The main news of this month was Ingrid’s nursery start. After a settling-in period of two weeks, she’s now there full time, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. During most of the settling-in period the children all had a parent there as well; the last few days were parentless. Ingrid had no objections at all to being there with Eric: a new place with interesting toys, and with other children to play with!
It was a lot less fun without Eric. For about a week everything was in upheaval: she was sleeping badly, really clingy while at home, and generally in a bad mood. Before this upsetting period she had almost stopped nursing at night, without much pushing from me. Now she went back to waking three, sometimes even four times a night. She’d wake up inconsonable and cry “not work, not work!” (meaning that she didn’t want me to go to work).
As she has gotten used to the new situation, she’s come to accept it. She’s gotten to know the teachers and the other children, and learned that she will not be left there, we will pick her up every afternoon. She grumbles a bit in the morning, but now when Eric drops her off she walks straight to the teacher she feels closest to, sits in her lap, and watches Eric leave. During the day she sleeps well, eats well, and plays happily. Only late in the afternoon, when she knows it’s almost time for me to come, and when the other children start leaving, does she get a bit sad.
By now our evenings are mostly back to normal. She is somewhat clingier than she used to, but that’s understandable: she’s squeezing a day’s worth of closeness into just a few hours. Nights have improved markedly, too.
With this major change, routine and familiarity seems to have become more important to her. Or perhaps it’s because she is older and has clearer expectations? In any case, she likes us to do things the same way and in the same order every afternoon. I meet her at the nursery. We go and pick up her nappies and then her clothes bag. We take all the bags outside and we put them on the bench. She puts her little red bag on the bench. We get the buggy out of the buggy storage shed. She climbs up. I pack in the bags. We take the same route home every day. We open the mailbox and she gets out the mail. And so on.
The same preference for familiarity recurs in many settings, and she is starting to have favourite things. Previously she’s never cared much about what she wears or what glass she drinks from. But now she wants the blue glasses, and she likes to take her little red bag to nursery every day, and she prefers her yellow leggings to all others. She wants the same jacket every day, and the same shoes. (The jacket is too small for her, about two sizes smaller than what I’d buy today, and yesterday I finally confiscated and hid it. I’m accepting her choice of footwear, even though it’s sandals, as long as the temperature is above freezing and she is wearing socks with them.)
Sometimes she seems to like things in theory but not in practice. Or perhaps she just doesn’t know what she wants. For several days she’s been telling me how she wants to go to the swimming pool – and yet when we get there she’s not particularly interested and wants to get out after barely 20 minutes. She begs for an apple, and then takes two bites and changes her mind.
As always, books are important to her, far more so than any toys or dolls. The first thing she wants to do in the morning is “läsa bok!” and it’s also the first thing we do when we get home in the afternoon. She remembers random phrases from her books and quotes them to me half a day later. Late in the evening as we’re preparing for her bedtime she can suddenly say “pappa kiigub” (daddy is swinging) and expect me to remember that in one of her books, the piglet had to wait in line while his daddy and the other piglets were swinging. Good memory training for both of us.
She has favourite books, and favourite pages in those books, and favourite phrases in those pages, which she starts repeating to me as soon as we get to that page.
H: Then the chicken went to the cat and asked, “I’m all alone and looking for a friend. Do you want to play with me?”
I: Rats of course!
H: “No, I’m busy,” says the cat. “What are you doing?” asks the chicken.
I: Rats of course!
H: “I’m hunting,” says the cat. “What are you hunting?” asks the chicken.
I: Rats of course!
H: “Rats, of course,” answers the cat. “Why don’t you talk to the goat instead?”
The alphabet book we bought in Estonia remains one of the favourites. Eric also bought a set of large colourful letter magnets, and she enjoys picking out the letters she knows (A, I, O, Ö, Ä, K, T, S, M, N, R and possibly some that I’ve forgotten). To reduce confusion, he removed all the lowercase letters, but of course an s looks the same as an S, and P and p and d are all the same too, so we have lots of these.
Sometimes we pick out all the Ss and put them on the fridge door. Sometimes we puzzle over Å and its similarity to both A and Ä. Sometimes we put Os on our fingers like rings, and look at the Os with little tails (Q) and the Os with the little openings (G). But the letters are amazingly versatile: there’s also the game of putting them all in a box and then pouring them out on the kitchen floor again, as well as the game of trying to sweep them up on a dustpan, and the game of poking them in under the fridge and then asking me to fish them out with a broom handle.
Some toys are for mess-making (the letters, for example, and a bunch of old phone cards, and marbles). All great for pouring on the floor and then picking up and putting somewhere else. Other toys seem to bring out her sense of order. Wooden blocks or toy cars, for example, are now lined up very carefully. And when she plays with her Duplo blocks (which she does almost every day now), she carefully builds straight lines (straight up, or end-to-end, or side-by-side). I don’t know if that’s a natural development or something she’s picked up from myself and Eric – we are rather orderly types, both of us.
I have seen inklings of pretend play – very occasionally she will pick up a piece of cheese from her plate and say that it’s a boat (and it does in fact look like a boat), or a horse, or a train. But mostly it’s just “doing stuff with things”.
Now that she’s spending much of her day at nursery, we don’t spend much time playing together, and especially not on workdays. Instead I try to get stuff done (dinner, laundry, shopping, cleaning) and that generally means I have to try to involve her, too. She’s a social creature and would much rather join me than play on her own.
With most activities her contribution to the practical aspect of things is about zero, which is not so bad, because it is not a negative contribution. And sometimes she likes the activity so much (in a very serious, concentrated way) that it becomes enjoyable for me, too. She really likes sweeping the steps from the gate to the door, for example.
Shopping with her is a fast-paced activity but calmer than it used to be, and I’m not so anxious about her eating all the fruit she can get her hands on. (Except if we happen to get close to the candy section: somehow she’s learned about candy and wants to have it right then and there.) She knows that we go to the shop to buy food, and she knows where some of the stuff is, and she understands that when we’re done we go to the till and give money to the man or woman sitting there.
On the other hand, food preparation with Ingrid is messy and hectic. She wants to do all the things that I do: chop veggies, and to whisk sauces, and to open jars, and to pour water in the saucepans, and so on. Most of the time I can keep her on a parallel track – she gets her own chopping board and her own little knife, and a measuring cup with which she can fill a saucepan, and her own dish brush. But even then it all ends up very messy and wet. Other things remain off limits, especially anything to do with the hot stove.
And of course she wants a taster of everything that goes in the food. I’m OK with her tasting tomato purée and sour cream, but I’ve thus far refused her pleas for black pepper and raw garlic. Not because I think it’s a bad idea but because I don’t have the time to deal with the aftereffects at the same time as I’m preparing a meal.
Her language development has gotten to a point where I can have actual conversations with her, and see that she understands what I’m talking about. It’s mostly simple, everyday stuff. We’ve spoken a lot about autumn recently (leaves turning yellow or red and falling down). We talk about puddles, and how there are big puddles that you need rubber boots for, and small puddles that you can sometimes walk in with your sandals, and the very small puddles that collect on our crumbling stairs. We talk quite a lot about other people, and about “ours” and “someone else’s” and “her own” etc – how we have our home, and the other children from the nursery go to their own homes, and the houses we pass are someone else’s homes. We talk about other children also having mummies, and other adults also going to work. We talk about our train station being the right station for us, and other stations being wrong for us, but right for the people who get off the train there. We talk about how to make sense of the world.