Bigger, bigger: littlest. 

7 09 2016

Although not always happy about this fact, Tabitha is well aware that she’s the little one in our house, our family, our roving band.  She was as quick as predicted to burst into tears when told, at the State Fair a few days past, that she was too small to ride the carousel, but quick enough too, a few minutes later, still sniffling, to explain back to me the reason why: “No ride horsies Evanny.  Me too yittle.” “That’s right, baby.  This year, you’re too little.  Let’s hope you’re tall enough next time!”  We found only one ride in the whole fair that allowed her to climb on and buckle in, and by dang did our plucky ducky, little-miss-sunshine make good on it.  Holding her own is one of her most notable traits, really.  Riding a donkey by herself, just like her 8-year-old brother?  Check.


Three-way teeter-totter on a lava-pebble Icelandic playground this past summer

Hands in the air on the mini roller-coaster?  Check.  Studying up on letters and numbers just like her 3-year-old sister?  Check and check again.  The other night, trying in vain to get the girls to bed with something like speed and simplicity, I told Evanny to count the projected stars in their room while I nursed the just-a-few-minutes-ago-totally-sleepy Tabitha whose wiggles were intensifying in my lap.  “There are too many,” she complained, “like a million thousand.”  Tabba, on the other hand, pulled away from my skin, pointed her toes, pointed a hand to the ceiling, and started counting.  “One, two, five, seven, seven, seven, seven, eight, nine, ten, one, two…”  And below is a 3-minute example of Tabitha’s side of the “conversation” that is reading books with our newly minted 2-year-old (she’s just at 25 months): I read the words on the page, pausing frequently and with rising frustration (which I feel guilty about, because conversation is good, language is good, word-practice is good, all reading behaviors are good, and yet knowing all of this doesn’t make it easy to quell the drive for linearity and completion that wells up when one STARTS to read a page and isn’t allowed to finish) for a hefty flurry of interruptions, and she describes and narrates what she sees in the pictures:

“Reada book?  Now?  No that book.  Dis one.”

“Biki on her face” (Trans: “Binky in her mouth”)

“Mommy blow balloon: in the sky!”

“Dis the hill! Hold on. This a first. Bue truck. Pink one in chicken. Sheep in olla one. What donkey do?”

“Baby go sleep this night time? Baby wake, daddy wake. ”

She also has a story of her own now, her first sustained tale to tell that springs up in her memory/awareness a few times a day, and she tells it the same time at each remembering:”Bee bit me. Outside. Mama talk Papa. Bee bit this shoulder me.” (Trans: “A bee bit me, outside, when Mama was talking to Papa. It bit me on this shoulder.”)  Of course it’s terrible that a bee (wasp?) bit (stung) her sweet little neck, right by her shoulder, because she scrunched up her shoulder against her ear to block her ear from the buzzing and trapped it in the tiny web of her honey-colored curls, and it hurt, and she cried, and at the same time the whole happening is terrific, because she was brave and good while we pressed a cold tea-bag on the sting and snuggled her, and it gave her a story to tell, a real story all her own (Evanny’s was about something she saw on TV).  It’s less good that she freezes and quivers every time she sees any flying creature at all, fly, gnat, what-have-you, but she’s still fascinated by caterpillars, so I’m hopeful that this earned prejudice against wings won’t last too long.


Kersplashing into the splash pool over and over with her favourite playmate–with distractions like this around, it’s hard to remember to worry about bees.

The story isn’t entirely an isolated incident; when we first got back from Iceland, we heard about the thermal pool at uneven intervals throughout the days as evidence of the same kind of random, pop-up thinking: “Fwim! Me float!”, which I appreciate because it means her brain was already doing it without having to be prompted by something as woe-inducing as a bee-sting. Language and the drive to share is also coming with associations these days: when we see or hear a plane above, she’ll tell me excitedly: “Airplane! Me, Evvy, Caleb, Daddy, Mama, fly!”  Reading through the stories above, we stopped at the picture of the truck-driving donkey because she remembered riding donkeys on the beach in Weston with her sibs and wanted to tell me about it. It was a struggle: she kept using her sister’s name (she isn’t here) and the word “docdoc” which is usually doctor, not donkey, but this is one of the things I like most about her language acquisition. She may throw fierce toddler tantrums about other things, but when it comes to stupid parents not understanding her efforts, she’s very patient, very persistent, try-and-try again for as long as it takes to be heard and understood. “Docdoc. Evanny, docdoc.” “Evanny’s going to the doctor?” “No, docdoc this.” “Donkey?” “Yah, doc-key. Me doc-key Evanny.” “Oh! You’re telling me about riding donkeys on the beach!” “Yah! Tell Mama!” “Who else was there?” “Evanny. Caleb. Daddy–Daddy walk.” “Daddy walked instead of riding a donkey?” “Yah. Daddy walk.” “Wasn’t Papa Smith there too?” “No.” “Are you sure? He’s in the pictures.” “No Papa Smif doc-key. Walk. Daddy.”  “Papa Smith didn’t ride a donkey, he walked with Daddy?” “Yah!”


