16 Months is Much Harder

…but also much more fun. I suspect that may describe parenting from here on out, because for the first time, we’re having to actually parent, not merely meet physical needs.

Last week (Wednesday, December 4, for the record), Benji started taking steps. He’d taken a few hesitating, stumbling steps before, but now he deliberately stood still, clearly cogitating hard, and then took some steps. The sunshine burst of delight on his face as he toddled along spoke volumes for how hard he’d worked to achieve that goal. Since then, it’s like this standing-and-walking thing has started really clicking.

In the last month, I’d seen Benji shifting from speed-crawling as a preferred means of locomotion to choosing to stand and cruise. In the last couple weeks, he shifted to wanting to hold on to our fingers to toddle around the house (with a circulation-stopping grip; no need for a tourniquet, just let Benji hold on). This seemed like writing on the wall, but Benji’s not one to leap into new skills — he didn’t start hands-and-knees crawling until almost a year old, positing, prior to that, that Army crawling worked just fine — so I’m not willing to make any predictions on when he’ll transition to primarily walking rather than crawling. But it’s happening, and we’re thrilled to celebrate this huge milestone along with Benji.

Unfortunately, that milestone came along with a couple other less-endearing changes: Sleep disturbances and tantrums. Sleep disturbance, particularly at night, is something I’ve come to expect in tandem with major developmental milestones. It seems that even in sleep, Benji practices these new skills. It would be quite frustrating to wake up because you fell down while sleep-walking! So we’re all waking up in the night, and naps are losing their predictability somewhat, too, but I’m sure that’ll settle down once he masters walking.

Tantrums, on the other hand, are an entirely new thing. These come usually when Benji is confronted with a choice he doesn’t like, or on one of the less-frequent occasions when I simply have to deny him access to something he wants. I try to set up situations so that whatever choice Benji makes, I can go with it: Choosing between reading one book and another, or eating oatmeal or banana. But sometimes choices are more complicated: Choosing between going for a walk to look at cars and trucks but having to wear the fluffy snow suit (because it’s freezing outside); or not wearing the snowsuit, but also not seeing cars and trucks. Or choosing between eating Cheerios on my lap, but not playing with toys; or playing with toys at a public play area, but not eat Cheerios while doing it (dirty!). Then there are things I simply can’t let him decide: Whether to play with a knife, whether to eat the shiny rocks at great-grandparents’ house, whether to go upstairs by himself.

These last two types of choosing elicit tantrums, a new and understandable behavior. To express his frustration, displeasure, disappointment, anger, indignation, etc., Benji kneels down on the floor, puts his head on the ground, and cries. Usually, I try to patiently sit with him, tell him what he’s feeling (“You’re feeling frustrated because I wouldn’t let you take big bites of orange peel.”), sympathize with the emotion while explaining why he can’t have what he wants (“I understand that’s very frustrating, but I can’t let you eat the orange peel, because you can’t chew it. You could choke and die. But it’s still frustrating.”), remind him that I love him and will be there for him no matter what, and then encourage him to deal with the tantrum himself. Or, if it’s a choice he has to make, I just keep patiently explaining his options and sympathizing with the frustration of not getting everything exactly as you want.

One interesting thing I read in Touchpoints, by Berry Brazelton, is that tantrums are an important part of being a toddler. This is Benji having to learn how to deal with wanting things, making choices, and feeling strong emotions about the outcome; Benji’s job right now is to feel upset, and then learn how to deal with it. Our job right now is to help teach him how to deal appropriately with those feelings. It’s not real endearing to have collapse and start crying and howling, but I do understand a bit why it’s happening. We essentially have teenage-type emotions, but without the verbal skills of a teenager (thank goodness!).

Meanwhile, I’m having more fun most days now than I have so far as a parent. Benji’s interest and curiosity, his willingness to patiently keep trying to do a task, and his rapidly-expanding dexterity all make play times opportunities for interesting and fun activities. I’ve got to start collecting activity ideas, though, since I’m only so creative. If you have any good ideas for toddler activities, ping me. I’ll try most things, except for watching movies/playing with screens.

More Baby Science

This Tuesday, Benji got his first ever cold. On the one hand, I’m pretty amazed we made it 14 months without getting a cold before, especially since we play with other babies pretty often (although nothing like the exposure of a day care). On the other hand, I’m horrified to imagine dealing with six to 10 of these every year, which our caring-for-your-child book says is standard. Standard! Gah! Baths, steamy showers, and vaporizers are all well and good, but snot suckers, saline drops in the nose, and constant Kleenex application elicit vociferous objections. I guess crying will help get more mucus out, and that’s good, right?

