Are we there yet?

I’ve recently handed over my role as Editor of The Voice, quarterly magazine of the Cambridge branch of the NCT. I very much enjoyed volunteering for the charity in this way, but it was time to move on being as we no longer live in Cambridge and I would like to take on other things (mainly Sewn Down Purple Lane). During my time as Editor, I wrote quite a few articles, some of which I think are relevant beyond just Cambridge, so I thought I’d share some on this blog. First up is an article I wrote recently about our experience of long distance car travel with little ones. I hope you find it useful if you’re planning a long journey with young children soon.

The location of our boys’ grandparents’ (holiday) homes – Devon, West Midlands and Lake District – means that we’ve done our fair share of middle-to-long distance car journeys with them at various ages. Before kids, we used to catch the train down to Devon, but as the route means two (overground) trains as well as hopping on the tube across London, we haven’t fancied that with a baby, toddler, or baby and toddler, plus all the paraphernalia that travels with them for a week away. Cross-country (i.e. not through London) train services to the Midlands aren’t something we enjoyed even without kids. And for the Lakes, it’s handy to have our own car for getting around once we’re up there

Cumming car 1

Planning ahead

The first time we attempted the Midlands trip – which takes about 1 hour 45 minutes in good traffic – with each baby, they were 2-3 months old. As they were still quite unpredictable with feeding and sleeping, we couldn’t really tell when was the best time of day to travel from their point of view, so we just went for it and ended up stopping for a feeding break or two, even though we’d normally do this distance in one run.

For about the first 6 months or so, neither of them liked being in a car seat for very long awake, so we took it in turns to sit in the back and try to keep them calm and reassure them. Joel didn’t seem as distressed as Andrew did at the same age, probably because he had his big brother in the back with him too, pulling silly faces and chucking toys at him! If you have to drive alone with a rear-facing baby in the back, a mirror attached to the back seat’s headrest means they can see your face reflected in your rear-view mirror.

As they got older, we would usually time our journey for when they would normally nap or sleep (early afternoon or evening), since they both started to sleep well in the car, though Andrew is less likely to drop off now that he’s just turned 3. But neither of them have slept for the entire journey to Devon or the Lakes – about 6-7 hours with a couple of breaks in good traffic.

Entertainment central

Cumming car 2So what to do during awake time? As babies, toys attached to the car seat were handy, so when they inevitably got thrown out, whoever was sitting in the back could easily retrieve them. It’s also amazing how long games like ‘peekaboo’ and ‘pulling silly faces’ can entertain a bored baby in a car.

One of our best buys since having kids has been our in-car DVD player for long journeys from around the age of 1. It attaches to the back of the driver’s/front passenger’s headrest for back passengers to view, or on the back seat’s headrest if baby/toddler is still rear facing. I have also heard of iPads/tablets (which we don’t have) and a car headrest holder (available to buy online) serving the same purpose. The novelty of a new (to us) DVD or one not watched for a while has worked wonders at entertaining them in the car. Of course music CDs go down well too.

So far Andrew seems to be fine at reading on the go (something which makes me car sick), so a new magazine does the trick of amusing him for a good hour or so. We’ve also just got into playing the simple game of ‘spot the [insert colour] car [or other common/rare vehicle]’, particularly in slower moving traffic, and this encourages him to look out of the window and take in our surroundings. As much as we don’t like being stuck in traffic, watching out for emergency vehicles if there has been an accident is very exciting for a vehicle-obsessed toddler.

As they get older, I’m looking forward to playing more games, some of which we used to play as children on long car journeys, for example ‘I spy’ or making words with the letters on registration plates, and some of which I have discovered from friends or the book Are we there yet? by Jo Pink. One friend of my parents, who has two girls a few years older than Andrew, takes an Argos catalogue for each daughter on long car journeys: she sets the girls ‘tasks’ from the catalogue, for example they have to find the cheapest set of saucepans or the most expensive television, or they have to plan their dream bedroom or toy collection and add up how much it would all cost (if they were ever lucky enough to get it!) Apparently this keeps them amused for hours, and it’s totally free!

Expect the unexpected

Cumming car 3Apart from thinking about entertainment, it’s important to plan food, drink and other supplies when driving with little ones. We always take more than we think we’ll need, in case of hold ups, and a substantial packed lunch and other snacks mean we can eat and drink if stationary rather than having to wait to pull in at the next services. When travelling in winter we pack coats and sturdy shoes so they are easy to get at if we need to stop or were to break down. And in (warm) summer we take plenty of drinks. On that note, the potty is also handy to have close at hand

I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed every single moment of car journeys with the boys, but we’ve certainly learned how to make the most of them and try to avoid pitfalls.