Solo donkey-riding on the long, long, tidal stretch by the Grand Pier in Weston, age 2-and-2-days

Tabitha, as our newest talker and so most attentive language-learner, came home from England with the most charming little “woo-tah” for “water” I’ve ever heard (Caleb used to do it, but only when prompted or when trying extra hard to get Matt to notice him; Tab uses it as her primary functional term for the stuff), although it doesn’t transfer: she asks for glasses of “wootah,” not “walla,” but bites/chunks/slices of “wallamella,” not “wootahmelon,” and the rest of her language seems unaffected by accent, just broadened by exposure and practice after the busy summer away, all the different voices reading stories and talking, all the new Disney movies on grandma’s TV, all the new cousins and friends to listen to and play with and chase and keep up with. (Her siblings had entirely different responses: Evanny was utterly unaffected, sounding more English while we were there, because everyone else said “Mummy” too, but reverting right back to sounding American once we were home and the surrounds switched back.  Caleb worked hard to practice and imitate what he was hearing, as he wanted to fit in with and be like the bigger kids he kept finding to play with (and then, good grief, the northern/Irish accents of Eoghan and Danny Lethbridge, with whom he was spending 24 hours a day); he spent a whole week with his American cousins at the end of the trip and dropped all that, but pulls it out again whenever he wants his sisters to take him extra-seriously or wants to impress Matt or Andrew.)


Who’s the best big brother?  The one who takes this baby creek-swimming up to his hips in ice “wootah”!

Sentences themselves are old friends for Tab now, and word-strings long enough that no one thinks to count them. A minute ago, for instance, narrating the happenings of the afternoon: “Me eat my banana me wait my oatmilk.” (Trans: “I’m eating a banana while I wait for my oatmeal.”)  And oh, “oatmilk,” the baby-words, they’re disappearing so fast.  I never even got to record most of them–I had a list running in a “note” on my iPhone that spontaneously erased itself, because iThings, and now it’s down to the scraps I can recall.  Her consonants are inconsistent, easier to reproduce in the middle of words than at the beginning: alongside “wallamella,” adorably, is “wallapop” for “lollipop,” with the central “l” as clear as the one in “Caleb”; she says “bulba” for “vulva” but has no trouble with “Evvy,” “tratch” for “scratch” and “tar” for “star” and “fwan” for “swan” but has no trouble with “dress” or “princess.”  When she’s thirsty/sleepy/gearing up for bed, it’s sentences: “Me nurse your boobs really-now?” (“Really-now” is Tabitha’s way of saying she wants what she wants very much.) When her sister is being unfair, sentences: “Evvy push me!” “Evvy me bonk head dis.”  “Evvy take blue my baby!” “EvanNYYY!”  When she’s hungry and I’m scrambling to cook her an egg, for example, sentences: “Me eat egg now?  No cook.  Me sitaoto (“sit counter”).  Me eat else?  Wait egg, else?  Banana!”  “Me go school, me bigger, cut apple,” she reminds me, every time I slice her snacks and won’t let her have the knife–when she goes to school like Evanny, she’ll learn to cut apples for herself.  Other favourites include how she differentiates situationally between “sankoo” and “sankoo so much!” for moments of ordinary vs extreme gratitude, how I get “I yuv you” when it’s an echo but “me yuv you” when it pops up in her mind unprompted, putting the idea into her own grammar, where the subject “me” is still firm and strong, and how she’s had to create her own, longer version of a standard little-kid comeback to being asked to do something to keep with her grammatical forms: where another 2-year-old might whine “I caaaaaan’t,” for Tab it’s “No me can!” (or, more phonetically, “tan”), and rather than “I don’t need a diaper,” it’s “no me need diaper” (she’s nothing if not intellectually consistent).