Anyway, when it was clear Benji had a cold, I got really sad: Today (Friday) we were scheduled to do another round of Baby Science at the UW’s I-LABS, and I really wanted to do it, but wasn’t sure he’d be healthy enough. Around Benji’s birthday we went to the I-LABS to do a study where the researchers played with him at a table while I held him, and then both of them simultaneously, silently looked at an object off to the side (think of when you see people standing staring at the sky — don’t you want to look up to see what they’re seeing?). They recorded where he looked: Did he look at the object, too? Did he look at me? Did he look elsewhere? Out of three or four times of looking, he followed their gazes once. Apparently that’s pretty normal for 12-month-olds. They’re not real good at gaze-following, whereas 18-month-olds tend to be much better at it. When we did that study, I agreed to have them put Benji on the I-LABS’ list of test subjects, so we’d get contacted for other I-LABS studies.

Well, earlier the I-LABS folks contacted me about doing another study. I arranged to come to the UW today, and happily it worked out that he was well enough to go. The study we did this time involved the researchers putting Benji in an MEG machine, which they use to measure the magnetic signals produced by his brain while they played recordings of words familiar and unfamiliar to him. I’d previously completed a survey rating a long list of words as familiar/unfamiliar, and they made a customized recording for his session. Oh, and we had to wear clothes with no metal at all: No glasses, shoes, or bra with metal clasps for me, no onesie snaps for him. Fortunately, I just discovered a couple regular T-shirts that fit Benji, so we actually had clothes for him to wear.

Before heading in to the awesome instrument room, they set Benji up in a special cap that looks like this:

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The cap held electrodes (I think) near his head, but it looked to me like he was an astronaut. The guy is using a light pen to mark where the cap is on Benji’s head so they can know exactly where the sensors/electrodes/whatever were placed. The gal in the blue and black dress is the researcher whose job it was to entertain Benji. Once that was on and Benji was tolerating it, they popped him into the MEG machine. He sat in a pneumatic high chair (!) that they then rose up and positioned within the instrument:

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I got one rogue picture before they told me cell phone usage could totally screw up the calibration and to put that darn device away. I hastily did. So… yeah, hopefully the data came out OK!

Anyway, for the next 18 minutes, a speaker played words like “car,” “more,” “bubble,” “bird,” “slipper,” and so forth. When they first said “car,” Benji kicked his legs and laughed… although perhaps the entertainer assistant did something amusing. Because all during that time, the entertainer silently played with toys to entertain Benji, and simultaneously a video of kids’ faces also played on a screen. The entertainer did a great job, and several times Benji laughed or reached for toys. Later a video of baby animals came on, and it’s too bad that didn’t go sooner — I’m pretty sure the puppy would’ve held his attention just fine the entire time. When the puppy came on the screen, Benji started panting like a dog (a trick he learned from his doggy friend Harper, a 1.5-year-old yellow lab). The trick was that if he saw me or the entertainment got out of his field of view, Benji would move his head, which had to stay in the machine. Tricky.

Amazingly, we made it through the entire 18 minutes without disaster, and in fact Benji did so well, the invited us back to do an MRI of his brain for another study. They also asked if we could come back for him to demo wearing the cap for a demo day next week. I said yes to the MRI, even though they want him to sleep in the MRI machine (fat chance! This is a baby who sleeps exclusively in his crib, not even in a car seat; AND it’d ruin our entire day or evening), because that sounded really neat. They correlate the MRI imaging to the data collected today, and use that to figure out what parts of his brain were doing what during today’s study. Cool! I had to say no to the cap-wearing demo because timing wouldn’t work out, alas.

So that’s our baby science. Pretty exciting. And Benji’s now spent more time at the UW than your average 14-month-old. I hope he’ll grow up to love scientific research as much as we do!

Secret Diary of Benji Ferguson: One Year

Yesterday I turned one year old, and this reminds me that some months have elapsed since I’ve had the opportunity to update this log. In times past, I would have felt some concern on account of my responsibility to report in, but now, I confess, that life — the training, the exercises, the very worldview — they all seem hazy, someone else’s dream. My life has moved on. I no longer expect to return to secret organization to report back, because Mommy and Daddy have shown me the truth. Now I have more important things to do. For example:

