Signs of the times

Laurel’s language acquisition has really taken off in the past couple of months — not in terms of words, but in terms of various signs she knows and uses. Granted, she does few of them “correctly,” and in some cases it’s clear she doesn’t really know what they mean, but that’s how we started with signs like “milk” and “cat,” and she clearly understands them now.

She’s learned some from us, some from her babysitter, and some from a couple of books that teach various signs (many of them not exactly ASL — but baby-friendly alternates). It’s hard to keep track of how many she knows, now, but here’s a pretty good list: milk, more, cat, book, love, naked (she made that one up herself), light, sleepy, bath, eat, cereal, banana, bird, butterfly, hot, bib, gentle, hurt, and water. I’m definitely forgetting a few. She’s experimenting with “dad” and has been known to sign “moon” and “ice cream,” but not consistently. I’m trying to teach her “please” and “thank you,” but they haven’t caught on yet.

I just learned today that she knows “hurt.” I’ve been trying to teach it to her, because she’s been teething and she has bumps and scrapes and I wanted her to have a way to tell me where she’s hurting. When you use the sign, you use it over the body part that hurts. I just started teaching it a few weeks ago, and today, after she’d hurt me and I said, “Please don’t do that, it hurts mama,” she signed “hurt.” So I encouraged her and used the sign over the part of me that she hurt. Unfortunately, she seemed to be experimenting with this later on in the day by biting me various places and then watching me sign “hurt” and signing it back to me. Being the basis for all of her psychological experiments is not my favorite part of parenting, but I suppose it’s one I’d better get used to.

Alas, Laurel really hasn’t been working on verbal language, at least not that we’ve noticed. She still has a few words, including “shoes” and “cheese” (without the vowels), as well as “moo.” She’s experimenting more with “mama” and “dada,” and has started saying “hahahaha,” as the sound she thinks sheeps and goats make. Yeah, I don’t “ba-a-a-a-a-a” very well.

On the other hand, she’s making a lot of progress toward walking. She’s standing more on her own (though usually it’s when she’s holding a toy or two in her hands and forgetting to hang on to a piece of furniture), and spending more time cruising around — walking while holding on to walls, tables, etc. She’s beginning to prefer cruising to crawling, except for long distances, and in one case took a single step toward Devin before letting herself crash into his lap. I don’t think it will be long now before she’s on her feet all the time.

— Beth

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The revolution begins at home

We’re both pretty proud of the fact that Laurel has never had a taste of that baby food that comes in jars. She barely wanted pureed food, even, in the beginning. Applesauce was OK, but pureed broccoli? Yuck! (We still have baggies of pureed broccoli and beets in the freezer.) Florets of broccoli, on the other hand — ones she could pick up herself — she liked right away. Almost since the beginning, we’ve let Laurel feed herself small chunks of food, with a little spoon-feeding here and there; lentils are tough to eat one at a time with baby fingers.

There’s a whole school of thought based on letting babies self-feed that has the scary name “baby-led weaning.” It doesn’t mean actually weaning your baby off the breast — it just refers to the very, very slow transition away from nursing and onto a diet of solid food, one that begins between 6 and 9 months of life and ends whenever the child stops nursing, somewhere between 2 and 4 years of age. Anyhow, it allows babies to explore their food with their hands and mouths, often making a terrific mess in the process, but ultimately giving them control of their diet.

There are many upsides to this, including that it encourages you toward a healthier diet, if you weren’t already on one already. Most BLW foods need to be cut up, if not cooked from scratch. We feed Laurel a lot of raw fruits — she especially likes bananas, ripe pears, and chunks of apple — as well as cooked vegetables, including sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and artichokes. She also eats fish (salmon is a favorite), chicken, pork (especially slow-cooked), beef, and beans. The only things we spoon-feed her are things like soups and yogurt, and she’s starting to help put the spoon in her mouth.

There are also many downsides, including the almost-unavoidable food-throwing phase. We are in that phase now. Laurel will take a few bites of food, and then throw the rest of it on the floor. It’s only somewhat because she’s not hungry, the baby books tell us; she just needs to experiment with gravity, apparently. I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees, sweeping up painstakingly cooked vegetables.

(Last night she was “experimenting” by throwing her sippy cup — which has a straw in it — onto the floor repeatedly. I handed it back to her, and she took a sip and signed “water.” I said, “I know, you HAVE water.” She signed again. I looked, and realized she’d knocked the straw loose and it was no longer working. “MOM, fix it,” Devin translated as she signed “water” again.)

I have been thinking a lot about Jamie Oliver’s food revolution lately, about how many kids don’t know how to identify a potato, a tomato, or other vegetables on sight, don’t know what they taste like or how to cook them. I also think of Shauna Ahern, the “Gluten-Free Girl,” and her daughter, who is growing up watching her parents cook — and helping them. Both Devin and I grew up in food-rich households and knew about all kinds of foods and how to prepare them from a pretty early age, and I fantasize about baking with Laurel when she’s a little older.

There are times when I wish I could teach all my non-cooking friends how to cook, but so far nobody’s taken me up on the offer. What I can do is teach Laurel how to cook, and encourage her to love fresh, healthy food. She already does. That feels like a good start.

— Beth