‘Wiggly wiggly’ car racing track – #minicreations

I found out via twitter this morning that there’s a linky running on KidGLloves blog called Mini Creations.

By the end of most days in which we spend any time at home, there’s some sort of mini creation. It might be something arty or something edible, but more likely it’s a train track or a Duplo sculpture. Over the past few months, Andrew has got into building in a big way, even though Joel does his best to destroy (or ” ‘stroy” in Andrew’s words) his creation – bless him – though I do remind him that he used to destroy Daddy’s creations when he was Joel’s current age. I usually try and take Joel into another room or suggest Andrew continues the building process when Joel’s asleep.

So I really have no excuse not to join in when I get a spare moment.

Here’s today’s offering: a racing car track (the V-Tech Toot Toot Driver’s track). He built it all himself whilst I was dressing Joel this morning. I had to resort to putting Joel in the playpen temporarily as I filmed the video, took pictures, and Andrew explained it to me. So please excuse the squealing and random noises in the background (he’s playing with a toy cooker). The track was actually Joel’s Christmas present, but Andrew loves building with it at the moment, and he likes coming up with various designs – for example the ‘wiggly wiggly’.

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Mini Creations

To the steering wheel shop – wot so funee?

In the past couple of weeks, Andrew has well and truly given up his afternoon nap. It wasn’t’ bad going at all to be still napping beyond his 3rd birthday, so I can’t complain, but it does mean that he is around in the afternoon. He is actually very happy to just play on his own for a while, and seems to like the time without Joel (who has at least some nap in the afternoon) to play with the toys that Joel isn’t allowed. However, it does mean he can also get into more mischief now that he’s roaming around downstairs rather than enclosed in his bedroom.

One afternoon last week, I suddenly became aware that I could hear some noises coming from the kitchen. Just as I was about to get up from the sofa and investigate, Andrew came in to the living room and said… “Look Mummy, I made myself some squash!” Wot so funee about that, you may ask? Well, I was sceptical that he’d managed to do that all on his own, so I asked to have a look. As I thought, he had poured neat squash into one of his drinks bottles and was drinking it undiluted from a straw. So I gently brought him back to the kitchen, where I saw the scene of devastation that was half a bottle of squash spilled all over the work surface and a pack of straws strewn across the floor. I had to admire his independence and determination to do it himself, but it took me a while to clear up!

Andrew is becoming very keen on pretend play, for example with the toy kitchen and making us cups of tea and cake, and also acting out role plays. I saw him sitting on the floor with arms out in front of him, brumming like a car. He caught my eye and the following conversation started…

A: “I’m in my car Mummy”

Me: “Ah I can see, where are you going Andrew?”

A: “To the steering wheel shop to buy a steering wheel”

Me: “Of course! That’s obviously what you buy from a steering wheel shop!”

I did wonder how he was driving the car in the first place, but I didn’t like to go down that route.

I’m used to being handed random blocks or bricks and having to play along with the fact that they are really cakes/biscuits/something else edible. Except I did this automatically the other day, and started to pretend I was eating a block of Duplo, thinking I was supposed to be treating it like a cake. But then I got told off…

A: “No it’s not an eaty marble, it’s a rolly marble!”

Me: “I can’t see any marbles Andrew?!”

A: “It’s a marble holder that, I just said, not a cake!”

Me: “Ah sorry I must have missed that!”

Now that we’re living with Granny and Grandad temporarily, they too have been experiencing quite a few funee moments first hand, and relaying them to me. Here’s a good one from the other morning when they were watching Cbeebies together and a cow called Buttercup came on screen…

Granny: “Buttercup – that’s a classic name for a cow.”

A: “I do like plastic names!”

I wrote a few weeks ago about Andrew using nouns that he knows as verbs – for example, to fork something (get it on his fork). This week he was playing in the garden with a ball, and came out with “I want to tennis it!” We presume he meant he wanted to serve it off the bat, or maybe just throw it.

And finally for this week, here’s another example of Andrew deliberately changing the words of a song for effect. He loves singing, and knows the words to quite a few songs (in French and German as well as English), but every now and then he likes to make his own words up to a song that I know he knows the real words to. This week we had: “All do the hocus pocus!” And I know full well that he’s known the words to the Hokey Cokey for a long time, since he sang it most weeks at the music group he and Daddy went to in Cambridge on Tuesday mornings.

Wot So Funee?

Back seat driver – wot so funee?