“Sitato” master in her usual state of dress, with a bowl of berries grasped gently in her monkey-toes

She and Evanny are also really starting to play now, with real give-and-take of ideas rather than just Tab automatically following because she’s smaller and has fewer words to offer.  It’s not just “yes” and “no”; there’s dialog to copy, variations on games to suggest, narratives to interrupt by pretending to be a cat or a dog without warning, stubborn refusals to be the character she doesn’t want to be.  Last night, they had a blast sitting in the splash-pool while I deflated it, crawling into the collapse, watching and running their fingers through the waving grasses of the flood as the water emptied out into the lawn, and then they were faced with the entertaining process of smushing the remaining air out of the inflated ring.  Tab looked up first, at a place where a long wall had a dip in the middle but was still high on both sides, and cried “Evvy, yook, see-saw!”  She ended up yielding to Ev’s plan of marching in circles instead, chanting “march, march, march” as they stamped out the ring of air, but as far as I know she hasn’t seen a see-saw since our first stay in Iceland 2 months ago; the idea and the desire to share the game were both entirely her own.


Collaborative painting, with Tab at her favourite vantage point–one at the height of a climb, any climb.

As the littlest, Tabitha is the clingiest, the whiniest (by age-comparison, anyway; Evanny, enacting deliberate regression to get more attention and inherently and intensely LOUD is told “stop whining!” approximately 4000 more times per day than her younger sister), the temper-tantrum-est, the kick-people-when-mad-est, the scream-at-the-top-of-her-lungs-when-frustrated-est, the deliberately-paint-herself-and-her-surroundings-with-food-est, the jump-on-her-mattress-and-holler-when-told-to-go-to-sleep-est of our children, and her dad is very good at brooking none of her nonsense, but I’m a terrible parent in these circumstances: I think she’s funny, with those wispy little toddler-tufts that have now grown into flyaway little toddler curls behind her ears, those fat little legs, those lengthening, lengthening limbs, those soft, hot, startlingly strong little hands holding on to the bars of the crib while she goes all berzerker-trampoline on the idea of bedtime.  I get mad, and I shout at her, and I put her down on the bed again and again and again, but then I laugh, because she’s such a cliche, and she’s adorable while infuriating, and I’m such a cliche, because she’s my last baby, and every obnoxious baby-thing she does is the last time a baby that little is going to ever do that thing, because she’ll be bigger tomorrow, a little more coordinated, in possession of a few more words, and as each thing grows, some little shade or shape of something precious fades away.


Roller-coaster-hands: check. (3rd NYSF by 2-and-one-twelvth: also check!)

As the littlest, Tabitha is also dare-and-honor bound to keep up with the other two, and nothing stops her.  She throws herself into the splash-pool water with no fear at all of going under, and then goes under, and then pushes herself back up again, wipes her face, spits a little water, and throws herself again.  At the thermal pool in Iceland, where we put on both girls their first pairs of water-wings, Evanny hung on and stayed close, and Tabitha pushed off at once, paddling her feet into the air, dipping her face in, swimming away from us: “no hold me!” She climbs the most constantly: she was our only habitual crib-climber, she’s as like her sister to be found at the top of Caleb’s loft (and is equally undaunted by the vertical, not leaning, ladders of friends’ bunk beds), she didn’t hesitate a minute before following Evanny out of the living room window, and she’s the first of the lot to regularly get herself into and out of her own high chair using any proximate step–the legs and rungs of the chair itself, nearby dining room table chairs, the actual table.  She’ll climb anything on the playground, and if I’m not careful, she’ll commit herself to pulling up onto things I can’t reach from below her, so steadying her play is out of the question; I just have to wait nearby in case she takes a dive (she never does).  She likes baby swings because they’re safe cages for all manners of twisting and goofing around, but is thoroughly confident in the big-kid kind (despite the pink scar-spotting up her back from the one she fell out of, scraping herself all up the spine) in June.


This is the “da-ta!” of a climbing baby having achieved a perch on the very narrow front porch-window ledge, with the help of my feet to balance on.

