splash, splash

He doesn’t use them in the midst of a stream of private-language words the way his cousin Tom did. His words tend to be stand-alone affairs, interspersed with discrete sections of babbling.

What fun!