This week’s latest craze in Andrew’s interest is the moon. There have been a few nights recently when the moon was shining brightly and easily visible in a cloudless sky before his bedtime. When he’s had a bath and is helping tidy his toys away, he’s keen to look out the window and see if he can see it. And he gets very excited if he can: “Look Mummy, it’s the moon, look Daddy it’s the moon!” *does a little happy dance whilst shouting*. One evening, he told me, after the excited shouts and happy dance, that “we get the moon out at bedtime”. So cute 🙂 I didn’t quite say that on previous evenings – more like “the moon comes out at bedtime” – but he’s not far off.

One evening this week I’d decided that we would have fajitas for tea. So when we popped into the shops on the way home from some errands, I told Andrew when he asked what I was putting in the basket that the sachet was fajita seasoning (I say fajita with a ‘ch’ sound similar to that in Scottish ‘loch’, not a ‘dj’ sound as in the anglicised version – this is important later…) That teatime, as Andrew was helping me cook as usual, he asked me if we were going to use the “heater seasoning” (said with a ‘ch’ sound at the start). Yes sous chef, that’s right, we need to add it after frying the veg off for a little while.

There are many buskers in Cambridge city centre, and, as Daddy the musician often points out, they are generally of a pretty high calibre. When we were sat listening to one the other day because we were a little early for our group to start, Andrew pointed out that: “he’s got no talker!” After quizzing him a little on what a talker is, it became clear that he meant “microphone”! A pretty good description though, very logical.

He’s very good at letting me know when I’ve made a mistake (or so he thinks) these days. We were reading a farm book one afternoon, and as he pointed to the picture of a small pig, I read out the word that was written below it: piglet. But apparently I was wrong: “No mummy, that’s not piglet, that’s just a pig… piglet’s on Winnie [the] Pooh!” I sat corrected.

And finally, the story alluded to in the title of this post… We don’t use the car that much in Cambridge, but yesterday we had quite a few places to go including picking up some boxes to pack for our house move. Bear in mind that in Cambridge, you’re lucky if you get into third gear with all the traffic and junctions. As we drove round the ring road, probably the fastest I’d got to all afternoon – about 26 miles per hour – Andrew hailed from the back seat: “This car’s going too fast!! Slow down Mummy, slow down!!” I informed him that I was well within the speed limit and there were few cars on the road in front of me or anywhere near us at that point. Back seat drivers start at 2 and 3/4 years old it seems.

Wot So Funee?

A day out in/with Brum – #CountryKids

Last week we went on a very exciting day trip to Birmingham. Daddy had an interview for a job at the university there, so the boys and I as well as Granny went with him, so that he could concentrate on the interview and not have to worry about travelling all the way from Cambridge on his own. Turns out he did rather well at the interview, because they gave him a job! So now we’re busy planning our move to Birmingham at Christmas. But that’s another story.

Andrew is a big fan of the little yellow car Brum, who had his own TV show back in the 1990s, set in Birmingham (or ‘The Big Town’) whose nickname is also Brum. See the clever play on words they did there! So when we told him we were going on a day out in the Big Town where Brum saves the day, he was very excited. We had to take Brum with us too of course (in toy form).

Brum Collage 1

We set off from Granny and Grandad’s house in the morning, and drove to the campus to check out exactly where Daddy needed to be later after lunch for the interview. Then we headed to a nearby pub for lunch, which Granny had booked a table at. We were a bit early still, and Joel was asleep in the car so Granny offered to stay with him whilst we had a stretch of the legs – we thought we might find a park because the pub was located in a residential area that looked just the kind of place that would have a park with swings and slides. We didn’t actually find one, but had a nice bit of a walk anyway – up a hill, which is something we don’t do very often living in a very flat city.

Brum Collage 2

After we’d eaten, we headed back to the campus just up the road, and dropped Daddy where he needed to be. Then we parked the car and got out to explore the place ourselves. We were on the look out for any of the sites that we see watching Brum. Soon we came to the clock tower in the middle of the campus. Some of the buildings around there are definitely on Brum! After a short ride in the buggy, Andrew was keen to walk/run and explore – I’m not sure he actually recognised much from Brum himself, but he seemed to understand what we were saying.

We walked through a little market place with fresh fruit and veg on sale, and then through a square with big blocks that were perfect for Andrew to walk along the top of, with Granny’s help. We were on the look out for the race track, because Andrew had seen an episode of Brum that morning which was set at the university race track. As we walked around, we saw a sign for it, and it was just around the corner. We found the entrance and saw a few people using it for running practice. There was plenty of space for Andrew and Brum to have a run too though! Unfortunately I’ve just realised that all the videos I took here (and in previous months) are lost because of some glitch in backing up from my phone to the computer, and I hadn’t got round to uploading them to youtube yet 🙁 But I can assure you that they had a good run.

