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Dec 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

We had a wonderful Christmas this year, and I hope you had too.

It was the first year Daniel realized what was going on, and he really got into the Christmas spirit. I heard that, at school, he loved to sing Christmas songs. He also played Santa a lot during these last few weeks, bringing presents to Charlotte in his sleigh. (and yes, I had to admit, I was sometimes involved as Rudolf!)

I was a little bit concerned about all the questions Daniel was asking about Santa. I for sure was expecting that he would see through things. First, he was very excited about Santa's visit at school last week. All week, he kept talking about Santa's visit, how he would go to hug him right away and ask him a lot of questions such as: will he park his reindeer in the parking lot? Can he come even if it rains? How does he climb in the chimney, does he need a cord? I was expecting that, after all this questioning, a lot of doubts would come in Daniel's mind.
However, during Santa's visit itself, Daniel became very shy, quite impressed, and he forgot all his questions. He was barely self-assured to walk up to Santa to get a candy cane. This is the power of Santa!

On Christmas Eve, Daniel was very excited. He kept looking through the windows to see if he could see Santa. He was wondering where the reindeer would go and if they could come without snow. It was so sweet! When we finally got him to bed (late), he staying sitting, trying to listen to any sound that could be Santa. There was a lot of commotion in the house, of us just putting the presents together. But fortunately, Daniel didn't get out of his room and he just thought we were just doing our typical activities. It was funny that Daniel was even hoping Santa would come and clean up his room while visiting. Ah, the magic of Santa. (sadly, this wish didn't happen, though)

Christmas morning was very nice too. The kids woke up very early, before they could see much in the living room. I think for a while Daniel was concerned that there was nothing to be seen (he also had no experience about what and where to look). He was just a little bit unsure. When he discovered the pile of presents, his eyes opened so wide. And so did they with every present he opened. It was very nice.

Charlotte did well too. She also saw Santa at daycare and let him take her in his arms without complaining too much (this was right before stranger anxiety kicked in big time). She went through the motions of Christmas morning very happily, which was a big relief.

I hope you had a great Christmas too. Merry Christmas!

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Dec 24, 2010

Not a good time for separation/stranger anxiety

Charlotte is growing very well, and becoming more interactive and physically active. I love seeing her coo and giggle with us, and reacting happily every time she sees me. Unfortunately, with the recognition of familiar faces comes a lot of separation/stranger anxiety. She used to be the easiest baby, but if I had any doubt about her ability to become assertive, it's gone now. Lately she has found a way to protest every time mama is not around.

It started a few weeks ago, where we noticed that Charlotte would start whining if we left her playing alone for a few minutes. Nothing major, but we realized that she had started noticing what was happening in her environment.

By now, things have blown to a full-scale separation anxiety phase. Charlotte cries when I leave her at daycare (which she never did in the 3.5 months before). It took her 3 days to accept being with my in-laws who had come to visit and play with her. She would get mad every time I would leave the room even though they were with her. More concerning, Charlotte started waking up often with nightmares at night, breaking the routine she had been so good at since age 7 weeks.

It's particularly bad timing since we are going to see a lot of new people in the next few weeks. First, my in-laws came to visit last week, and the transition was hard. In a few days, we will be meeting 7 other family members we haven't seen in a while. We will also be traveling to a new environment, which will not be helpful. By the time we return, Charlotte won't have been at daycare for 2 weeks. This promises to be a challenging couple of weeks.

Fortunately, she is such a fun baby when she is in a good mood. We can forgive her until she becomes more self-assured around new people (hopefully soon).

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Dec 22, 2010

Protective big brother super hero

As I mentioned recently, Daniel is currently fascinated by the idea of fighting against monsters. Any pretend play story can turn into something around a monster, having to hide and fight a monster. Daniel is obviously not scared of monsters, he always ends up beating the monster apart.

Recently, this interest turned into wanting to protect his baby sister, which was really cute. The first instance happened when I had to miss my weekly yoga class on Wednesday nights as my husband had to attend a business function. My cell phone alarm went off to let me know that it was yoga time. When I explained Daniel what the reminder was about and why I wasn't going to yoga tonight, he responded: "Mama, you should go to yoga. I can take care of Charlotte. I will give her her bottle." I then asked what he would do when she needed a new diaper for the night, and he very pragmatically said he would take his step stool to reach the changing table. Nothing could discourage him! He also reassured me that he would play by himself and not need me at all and I appreciated the thoughtfulness. He went on to explain that if a monster came to attack her, he would fight back. "So really, mama, you don't have to worry. Go to yoga and enjoy!" I was so touched!

