Let me introduce you to the person this posting is about - my niece, 2 years old since September 27.
|She brought me the camera to "Take picture" and so I did :)|
I told you so :)
Let's get started with some general words:
I am 37 years old and do not have kids yet. I (too) often hear comments like this: "Yeah, that is because you love traveling so much. That lifestyle won't work with kids." No, it's not. "That is because you work too much, you like more to have a career." No, it's not.
The simple truth is: There are a couple of (private) reasons, but in the end it can be summarized as "it just did not happen."
The plans I had for my life were totally different. I was always sure I would have two kids by my 30th or latest 35th birthday. I was totally clear about it and if my life would have given me the chance to make that happen, I would have these two kids now. But life is never how you are planning it to be and so it did not work out.
I have now two options: One is to cry myself into sleep and hang around depressed at home. The other possibility is to take it as it is, do my job with energy and as good as I can, see my family and friends, work on my creative adventures and non-profit activities, travel the world if possible, live without making too many plans - and enjoy it. And that is what I decided to do. Life - and that lesson I had to learn - is too short and precious to not to try to make it the best possible.
Okay, done with the rant ... now jump into the story :)
I am a tough cookie when it comes to traveling. I often travel alone ... and it doesn't scare me at all. New York, San Francisco, London ... I am happy to explore, to meet new people on the way and face the adventure on my own. But when I sat in the plane to Northern Germany (my family and I live more than 600 km apart) in late August, I finally was nervous and slightly afraid about how the next couple of days would work out for me.
My task: Babysitting my almost 2-year-old niece. The in-home-daycare was closed for 4.5 weeks over the summer. That was more time than my sister and her husband could get time off from work and so the babysitting job was split between the grandma and me - the aunt and godmother of the adorable young lady pictured above.
As you can imagine I love my niece and I was super happy to spend more time with her, but I was also really anxious because the last time I tried to take care of her was no fun for both of us. It was at Christmas last year and my sister and her husband had taken the chance of having a babysitter at home to go for grocery and gift shopping. They had not even really left the house when my niece figured out that mom AND dad were gone and that I was definitely not her nanny either. I guess all parents of you, dear readers, know already what is coming: She started crying from the bottom of her tiny heart breaking mine with it and did not stop despite all my efforts until she fell asleep in exhaustion. I guess we both were a bit traumatized after it and during my next visit I was happy to have at least one parent around all the time. And now we would have a full week to spend alone - at least a couple of hours every day until my brother-in-law would come back from his early shift right after lunch time.
But what a difference the few weeks between my last visit (Easter) and my arrival on the last Sunday in August make in the life of a toddler. And in this case it changed everything.
I can tell you - genes are a strong force and my niece definitely inherited my sister's and mine strong crush on words, on language, on books and stories. The effect: for such a tiny girl she knows a LOT of words and she knows how to use them.
I never really thought about it before, but it is so so so much easier to take care for a short person that can actually tell you what she wants to play, to read, to do, to eat or to drink; when a little girl can tell you if she is hungry, is too tired to walk another step, even request a fresh diaper or wants to have the sand removed from her shoes. And it is incredibly sweet. Don't get me wrong - she is no wunderkind (okay ... maybe a little bit ;) and she is not telling you things in complete sentences yet (although that is coming more and more now every day), but she can express herself with words in a way that it blows you away.
At 90% of the time this enormous ability to communicate makes life easier. The rest of the time is fighting ;). Not really, but kind of. Like here when we had a discussion of where to go. She told me "This way!" trying to talk me into going to the playground and I said "No" because the sand was still soaking wet after the shower of rain before. Let's say ... 2-year-olds really know what they want and this one in particular and so we discussed that for a little while. She was not too happy with my decision. In this picture she is trying the "I will make a sad face to break your heart" way to change my mind ;).
|Let's go to the playground, pleeeease.|
Besides the genes there are some more reasons why she already knows so many words. One is for sure that her parents are talking to her in full sentences and not in baby talk and are actively practicing words with her. That sounds more serious than it is. In fact we are calling her "our little parrot" because it is her favorite (and sometimes really annoying) thing to do to repeat every single word we are saying. I often thought she would just repeat to practice the pronunciation without knowing the meaning, but then she would surprise me the next day with using the new word in the right context. It is just incredible how fast such a tiny person is able to learn new stuff.
Additionally she is at the in-house-daycare with kids who are a bit older than her and so she is always very motivated to learn quickly new things (not only new words) because she wants to be able to do what all the other kids can do. She was the last one becoming 2 years old and she was incredibly excited about it. When her birthday finally arrived she did not even have her eyes open in the morning when she proudly announced "TWO YEARS".
And finally there is this huge crush she has on books. She LOVES reading and she will bring you one of her various books to read about 10 times a day. And she knows her books by heart. One time I accidently skipped one page. When I was done reading she looked at me like "That was not such a good job", took the book, browsed to the page I missed and gave the book back to me to read the missing site "Ups" ;).
But my favorite was when I was reading - for the first in one million times - the story of Cowboy Klaus and the Evil Frank and she suddenly said "Must pee." As you can imagine I immediately checked the diaper, but it was dry and she looked at me like "What is wrong with you?" And when I picked up the book again I knew why: right on the next page little Cowboy Klaus needs to pee, but can't go for some reasons. Now I know!
I am quite sure that one reason for her passion about books is my sister and her reading abilities. My sister was always the creative force between us. She can draw (another thing her daughter totally loves), is not so lost when it comes to make music than I am (although the musician in the family is my brother-in-law) and obviously a great actress was lost with her choosing another career: She is a fantastic reader imitating different voices and creating all kind of the story accompanying noises.
I just hope that things will stay like they are now. Of course watching TV is very attractive for kids and might over the time pull away some attention from books (and you cannot keep a kid 100% away from the TV forever), but I strongly believe that the cornerstone is set - once a book lover, always a book lover.
|Early stages of multitasking: reading & elk riding|
All in all we had an incredibly wonderful week with so much fun. We got through all challenges from diapers with LOTS of poop, to cooking and eating breakfast & lunch to extended playground trips (when the weather was better and the sand dry again) happy and healthy.
Of course I am missing her now more than ever, but the good thing about a speaking kid is: We can talk on the phone (with my sister coaching when she is "showing" me things, I can't see) and sometimes we can video chat which is so much fun.
And when I feel really shitty and in the need of a hug and nobody is around, I just remember how she sat on my arm, hugging me with one arm and fumbling with the other hand on the Pittsburgh Penguins patch on my hoodie whispering "Pingin" into my ear.
That week I really learned a lesson about the miracle of communication. We take it so much for granted in our daily life but being with a kid that is just learning to use words, shows how much we rely on language and how much easier life gets when we talk to each other and take the time to listen closely.