Brum Collage 4

Once the sprinting was done, we headed out and continued our circular walk around the campus. We saw all sorts of different shapes, sizes and colours of buildings. The weather had generally been good if a little chilly, but fine if we kept moving. It did, however, start to rain at one point, and as there was still sun the other side of the rain clouds, we knew a rainbow would appear. And sure enough, there it was, over the buildings behind us.

Brum Collage 5

Eventually we came to the football pitches, where there were three 5-aside games being played by footballers who looked like they were students (i.e. they looked much younger than me!) Andrew was absolutely fascinated by this, and wandered up and down the sideline (behind the wire fence) watching them play. We could hardly tear him away when the phone rang to say it was time for us to meet Daddy who’d finished his interview.

Brum Collage 3

Although we were in the middle of a large city, it was lovely to have a walk around an interesting place that Andrew recognises parts of, a mini town in itself, and explore somewhere that  we will grow to know better as we live near it in the new year.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

 

A chat with Noddy – Photo of the Week

PotW 18th May 2013

Look who we met at the local supermarket! Whenever we go (and that’s not too often with Andrew as I mainly go on Tuesday or Saturday morning when Tom looks after him), Andrew insists on sitting with Noddy in his car. He’s not bothered about it actually moving, so I am spared the 50p that it costs. This week he started to have a chat with Noddy, asking him how he was and stroking his hair at the front. He even turned around and said ‘Hello Tessy bear!’ – can’t forget the passenger in the back seat now. Once he’d chatted to his passengers, Andrew grabbed the steering wheel, which he calls the ‘driver’ (logical I guess), and said ‘Let’s go to Big Ears’ house!’ I think he may have watched a few too many Noddy cartoons on youtube 🙂

Linking up with Louise for Photo of the Week

Team Lloyd

 

Family day out to find Brum (and some penguins!) – #CountryKids

Hands up – who’s heard of Brum? The little yellow car that is, not the nickname for Birmingham, though that is the point – the play on words that this car is called Brum and he has big adventures in the Big Town which is actually Birmingham. You may not have heard of him, or watched the programme when you were little. I just about remember it, but I think we had more interest in it than most families in the country as we lived near Birmingham and recognised the places it was filmed; it was on CBBC back in the 90s.

We found Brum!
We found Brum!

Thanks to Grandad, who was born and bred in Brum, Andrew has become a big fan of Brum the car. It’s his favourite DVD and he could sit for hours and watch it if I let him. For Christmas, Granny gave Andrew and Grandad the present of a day out to find the real Brum in person! We decided to wait until the weather was better and Joel was older before we did this, so we took advantage of the bank holiday three-day weekend last week and went on our family day out.

At the beginning of each episode we see Brum leaving his home in a garage full of old cars in a quiet Cotswold village and driving all the way to Birmingham to have an adventure and save the day in some big farcical mishap (often involving ‘naughty men’ or ‘baddies’ in Andrew’s words). It is at this Cotswold home that he now resides full time since he no longer films TV programmes. It is actually the Cotswold Motoring Musuem and Toy Collection run by the CSMA club in Bourton on the Water. As well as housing Brum, there is an amazing collection of old cars and other memorabilia from various decades of the last century. Now I’m not in any way a car enthusiast (as long as mine gets me from A to B I couldn’t care less what it looks like!) but I have to say I found the museum fascinating, I think precisely because it wasn’t just old cars, but old cars placed in context with other items of everyday living from their era.

Lots for toddlers to do around the museum
Lots for toddlers to do around the museum

When we spotted Brum hiding between two bigger cars, just as he does in the opening scene, Andrew was surprised to see him, but after the initial shock he seemed happy enough to have his photo taken (a few times!) next to him, of course with Grandad too! Once we’d hung around and talked to him for a bit, we made our way through the rest of the museum, which I would highly recommend for children of any age from toddlers to teenagers. There were toys to play with along the way that related to the era of each room, for example a toy work bench with tools in the old car workshop and bright coloured star block things in the swinging sixties room with multi-coloured windows! Andrew loved it, and so did we 🙂

Perhaps the best bit for a Brum-obsessed toddler (and his grandad) was the play room at the end – not only were there real old toys including cars to look at but also some new toys to play with and a ride-on Brum! What more could he ask for?! The paintings on the wall of famous portraits, such as the Mona Lisa and The Scream, repainted with Brum characters were particularly entertaining.