A couple of days later, Daniel made a similar comment when a baby-sitter came to take care of him and Charlotte. He definitely didn't see the need for the sitter. He could take care of both of them after all. I tried to encourage him by saying that he was indeed a great big brother, but that their might be extreme situations where he might appreciate a little help, such as if Charlotte got sick or if there was a fire. It sounds like the prospect of these situations sounded more exciting than scary. Daniel continued to tell how he would carry Charlotte and make sure she would be OK. So sweet!

It would be great if he could continue to be as protective when the two of them start arguing over toys and parents attention! Wishful thinking?

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Dec 5, 2010

Language development, Curiosity and Literacy

As Charlotte is barely starting to communicate right now (babbling and giggling, primarily), it regularly strikes me how far we have come with Daniel in a couple of years. It's becoming so easy to communicate with him, and our discussions are taking very interesting turns. Recently, Daniel started asking all kinds of questions to understand the background of things he has been taking for granted for years. For instance, recent topics include: Who made the jacket I am wearing, why don't we work on Saturdays, where is the sun when it's night time. I am a little bit concerned going into the Christmas season knowing that Daniel is starting to question a lot of things and he might quickly be able to poke holes in the whole Santa Claus story. This could become an interesting challenge!

On the language front, Daniel is definitely slowly but surely making progress in his 2nd and third languages. He regularly makes simple sentences in French. As long as they use the 3rd person, he has a good chance of getting things right. So far, he hasn't learned the "je" pronoun yet, because I rarely use it with him. So he often will say things like: "I porte le sac". I don't mind the one mistake. It's still encouraging that Daniel is not always just taking the easy road and saying everything in English.
Also, Daniel now comments regularly and proudly that he "parle francais". It's great he is starting to recognize the different languages. One of Charlotte's friends at daycare has a French father, and I have been talking with him in French each time we meet. Last week, Daniel overheard the conversation and asked "why you parle francais to him?" This is a good example for him to realize how important French can be if he hears me use it with other people around here. Hopefully it will keep him motivated.

I don't think I have talked about literacy and letters here yet. Daniel has just started learning the letters in the last 6 months or so and progress was slow at first. So there wasn't much to report yet. Recently, Daniel has started to proactively ask which letter is at the beginning of words. It happens in the car, during dinner, while reading. In most cases, Daniel guesses the answer himself, although we might have to give him some hints. Also, when we read books, he wants to read them to us, pointing to the words and making up meaning as we go. He loves reading his German books, because they show more capital letters (for the beginning of each noun), so it's easier for Daniel to recognize. The other day, we were reading a German book about horses and we were on the page where we were seeing a horse at the vet. Daniel recognized the "O" for Operationssaal ("surgery room" and went on to "read" that the horse was a the hospital (in French, where the word "hospital" really sounds like it could start with O, so this was right on). Daniel definitely seems to be interested in reading, which is very exciting.

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Nov 21, 2010

Boy vs. Girl behaviors

Now that we are getting into the winter time, it's getting more difficult to go outside to let Daniel run and climb. But he definitely needs the running and climbing, as proven by his choice of activities during rainy days. Daniel has been spending a large part of the past weekends putting together all kinds of constructions (using pillows, stepping stools, even legos) to replicate climbing structures. Our couch has become his favorite place to jump and our carpet is perfect for rolling. It also seems that Daniel got inspired by the circus performance we attended a few weeks ago. He loves to have us sit around the carpet and gives us his "athletic" performance. We try to offer other, more quiet activities. But within a few minutes, Daniel is back to his props, preparing the next construction.

I am wondering how much is driven by character vs. how much comes from the fact that he is a boy.

Yesterday, we went to a dinner where we met another 2.5 year old boy and a 2-year old girl. While the 2 boys enjoyed themselves jumping and rolling on an old mattress, the little girl was a lot more shy, playing with a stuffed horse on the side. Also, the 2 babies that were there (Charlotte and another 3-month old baby girl) were very calm. Not surprising for Charlotte, she seems to just be a quiet baby. But it was interesting that the other 2 girls in the party had similar behavior while the boys had much too much energy. Was it just coincidence, or is this how nature has addressed gender differences? It would be an fascinating topic to research on if I had time besides my more-than-full-time job at Tinyprints, which by the way has the best Holiday cards this year. Maybe when the kids are older? By then, I might have come to a conclusion with my own experiment...

