On babies who say ‘Ne!’

The Comet has started to copy the sounds other people make. You noticed this when on a farm visit recently. There were pigs. Many pigs, many piglets, all happily grunting away. The Star was enthralled and the Comet tried to suck the fencing. As you snatched her up and carried her off, you noticed that she was doing an excellent pig impression. Since then she hasn’t looked back and so this week you have been entertaining yourself by seeing how many more animal noises you can get her to do. The horse is both your favourites. ‘Neigh!’ you whiffle, throwing your head up and flicking your mane. ‘Neigh!’ ‘Ne!’ the Comet counters sticking her chin in the air and sneaking you a look to see if she is doing it right. ‘Ne!’*

To be honest you nearly missed this development, because the Comet’s desire to have a good gossip definitely transcends her ability to form the actual words, and as a result you feel as though you have been having conversations with her for quite some time now. In addition to expert turn taking, she has also added perfect intonation, speaking eyes and descriptive hand gestures to her repertoire, and many times a day she will turn to you and ask what is clearly a question, tilting her head enquiringly, shrugging up her shoulders with her palms spread wide, raising her eyebrows and ending on a rising tone. Sometimes, if she feels you are being particularly obtuse, she points, but mostly she just listens intently to your answer, frowns a bit, makes a few comments, often asks another question, and you both can keep this going for quite some time. All in all you do wonder how her version of your little chats is going. You know you are enjoying your half.

You could do without the loud, high-pitched shrieking, mind. But to be fair to the her, she does it when she wants to get across, emphatically, that something is unacceptable. Usually, a lack of food.** It’s not easy getting your point across when you are the youngest in a house full of forceful personalities, but luckily the Comet is able to rise to the challenge.

She is also learning the gentle art of standing up for yourself. Does the Comet stand quietly aside when the Star removes all the toys she is playing with to his side of the room, tries to hug her once too often or steals her last strawberry? Does she heck. No, she marches crossly over to you, hides behind your legs and gives that Star a thorough ticking off.

Such language. Ah well.

*Diphthongs are difficult. They were difficult for the Star too. Interesting.

**Girl eats a lot. She is definitely her brother’s sister, because then she does not rest until she has run it straight off again.  It turns out that the Comet is pretty much as energetic as the Star. Yes, I am exhausted. No, I do not want to contemplate the fact that they are only four and one respectively.

On pain.

A mother is someone who becomes totally oblivious to the unpleasantness of many bodily functions, and so as mistress of poo, puke and piss you feel quite comfortable in inflicting the Internet with the information that last week you got your period again after an unbroken run of 20 months free of sluggish crampy bleeding.

The interesting thing about this (to you) is that it occurred two weeks practically to the day after the Comet upped and decided to give up breastfeeding. Which came first you would like to know. Was it the sudden shock to the system which restarted your reproductive cycle or was it the the egg which soured your milk?

However your interest is definitely taking a backseat to your upset. You were not ready to stop breastfeeding. You have always taken the view that since you were unable to manage exclusive feeding, that the least you could do is keep the milkbar open for a decent length of time. Plus, there’s something very soothing about settling down with your baby at the end of the day for a bit of a snuggle and a snack. You fed the Star well into his second year, just the once, at bed time, and you were looking forward to doing that with the Comet too.

But mostly, having her scream and arch her back as you brought her to the breast was hurtful. You felt rejected. Bereft. Empty armed. You feel rejected. Bereft. Empty armed.

And you felt pain. Thanks to the fact that the Comet was feeding quite often at night as well as in the evening, stopping cold like that meant that you got quite engorged. Owowowowow. OW! OW! OW! This went on for a good three weeks. OWOWOWOWOW! OW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course, you had sold the breastpump about two weeks before. So no relief there, or the possibility of carrying the milk production on in the hope that she would reattach, or even so that you could feed her real milk in a bottle. Not that you ever managed to get a breastpump to work for you anyway. No, hand expressing didn’t do much either.

However, life goes on and presumably she knew what she was doing. She’s 11 months now (good grief) so she can certainly survive without your milk. She’s also sleeping better at night, clearly deciding that being walked up and down, up and down, up and down and up and down instead of suckled back to sleep was unsatisfactory, and sleep is, after all, also important. And this means that you are now able to sleep more too.

Or you would be able to had you not bruised (or possibly cracked) your ribs in a bathroom accident while washing the Star’s hair. He objected, you moved sharply to protect your still extremely tender tits, skidded on the by then very wet floor and crashed, ribcage first, onto the side of the bath.

It’s a good thing you were also winded or both your children’s vocabulary would have been considerably enriched.