After the excitement of finding Brum, we took a wander through the village and then found a lovely cafe for lunch. We weren’t sure if the weather was going to be good enough for a picnic, so didn’t risk it, and even if we had have taken one, we would have been fighting the world and his wife for a spot by the river in this idyllic Cotswold village that gets rather busy (read: rammed) on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

Brum 3

As it had turned out so nice and sunny after a cloudy start, we decided to make the most of being out and go to Birdland in the village. I remember going there a few times as a child, so it was lovely to go back with my own kids and se how it has changed and also how it’s still the same place. As we arrived we were just in time to see the penguin feeding session. There’s a bit of a penguin theme in our family, as Tom has been into collecting all things penguin since he was little, and the boys seem to have been given quite a lot of stuff to carry on the tradition. So we were all impressed with seeing some real live penguins enjoying their fishy snack!

Penguins

Once feeding time was over we headed off around the park to see lots of other birds. There was everything from small canaries to owls to storks to large ostriches. Andrew was very good but was clearly starting to get tired, so after a wander we sat outside at the cafe and had a nice cool drink, until he spotted a play park nearby and insisted on having a go, the Duracell bunny that he is! So Grandad (was) volunteered to go with him. Meanwhile, Joel was very contented to spend most of the day being worn in the sling, either asleep or having a good old look around at all the new sights, and also getting out and feeding/eating with us when we sat down.

Flamingoes and an ostrich
Flamingoes and an ostrich

A quick dash back to the cars when we remembered that the time on the ticket was running out and we were on our way home again. A thoroughly enjoyed day to remember for years to come and some worn out boys were what we were left with.

Linking up with Country Kids at Coombe Mill blog again today 🙂

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Pregnancy diary: week 36 – antenatal class 1 and midwife appointment

This week saw the first of three evening sessions of antenatal classes. You may be wondering why I’m doing antenatal classes at all – I mean it’s my second baby, don’t I remember what it’s like, especially given the relatively small age gap? Well, yes, I do think I remember most things about birth and the early days, but one of the main reasons I’m doing the course is to meet other mums who are in a similar situation to me: they are having a baby when they already have (more than) one child. This course is specifically a refresher course, run by the NCT, for second-time (or subsequent-time) parents.

I was a little disappointed to miss out on attending an NCT antenatal course when I was pregnant with Andrew. Cambridge has a massive NCT branch, one of the biggest in the country, and the courses are always oversubscribed. We tried to book onto one when I was only a few months pregnant, but even by then they were mostly full, and the ones that weren’t, we knew we couldn’t make because we had a regular commitment at church on that evening or we’d already planned things for the weekends (like going to weddings) that they were on. We’d heard that they were a great way to meet a group of people who were all in the same situation, and that often NCT groups would meet up after the babies were all born, and even continue doing that every now and then for years afterwards. Of course this comes at a cost – the courses are not free – but we thought it would have been worth it, if we’d have managed to get onto one.

However, we did attend the (free) NHS ‘Parentcraft’ (!) classes that we were told about via the midwife. These were pretty good at giving us info on birth and early days, but we didn’t feel they gave us much more info than I’d read in the NHS Pregnancy book. I did attend an optional breastfeeding workshop as part of the course, but this turned out to be not particularly useful in our case, because we weren’t ‘textbook’ and they didn’t cover any of the major potential issues that you might encounter breastfeeding. The worst aspect of the course was that the group (about 12 couples) didn’t seem to want to talk and get to know each other. Maybe there were too many of us? (I think NCT groups are generally smaller than that.) Some of the couples seemed to know each other already and formed little cliques, or maybe it’s because they were of the same nationality so just spoke their language in little groups (we were the only native English speakers in the group except one other man – that’s Cambridge for you). This meant that we didn’t get that ‘social group’ outcome like we’d hoped for in an NCT class, despite trying to make conversation with a few couples – it just didn’t happen.

So when I read about the NCT refresher courses online, I decided that it was worth trying to have this experience the second time around. It helps too that all of us in the class have had the experience of a first child already, and will all be looking for ways to cope with a newborn as well as an older toddler/child. We’ll all also be off work at the same time, so we should be able to meet up pretty regularly at least in the early months. And so far, from just one 2.5 hour session, the prospect of this is looking promising. The first session was for the mums only, and I think this helped to get us all chatting and start to make friendships, as none of us knew anyone else in the room. I felt like I had things in common with these ladies, and can definitely imagine meeting up and getting on well with them. There was already a consensus that the teacher should send round our email addresses so that we can get the ball rolling on meeting up.