  • I’ve mastered Army crawling, this mode of locomotion has served me well for months and, indeed, allowed me to progress beyond the rather crude rolling with which I began my independent locomotion career. However, one can only move so fast Army crawling. That is why, in the last two weeks, I decided to adopt hands-and-knees crawling. This provides me with the notable benefits of traveling faster than Mommy and Daddy over short distances; keeping my bare tummy from getting rug burns when I’m not wearing a onesie; and allowing me to look around and see things higher up more easily. It also is much easier to transition to and from sitting from this position.
  • Of course, crawling only gets a baby so far. I’ve noticed recently that Mommy and Daddy have been holding out on me for some time: They keep all sorts of fascinating stuff up high, in areas out of my reach. Or at least, what used to be out of reach, because once I saw the fun blinking lights, breakable objects, and spillable liquids kept above my head height, I immediately decided to start working on standing up. Right now I still need to pull up and hold on to furniture (including mobile furniture like whichever of my caretakers proves convenient), and I haven’t yet figured out how to move side-to-side (“cruise” is the term I’ve heard used), but I’m working on that. I have at least achieved enough stability to stand balancing only with one hand. Mommy and Daddy follow me around very carefully now; they seem to think I’m a hazard. Can’t imagine why.
  • Food! Oh, I do love solid food. That is, I love it most of the time. Sometimes I don’t really feel like it at all, actually, and then I pick it up and hold it over my head and then drop it, massage it into my hair or face, or smoosh it around on my tray so that Mommy and Daddy don’t feel bad that they took it out and I don’t want it. Okay, I admit, I’ve not yet turned down cheese. I love cheese… except for the brie Mommy gave me one time. That, I spit out. Who would voluntarily expose their tongues to such flavors? But Mommy says babies can’t live on cheese alone, so I eat beans and avocado with avidity. I like raspberries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, blueberries, and strawberries when I can get them; not so much applesauce, which seems to puzzle my parents. I also like eating whatever the grown-ups around me are eating, and by actively begging, I have received lunch meat, pasta, rice, salmon, halibut, potatoes, very soft carrot bits, banana, honeydew melon, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich (a combination surely invented by a genius)… I forget what all. Eggs make my tummy itchy, though, so I don’t eat those.
  • Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention talking. Mommy and Daddy constantly make noises at themselves and at me. It’s taken me some time to realize that, beyond the entertainment factor of watching their faces contort amusingly and hearing the absurd squeaks and grunts they produce, these sounds seem to actually have some kind of meaning. I’ve been working on reproducing those sounds, but so far to no avail. My parents mimic the sounds I make back to me, but they don’t seem to understand that I want them to do something. Hello, I’ve been in my car seat long enough! No need to spend more time in here! I’m all done and ready to get out! –they don’t seem to get the message, and sometimes I get so frustrated, I just have to yell! Sometimes I yell anyway, of course, just for fun. I do know how to tell them “all done” by waving my hands a certain way, but that only works sometimes. I’ve tried telling them “all done” when they’re changing my diaper or when I’m in my car seat too long, but it doesn’t work then. Is this language thing contextual? I don’t understand the nuances, and clearly more research is required.
  • I’m having fun playing with toys like pot lids that spin on the kitchen floor, drawers with pulls that open (and sometimes bite my fingers – oww!), the tags that seem to appear on every object, oh and of course all the actual toys provided by grown-ups. I don’t really have any favorites, although I spend quite a bit of time playing with the pirate ship great-Pop pop made for me… and I do enjoy putting lids into and out of the lid bank (a yogurt container with a Medela-bottle-lid-sized hole cut in the top, and a half-dozen Medela bottle lids). I like books, too, not so much to read in standard left-to-right page-by-page order but to flip the pages randomly back and forth. I’m not so patient with reading stories as I was; there’s just so much to learn and explore. I also like other babies, but they aren’t very tolerant about my exploring by pulling hair, poking eyes, and grabbing skin.

In short, I’m too busy to worry about subverting Mommy and Daddy. I’ve got things to do, places to go! Yesterday I turned one year old, and my new motto is “Go, go, go!”

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Benji making a pot lid spin.

Sunny-day Walk

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Going on a Sunday morning family mini-hike. There are some secret green spaces and an unofficial network of trailsĀ  through them near our house. They feel delightfully cool and shady on a hot day. Also, Benji doesn’t like wearing his hat, so this way he still gets sun protection.

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See? Grumpy face! …although he also grinds his teeth, which gives him a strangely lantern-jawed look.

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Here is Ian heroically carrying the backpack. I have strict orders not to backpack with the baby unless I want to injure my back more. So all Benji-carrying goes to someone else. This has the side-benefit of making Benji taller than me, which he finds funny (for about 30 seconds, anyway).

Just for Fun

A while ago the Boa-Dragon (which Rachel and I found at a garage sale for $0.50) got urped up on. It happens. So I washed it, and since this was during the hot and sunny weeks we had a bit a go, I hung it on the line to dry with everything else.
Boa-Dragon Drying
Not your usual sight for laundry hanging out to dry, huh?

Here are a few pictures I took of Benji while Ian read him a story a couple weeks ago.
Reading With Daddy is Fun

"I LOVE Reading!"

Nom Nom Truck

I'm Just Cute
His mad scientist hair is starting to lay flat. I’ve known this would happen some day, but it makes me kind of sad that the crazy hair phase is ending. Yesterday after Benji’s bath, his hair actually stayed down flat, and even after sleeping on it, it’s just fluffy, not standing up straight like it has before. Aaahhh, our baby is growing up so fast…!

Speaking of which, he’s army-crawling astonishingly efficiently these days. I foresee baby-proofing in our immediate future, since outlets and cables seem to exert a disturbingly strong allure to crawling baby. As does anything hard he could bonk his head on, of course.

In short, watching Benji slowly (rapidly) turn from a slug into a little person is really an astonishing and delightful experience. I’m really enjoying nine months.