On the upside, since you are no longer breastfeeding you feel quite comfortable numbing the cracked (or possibly bruised) ribs into submission with back to back maximum strength ibuprofen, many paracetamol and very strong coffee. This has been working quite well as long as you don’t lie flat or bend, lift anything or laugh. It is unfortunate that bending, lifting stuff and laughing describes parenting in a nutshell, of course, but there you are.

Plus, you wish your husband would stop doing his impression of the Comet doing her impression of the Men in Black’s bug-in-an-Edgar-suit now that she is walking. It’s uncanny and very very funny.

Hahahahahaha! OW! Don’t make me laugh. Hahahahahahahahaha! OWOWOW! No really stop it, it hurts! Hahahahahahahahahahahhahahhahaha! OW! OW! OW! Oh god, no, don’t. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha! OW!

On the fear of fur coats mark two.

OK, so you’ve had your third blog post published by the BBC World Service, this time about the difference between the way your son and daughter have acquired sounds. This is a sort of follow up to the post you wrote about your son many moons ago, but also arose out of you making an amusing but ultimately totally wrong assumption, which you totally got called on on everybody’s favourite website, h2g2, a conversation which ended up being an interesting discussion of first words in general.

My daughter started making consonants sounds a while ago, which was, of course, very exciting. They were not very recognisable consonant sounds at first, and this was more exciting still as it meant I could play a second round of ‘guess what order my child will acquire sounds’.

My son’s first proper syllable went ‘Gagagagaga’ closely followed by ‘Dadadadada’. This was rather disappointing. We were using ‘Papa’ for the father-figure at this point, rather than the English ‘Dad’ or ‘Daddy’, but on the other hand I had been regularly chanting ‘Mamamamamama’ at him since birth.

In fact my son went on to produce ‘Babababa’ and ‘Papapapapa’ well before anything like an ‘Mmmmm’ crossed his lips, and I consoled myself by looking at the International Phonemic Alphabet, which I am sure is much more familiar to Russians struggling with the eccentricities of English spelling vs pronunciation than it is to British people. I noted that my son was working his way along the top row from right to left, and starting with voiced sounds.* I also couldn’t see that his potential bilingualism would have much to do with it, the top lines being much of a muchness for both English and Russian.

When my daughter’s first syllable turned out to be ‘Mamamamama’ I was, therefore, quite surprised and revisited the issue.

Of course, a friend of mine claims that first children tend to say ‘Dada/Papa’ before ‘Mama’ because mothers spend so much of their day talking about this exciting person who turns up just in time to read the kid a story at bedtime. The second child just hears the first child saying ‘Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!’ all day.

That said, it turns out there is research on the order of consonant acquisition out there. And low and behold, across a number of different languages the top two lines of the phonemic chart seem the easiest for children to make and are therefore the first said.

Both Russian and British parents will probably also recognise that it is the group of sounds in the middle of the chart that cause problems, the sounds such as ‘th’ or ‘sh/ш’ or ‘ch/ч’ or‘ц’. Interestingly, and this is the point my son is at now, both the English and the Russian ‘r’ gives the most trouble, despite the fact that they are rather different. I am told that mastery of the rolled ‘r’ may not come until my son is closer to five than four, although he also has problems with ‘l’. Is the inability to say, for example, ‘la’ and say ‘ya’ instead also common for purely Russian speaking children too?

I ask because I am fascinated by the idea that their bilingualism could show itself at the most basic levels of their language. Because although the most definite results for the order of consonant acquisition are for groups of consonants rather than precisely which consonant will come in which order, most English speaking children at least tend to go from right to left, from the ‘Mamamamama’ to the ‘Gagagagagagaga’. So totally opposite to the way your son did it.

I find this interesting as the reason given is that ‘m’ and ‘b’ and are made at the front of the mouth whereas ‘d’ and ‘g’ towards the back. And I often think that Russian is a very back of the mouth language compared to English. In fact, the musical director for a British choir I used to sing with once suggested that when we had to sing in Russian, we should imagine that we were also trying to swallow a watermelon, and laugh all you want, my husband was actually quite impressed by our efforts to sound Slavic when he came to the eventual concert.

Of course, this does rather open the question of why my daughter seems to be following the classic monolingual English speaker route.

Perhaps my son was simply showing his innate perversity rather than his deep Russian soul. But then since my daughter is always with me, my son talks to me in English and my son talks A LOT, perhaps, this is just a version of the first child influencing the second child’s first sounds after all.

*Put your hand on your throat and say ‘vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv.’ Feel the vibration? That’s a voiced sound. Now try ‘ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff.’ That’s not.

On scheduling, for parents.