Apart from the social aspect, which was my main reason for attending, it was good to chat together about our previous pregnancies and birth experiences, and I got a lot of info out of others’ personal experiences as well as the teacher’s input. I felt a bit shy in telling my birth story though, because many in the room had had much more complicated and longer births than my experience with Andrew, but I hope my story was an encouragement that things can go really smoothly and quickly and it’s not all negative. I’m looking forward to next week already, when we’ll be recapping various things like breathing techniques, movements and positions for labour, and different types of birth (e.g. c-section, water birth). Then on the third week, our partners will join us for the last session. Next week I’ll actually get there on time – for some reason (baby brain is my excuse) I thought it started at 7.45pm, but as I was walking into the centre, I got a text from the teacher asking if I was OK, and as I walked into the room, slightly puzzled by the text, I realised that everyone else had obviously been there for quite a while and they’d started doing small group discussions! (The actual start time was 7.15pm.) So I sheepishly made an entrance and joined a lovely group, who welcomed me despite having to do introductions all over again. Ooops!

Still quite a high bump, but baby has dropped a little into the pelvis already.

On to the midwife appointment that I had earlier today. At my appointment 2 weeks ago, she asked again whether I’d thought more about a home birth. My answer to this was the same as it’s always been every time she’s asked (I think she’s on commission or something!) – I’d rather have a Birth Centre birth than a home birth, but I’d rather have a home birth than a car birth, if baby decides to come even quicker than Andrew did. One of my issues with a home birth is that our flat is small (think proverbial cats and swinging motions) – where would we put a birth pool for a start? So the midwife suggested that my next appointment at 36 weeks should be at home rather than the GP surgery, so she could take a look at our flat and see where things could go and what we should have prepared in case we end up staying at home. I agreed that this would be a great idea.

When she arrived, we had the inevitable conversation about the fact that Andrew had clearly grown since she last saw him – I should hope so, he was only 2 weeks old when she last saw him to discharge us from her care! After that she moved straight on to talking through the practicalities of home birth. She said that there was no problem with our flat. The fact that there’s not really room to swing a cat wasn’t an issue; in her opinion there is room to give birth to a baby. She was happy that our kitchen table is a good enough work surface for the midwives to work on, and she even said that we would just about have room for a pool if I wanted one. I don’t think I’ll bother though, because they are expensive to buy/hire, and if we’re at home it means things are happening fast and we wouldn’t have time to fill it anyway. Shower curtains are fine as plastic sheeting, so Tom’s now on the case to find some cheap ones. Other than that, we’re pretty much sorted in terms of things on the list that the midwife gave me to prepare for a home birth. It’s good that my midwife is so pro home birth, given that not all midwives are so keen these days, but I did have to remind her that this was my back-up plan, my ‘just in case’ idea. Of course she understands that if my platelets (which were tested again yesterday, so I don’t yet know the results) drop further, then home birth wouldn’t be an option anyway. It’s just nice to know that we have all bases covered.

After the home birth pep-talk, and in amongst Andrew’s attempts to charm her with various acrobatics, chatting and smiles, we moved on to the usual antenatal checks. My blood pressure and urine were fine, and baby’s heartbeat was as clear and fast as ever. Andrew was intrigued by the sound of the heartbeat on the monitor – it sounded a bit like a ‘choo-choo’ to him, and that’s one of his favourite things right now, along with aeroplanes. I still don’t think he gets what’s happening, even though I’ve tried to explain; he just laughs when I say there’s a baby in my tummy. Baby’s position is generally good, in that he/she is head down and one fifth engaged (dropped into the pelvis) already, so pretty unlikely to turn now. The midwife said it was normal for baby to have dropped slightly by now in a second pregnancy, as I was sure that Andrew hadn’t started to engage until a couple of weeks later. Bump is still measuring bang on the average line of the graph, so growth is progressing well.

The only slight issue was that this morning baby was lying slightly posteriorly – not completely ‘back-to-back’, which would potentially make labour longer and more complicated – but with its back to one side instead of pointing outwards. But the midwife reassured me that there was still time to move, and I know this baby moves a lot, so it’s perfectly possible. She also advised me to sit as upright as possible, on hard-backed chairs, no slouching on the sofa, or better still, spend lots of time on all fours wiggling my hips. I used to do this more in pregnancy with Andrew because I did yoga, so I’ve decided that I’ll start doing some of those moves in the evening when Andrew is in bed. Now I have no excuse not to be the one who clears up his toys at the end of the day, as that is basically 5-10 minutes of being on all fours!

At the end of week 36, I’m feeling very positive and I’ve enjoyed my first week (since maternity leave ended) looking after Andrew every day. I feel less tired today than I did on the Friday of the last few weeks of work. This week has also been very exciting because several family members and good friends have made exciting announcements. For example, I’m now an aunt to a lovely little niece, and my brother-in-law and his girlfriend are now engaged. My Facebook status today carried a warning: any more exciting announcements this week and it might just tip me into labour! I need a weekend to recover 🙂

Let the talking begin!