As my littlest, Tab works intently on carving out and defending her relationship with me: I get only the occasional and very rare (but wholly unprompted) “Me yuv you!”, but I often get “My mama,” that first fierce declaration followed by a deliberate contextualization: “Evvy’s mama.  My mama.  My Evvy mama.”  Once, she tried for a bilateral split, going so far as to hug one of my legs, naming it “mine,” and then patted the other one: “Evvy’s.” But most of the time sharing is grudgingly accepted, the two of them fighting with feet over the shared airspace of my body and its immediate proximity, and my favourite mornings in the world are the ones wherein I get to loll around in bed a while as the sky warms from early blue to summer yellow, with Evanny curled around my right arm, tucked along my side, knees at the edge of the bed, head pillowed on my shoulder, and Tab propped up on my other shoulder, latched on, half asleep, sweaty curls sticking to my skin, with a tiny hand thrown over her own hip to hold onto mine.  Cliche or not, I’m trying, tightroping the span between babying her more than is her due and letting her take on, climb, attack, etc. challenges much too big for her stubborn, ferocious little frame by doing too much of both, being half-seriously accused by her father one minute of planning to let her nurse until she’s seventeen, then being scolded by the children’s librarian for how she’s climbed up on the table the second I look down to see what book Ev’s asking me to read.  I feel on some level that I’m supposed to worry about this, express anxiety about getting it wrong, worry that I’m doing her one disservice or another–or maybe both, overlapping overprotectiveness with neglect in some message-mixing little stew–but I’m not worried about Tabitha.


Toddler McToddlerface, shining with confidence and sass–why would anyone worry about this child?

I worry about Caleb: his smarts foundering in the north country, his inner doom-counter always too close to going off, his invented worries, his people-pleasing tendency to throw in with whoever’s getting the most attention, his inevitable careless kid-ness, and most of all my lack of patience with all of the above. “What were you thinking?” I find myself asking him too often.  “Did you really just throw that hunk of ice at your sister after whining that the tiny crumb that hit your foot hurt?  What is wrong with you?” “Are you being your best self?”  “Was that kind?” “Where’s the blood?  If she just almost took your head off, I expect to see at least a little bleeding.” “Would you stop inventing DRAMA?!” “Did I not just ask you not to do that?  ENGAGE GIANT CRANIUM!”  I worry about Evanny getting lost in the middle, watching too much mature TV (there’s all that shooting in Clone Wars) getting caught up in princesses, whining too much, wailing over nothing, wetting the bed at almost 4 when she was never a bed-wetter at 2-to-3, being pushed into too much school too early (even if it’s less than is available and than many of her peers are undertaking), being expected to be too big and too independent at 3 by default, because if Tab’s the baby, she must be big, so we treat her like she’s as 8 as Caleb some days, and about her starting to act too much like her grandmother when she doesn’t get her way.  I don’t worry about Tabitha.  All the ways she drives us crazy by acting like a toddler are pretty much all of the ways that other people’s toddlers act, that toddlers are famous for acting, and I have no trouble at all maintaining that perspective (our other two were weird.  We got lucky.  She’s hard in some ways because toddlers are hard, because keeping up with 3 needing 3 different things is hard.  She’s fine).  She gets less of my attention despite her insistence than the other two got when they were little, but it’s balanced out by getting theirs instead.  I don’t read enough with her, in part because she’s not very patient with reading when there are “better” offers of activities involving her siblings to choose from, but with Ev back in school every day starting next week, I hope to start doing better at it; that’s an observation and a goal, not a worry.


This little cat has just captured the leaf she was batting at, and is proudly carrying her kill across the playground in her teeth.

My only Tabitha-related worry is that she attracts so many more ticks than the rest of the family, and I’m afraid I’m going to miss one and she’s going to end up with Lyme disease, but that’s not about her being Tabitha, just a wish that she really was a cat, so we could squeeze some Advantage on her back and be done with it, because she’s going to get out into the backyard on her own (just like Gustav keeps doing; he goes through the basement window, while she uses her thumbs to just open the back door), she’s going to run all the way down to the “yogs” to say hi to her papa, she’s going to wander into the front yard looking for the cat, she’s going to take her own self out to the splash pool if no one else wants to come, so scratches and ticks and bee-stings and filthy little ankles, they’re just how it’s going to be.


Up, up, up, and up some more, those ever-longer legs just go, go, go (and her funny little concentration-frown goes too!).




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