You’ve always rather resented the whole ‘women are better at multitasking’ thing because you are not. Your ability to tune out the world while you focus on one thing at a time is infinite. Your ability to type this journal in English, feed the baby, watch the news, do the washing up, get breakfast for the toddler, prepare for an OFSTED inspection at work and load the washing machine while simultaneously chatting in Russian to your MiL, taking the toddler upstairs for a poo, perusing the instructions to eliminate a particular type of punctuation from some Internet code, rescuing a climbing baby from the hi-fi separates, (or, possibly, rescuing the hi-fi separates from a climbing baby), reminding the toddler 26 times to put his pants back on, composing comprehension questions in your head and reading a book called ‘Sumita’s Pink Bicycle for the 3 millionth time is…

[Brief pause while you wash yoghurt off the back of the baby’s head.]

[Another brief pause while you disinfect the high chair, sweep the floor, and take the rubbish out.]

[“If you eat that all yourself, I’ll read you a book.”]

[“Yes, sweets, that really is an excellent seagull impression.”]

[Another brief pause while you muse on the fact that, having been forced to move to Salford, BBC Breakfast is gamely trying to make Manchester the centre of the universe. Although, to be fair, the fact it isn’t raining there is news.]

[Less brief pause while you try to convince the baby that the computer is not a 22987v9c8g??????)(*&^%$£” toy.]

[Brief pause while you finish cleaning yoghurt off the floor.]

[My word, what a surprising number of towns conveniently situated for soundbites from the average punter in the Midlands there are.]

[Hang on, there’s still yoghurt on the baby.]

[…reading a book…]

[“Noooooo! Not the iPhone!”]

[“Put you pants back on!”]

[What are we going to have for dinner tonight? *Much discussion in Russian*]

OK, I’ll finish this later.

Two days later


[Noises off]

Rather more days later

Anyway, it’s not just the inability to finish anything you start that annoys you, although you did realise the other day that the reason you like taking the kids out on trips is at least in part because it is one of the few activities which has a beginning a middle and an end all on the same day.

It’s the inability to schedule that quietly drives you insane. You may prefer to finish one thing before moving on to the next, but modern life is rubbish and that wasn’t always possible even before kids. But at least you knew how long, roughly, stuff would take, and you could create satisfying little to do lists and timetables in your head and, generally, win them.

Children, however, are frustrating to diarise. Something that lasted 15 minutes yesterday may take 2 hours today. Or 2 minutes. And their interruptions are unpredictable and, usually, unignorable. It is quite hard to resist a small girl who wants you to play ‘let’s put the (soft) building blocks on my head’, or the pre-schooler who can make the question why last all morning and go twice round your understanding of physics.

What to do? Concentrate on the childcare, the childcare and nothing but the childcare, interspersed by a little light housework? Trouble with that is that although sometimes you find you do not have whole evenings to yourself, sometimes you find that you do. Plus, your brain would dribble out of your ears.

And so life post children, especially post two children is, you have found, the art of throwing up lots of balls and dashing around trying to catch them all before they hit the ground.

When you start to drop too many of them, or stay up till 11pm on a regular basis* to catch them, that’s when you know it’s time to scale back.

*Ooooooh, the wild, riotous living.

On a blaze of light.

The Comet is now over eight months old, which hardly seems possible. Where has the time gone?

She has certainly not been wasting it. She went from rolling to sliding abut on her tummy to pulling herself into a standing position to cruising the furniture to occasionally letting go and falling with an audible thunk of her head on the floor in no time at all. And now she has started to crawl properly and sit up on her own too!*

In fact, you think she is going though a developmental spurt. She looks round when anyone says ‘Cometuchka, smotrii’,** Babushka has this week taught her to clap her hands, in response to a particular song no less, and you and she have just started to have head shaking conversations in the middle of the night. You shake your head, she shakes hers. You shake your head back, she shakes hers. This does not get old.

Her waking up three times a night every night, however, already has.

Quite exciting also is the Comet’s graduation to actual consonants. ‘Gabamadaba,’ she says as she potters about the house, the actual sound being rather indistinct as yet. This is somewhat later than the Star managed, but she has been making excellent communicative use of growls, raspberries and, when Grandad is about, snuffles, so you are looking at it as a quirk.

After all, she looks set to walk well in advance of his record of well over one.

However, the thing that is going to win her the CUTEST BABY IN THE WORLD award is that she has started to play along with peekaboo, or cookoo as the Russians inexplicably call it.

Not only will she giggle as you hide your face behind your hands and then pull the big reveal. Not only will she look quite worried if you fail to reappear quite as quickly as she expects.*** Not only will she do this, but she will also burry her head in the cushion to hide from you, or, and this is really going for the viral youtube moment, she will manhandle a book in front of her face and duck her head down behind it, before popping up, shyly but delightedly smiling, to make sure you noticed.

*Is she supposed to be walking before she can crawl? If not, you do seem to breed pig headed children. The Star is currently going though a phase of refusing to eat anything but chicken soup. Much wailing and knashing of teeth. Yours. He is not bovered. WhatEVAH, Mama.