For over a month now, Andrew has been saying his very first words. According to the NHS ‘Birth to Five’ book, which gives average ages that children tend to reach milestones of development, this is at the later end of average for starting to talk. But as Andrew was an early walker (just before his 1st birthday), I wasn’t expecting that he would talk particularly early, because it’s often the case that babies and toddlers are early at gaining some skills and later at gaining others compared to their typically-developing peers. It’s like their brains seem to concentrate on one big thing to the detriment of other big things, until the first thing is sorted and then other things get a look in. I’ll give you a run through of his first words, and add some notes to each of them, sometimes referring to ‘techie’ terms – ones that I’ve learned through studying phonetics/linguistics – but hopefully explaining them well enough in everyday words too.

His first word was ‘bye-bye’, which he says something more like ‘ba-ba’, with a short ‘a’ instead of the double vowel (or ‘diphthong’ in techie speak) that I and other British English speaking adults use. His vowel here is slowly becoming more like mine compared to when he first said the word. This is a very useful word that gets used every morning when he waves to Daddy and/or me as we go to work, plus on other occasions like when we leave a group.

His second recognisable word was ‘ball’, which he says something more like ‘buh’, with no ‘l’ and a short vowel instead of the long vowel that adults use. But it clearly refers to ‘ball’, one of his favourite toys to play with wherever he is (including in the park when older kids are trying to have a game of football…) – I can tell because he consistently points to balls and says ‘buh’. He generally likes the sound ‘b’, as his ‘buh’ has now extended to also mean ‘balloon’ (which to be fair is pretty similar to a ball in shape) and ‘bird’. Again he will consistently point to these things and say ‘buh’, as well as using the sign (as in sign language) when he points to bird.

A ball or 'buh' - one of Andrew's favourite toys to play with, even if it's not his! (This one is his though)

The next few words came about the same time; I can’t really say in which particular order. The word he now says the most on a daily basis must be ‘car’, which he says with a consonant produced slightly further back in the mouth than adults do – what I would call a ‘uvular plosive’ (instead of a ‘velar plosive’), so it sounds a bit like the ‘guttural’ sounds we associate with French ‘r’ sounds or Swiss German or Arabic. Over time this will become more English-sounding, and in the meantime I think it’s great that he can naturally use sounds that native English-speaking adults find hard to produce because they don’t use them in English. He points and says the word ‘car’ constantly as we walk anywhere next to roads, as he plays with his toy garage, and as we read books featuring cars. In fact he says car for pretty much any vehicle with wheels! Buses, lorries, vans – all cars in Andrew’s world. Bikes or motorbikes don’t seem to get this treatment, but he doesn’t consistently come out with anything else for these. Of course I encourage him when he says ‘car’, and then I go on to specify what it is if it’s not actually a car. One day he’ll figure this all out, but for now this ‘overextension’ (as is the techie term) is a normal part of language development. The classic example is when children use the word ‘dog’ to mean any four-legged, furry animal. This phenomenon happens across languages, not just in English, so it seems to be a general part of language acquisition, though researchers haven’t quite figured out exactly why it happens. It does show, however, that children initially categorise objects rather than simply label them, and then work towards being more specific in their initial categories.

Our car, which he points out every time we leave the flat.

Another word that he uses a lot is ‘shoes’. He says this as something like ‘shuhz’, so you hear mainly the two consonant ‘sh’ and ‘z’ sounds (what I would call ‘fricatives’) with a very short kind of non-descript vowel in the middle (a high central vowel that adults don’t use in English). This word is very useful for him, because he uses ‘shoes’ as a signal to let us know that he wants to go out – he brings them to us, repeating the word ‘shoes’ several times until we put them on, and then goes and stands by the front door to show that he wants to go out. Of course this isn’t always appropriate (like when I’m still in my pyjamas having got him sorted but not myself!), but he does love putting his shoes on and going out. In fact he also likes putting our shoes on and attempting to walk around constantly repeating the word ‘shoes’…. not always successfully in the case of my 2-inch-heeled mules!

Two little but powerful words he likes to use are ‘yeah’ and ‘no’. He seems to use ‘yeah’ for everything from everyday questions like ‘shall we get you dressed?’ (not his favourite activity) to questions about things he’s really excited about, like’ would you like to go to the park?’. Both his ‘yeah’ and his ‘no’ are now very adult-like, though ‘no’ started of as something more like ‘doh’, in which the vowel was pretty accurate, but the consonant wasn’t very nasal. I knew he meant ‘no’ though, because it was always accompanied by a shake of the head and usually happened just after I’ve said no to him!

One of his most recent additions was flower – he came out with this at my cousin’s wedding after several people were pointing the pretty flowers out to him, and ever since he’s been able to point them out himself. His version doesn’t sound exactly like flower, it’s more like ‘wa-wa’, but it’s obvious that this is what he means as he points to one.

Some lovely flowers or 'wa-wa' that I got for my birthday from my work friends. Andrew points this out when he's sat at the table eating lunch or tea and they are at the other end of the table 🙂

Although animal sounds aren’t technically words, I would like to quickly mention that his favourite animals to point out are ‘cow’, ‘dog’ and ‘duck’ – which he calls ‘moo’ (somewhere between ‘moo’ and ‘boo’ actually), ‘urh urh’ (trying to say ‘woof woof’ but actually sounding more like a real bark than ‘woof’!) and ‘quack’ (more like ‘kack’). His productions of cow and duck (‘moo/boo’ and ‘kack’) are always accompanied by the sign language for each, which interestingly are also quite approximate compared to those that I make with my hands. I must write a post specifically on babysigning one day (I keep saying that and never get around to it….) For some reason he seems less bothered about making the dog sign with his bark. Although he doesn’t seem to overextend the word dog (as in the example I gave above), he does seem to overextend the word ‘moo’ – generally it refers to cows (we see them quite often on the fields near us), but he’s also used it for horse (which I think he’s just about picking up the sign for now, so using ‘moo’ less often) and elephant! So it seems it can apply to any big mammal.

Ducks or 'kack, kack' swimming under the bridge where we walk across the river a few times a week to go to various groups.

I’m not quite sure why, but he often makes a sound like ‘ts’ when pointing at things that he can’t yet say the word for. As he points, I of course say the word of the object he’s pointing at, and one day he’ll have heard it enough times and be able to produce the right sounds to say it himself. Generally he likes making sounds like ‘sh’ and ‘ssss’ (what I’d call ‘fricatives’ in techie speak) all over the place, when I can’t always tell if there’s something specific he’s trying to refer to.

For anyone who remembers me writing about trilingual adventures before, here’s an update on where I’m at with introducing French and German as well as English. I’m still saying three words (one in each language) to him as we sit and read through books or point out things around the house or when we’re out and about. More recently I’ve decided to have two ‘French’ days and two ‘German’ days a week when I’m with him all day (I’m at work for the other 2.5 days), when I speak the relevant language to him when it’s just the two of us. So today is a ‘German’ day, and as we’ve walked to the shops and to groups, I’ve talked to him in German, pointing out things along the way, or making general small talk (as you do, talking to your toddler who can’t talk back, much!) Lunch was ‘Mittagessen’ and I’ve changed his ‘Windel’ instead of nappy etc. So far he’s only producing English words (or words that sound like English words). BUT, he clearly understands a lot in French and German, given how he reacts when I talk to him in either language. For example, when I ask him ‘Wo ist das Auto?’ or ‘Ou est-elle, la voiture?’ (‘Where’s the car?’), he’ll point and say ‘car’ in answer to my question. Amazing! He does this with various things, not just cars. It’s so fascinating to see the fact that he’s picking up more than one language without even thinking about it.

This leads on to an interesting point about language acquisition: the fact that he can understand a lot more (in English) than he can currently say. I’m finding that I can say some quite complicated sentences, for example give him instructions to do something like bring me his ball or put his sun hat back on, and he consistently does what I ask of him. If Tom and I are talking between us, not directly with him, and we happen to mention in passing something that he recognises, he’ll react to the word he’s heard in our speech, for example if we mentioned a dog, he’ll suddenly woof, even though we weren’t really aware he was listening to us. This has made me realise that I have to be careful now what I say. I hope that in general what I say is suitable for a toddler to hear and make sense of, but we all have days when we react and say something we wish we hadn’t – that’s the kind of thing I can just tell he’ll now pick up instantly!

I think I’ll leave this account of Andrew’s language acquisition journey here for now, but of course there’ll be much more to share over the coming months and years. You can probably tell, given my background in linguistics, that I find this all fascinating. Since Andrew was a baby, I’ve been recording him ‘talking’ – obviously this started of with baby sounds like gurgling and cooing, then babbling, and now some actual words (although capturing words on the recording is pretty difficult, because he’s aware of the recorder and then doesn’t produce them on cue like he would if it was just the two of us playing together – Observer’s Paradox, as Labov would say). These recordings are all waiting for me to sift through them and do anything specific with them – one day, if I ever get time to do that kind of thing. For now, just writing about what’s going on is interesting enough in my opinion.