**’Look’ in Russian. But everybody had guessed that, right?

***The ears, which are still very big, makes this extremely funny. She looks like a concerned goblin now, albeit a concerned goblin with what looks like permanently very large blue melting eyes.

On Jaws 2.

So having ridiculed it a few posts back (Christmas, all two of it, was basically good, thanks. You took the decorations down a couple of days ago. Just after Old New Year. You may never wash the smell of mince pies out of your hair), it appears that you are doing baby led weaning with your daughter.

This actually started at British-Christmas-at-your-parents-dinner, when in order to keep the Comet satisfied, you handed her a blini to chew on. She ate it. Then she ate another one. Then she ate some sprouts. And some carrots and parsnips. And half a banana.

For Christmas tea she had cucumber and lettuce. Plus another couple of blini. And to be honest, since all you had to do was sit there and scrape the mush off her face and the high chair later, you rapidly revised your opinion of the whole thing.

Thing is, it works because the Comet is a chewer. The Star was never a chewer. In fact, the Star has only really quite recently embraced chewing as a concept for regular use.

You can hear the baby led weaners saying, yes of course, if he was weaned on purees, of course he didn’t chew. But you can safely say that chewing is basically the Comet’s default state regardless of the stage of weaning, including ‘before’.

It’s amazing what a very mobile baby can find on the floor.

Let’s not go too mad though. There’s a certain level of mess into which you are not prepared to descend. So you are still pureeing anything which she can’t get into her mouth relatively cleanly.

Of course, the chewing frenzy might have something to do with the two small teeth poking out of her bottom gums. You are certainly hoping that is the explanation for the Comet’s complete and utter failure to sleep through the night the last few months.

Of course it could be the constipation. Poor girl’s bowels didn’t really recover after you introduced cauliflower cheese and she scoffed a rather larger bowl than was probably wise.

Prunes. What would you do without them?

On the whale vs the bowl of petunias.

You are beginning to notice how much more pleasant it is to be out and about with the Star lately.

This is perhaps because the Comet has learned to crawl, or rather, slither and you have discovered that her calmness was all a front. She has clearly just been spending the last five and a half months wisely, looking at things she couldn’t reach and making a mental note to head straight for them the minute she got mobile.

The last few days have been characterised by you tripping over a small body as she commandos her way towards another book or toy, or finding her wedged into the space between the sofa and the wall intending to gnaw on a power cable.

She also climbs. She has a good line in reaching up, snagging the edge of the coffee table with one hand, using that to gain purchase with the other and then hanging there, little legs scrambling for grip. Oh and she can damn near get herself into a sitting position too. She lists a bit, and eventually ends up with her nose in the carpet, but it won’t be long before she can do it.

She is, in fact, even more energetic than the Star was, and that was something you didn’t think was possible. Although you will give her the fact that she can be indoors in, say, an art gallery, without needing to shout as loudly as she possibly can, just because it is dark and quiet and she can.

The Star, in contrast, seems to have developed a bit of maturity. You like to think that the Star’s relative calmness these days is due to your water torture approach to discipline.

It seems that somewhere after the five millionth time you insisted on his holding your hand and did the whole right, now we stop at the edge of the read, check for cars, remember not to step out into the road randomly, you don’t want to be squashed like a bug, stop at the road, look there’s a car, it’s a road, stop, look, wait for Mama, it’s a road, there are cars, you might be squashed like a bug, stop, wait, look, wait, stop, stop, stop, SQUASHED LIKE A BUG, stop routine it has actually gone in. The Star will stop at roads now without you having to scream at him and lunge for his collar.  He even roundly told you off the other day for walking in the middle of a (temporarily closed off) road and insisted on using the pavement.

In fact, the Star is entering the age of reason. Or rather, the age where threats, bribes and shameless flattery actually work. Or perhaps it’s just that he’s now over his initial whalelike reaction to the world and is channelling the bowl of petunias*. It’s a lot easier to resist the shiny shiny when it isn’t also quite so new and therefore exciting.

It’s not perfect, of course, but generally his only remaining fault is his tendency to accelerate over the horizon in pursuit of a pigeon. Or a goose. Or a swan. Or any bird that is foolish enough to be big enough to catch a toddle’s eye.

So it is with a rather heavy heart that you realise that just as the Star enters childhood, where you can see the light at the end of the bum-wiping, spoon-feeding, clothes-dressing phase of motherhood for one child, you get to do it al over again with the Comet.

Well, of course you have already been doing it with the Comet, but there’s a big difference between a baby who stays where you put her and one who if you are in the slightest bit attentive will be investigating the contents of the sharps drawer before you know it.

Especially as she climbs.