Quick update and additional thought: Daniel seems to be currently fascinated by the idea of fighting against monsters. He thinks of a variety of scenarios (monster attacking his little sister, monster coming in our car, etc...), and he explains what he will do to fight it. This always involves hitting, biting and kicking. I like to see that Daniel sees himself as the fearless and resourceful hero. I assume all kids go through that phase of learning to deal with challenges, but I am wondering if boys and girls process this the same way. Do all kids think about fighting monsters at some point, or just boys? It will be interesting to see what Charlotte has to say about this in a few years.

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Nov 20, 2010

Talking like an American

My husband and I are hoping that Daniel grows up learning 3 languages. Each of us speaks in our respective mother tongue (me French and my husband German), and he goes to school in English. Not surprisingly, over the last few months, English has become his main language by far. But we are still seeing progress in French or German. Slowly but surely, we hope he is getting closer to speak somewhat decenly in these languages. But he is probably a year away at least.
Daniel's English is also getting better every day. At age 2.5, he is now making complex sentences, and we can have serious discussions with him, about astronomy, business, science, etc... Very interesting.
Daniel is also sounding more and more like an American. This is surely related to his interactions at school. He regularly says things like: "what are you doing, guys?", "Cool", "Oh boy", "hi girl". I guess he really blends in with his American friends now...

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Nov 2, 2010

Learning to shop in the 21st century

As we raise our kids with all the new technology that is now at our fingertips, my husband and I often wonder how different our kids' perception of the world will be from ours. We already have had to answer questions such as why there are pay phones on the street and where the movies are saved on the TV. These questions certainly wouldn't have come up 20 years ago.

And this is just the start. The other day, I got a recent reminder of this question - and an obvious confirmation that kids are seeing the world very differently. Daniel and I were going through an activity book that asks the kids to put images showing steps for a particular activity in the right sequence. We had been doing other similar exercises for a while so he understood the concept of the game. The new topic was about shopping and the images showed a little boy browsing a store, trying on a jacket, paying at the cashier, etc... Typical shopping activities, you would think.

Well, Daniel struggled with this one. The problem was that he rarely goes shopping in a store. For him, the steps of shopping include:
- sitting at the computer
- clicking to buy a product
- waiting for the delivery man to bring a box
- opening the box at home

And this is clear when we talk about things he wants us to buy. His first comment is always, we need to find it on the computer and wait for the mail man. In particular, I don't think I have ever been clothes shopping with Daniel. So the images in the book just didn't make sense.

Since my work focuses on online retail (did I mention I work for Tinyprints? I will have to write about the great selection of Christmas cards soon, by the way), I find it fascinating to realize that online shopping might become the norm of shopping for the next generation. This would have huge implications if the behavior change is so drastic. It remains to be seen how much focus Daniel might give to in-store shopping eventually. To be continued...

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Oct 28, 2010

Happy 6-month birthday, little girl

Charlotte just turned 6 months today. She is a big baby already: 99 percentile in length!

She continues to be a very good sleeper. She actually sleeps a lot for her age. Even her teachers at daycare have noticed. She can easily still take 4 naps a day and gets tired after 1 good hour of activity. But she is still developing at the right pace (I think), so this might just be her way of processing things. She needs the rest in order to work very actively when she is awake. And I don't mind!

Among other updates, Charlotte can now sit by herself with no support, although she gets tired quickly and she might start fussing or even falling after 5 or so minutes. She can roll from back to front, and is trying to turn the other way too, with limited success so far. She is getting more comfortable being on her tummy for a while, and she is trying to push into crawling. She is still months away, I think.

Just this last week, Charlotte started saying "mama". Not sure if this has the right meaning quite yet, but Charlotte definitely uses this word to communicate with us. The other day, she called after me, right after I left the room. Not sure if she knew what she was asking for, but it was much better than crying, and it was rewarded with me coming back to see her right away. Hopefully, this will be a good incentive for her to continue practicing speaking.

Charlotte started solids a couple of weeks ago. She seems to like it, although it might just be the fun of chewing on the spoon more than the food itself. She is starting to get the hand of it for swallowing. Hopefully, things will get less messy as she gets the technique. We will add more variety in her diet in the weeks to come.

Oh, and as an additional update: 2 teeth starting piercing on her 6-month birthday.

Progress, progress.

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Oct 25, 2010

Science and language learning at 2.5 years

Today, on the way back from school, I had a very interesting discussion with Daniel in the car. It started with Daniel asking who had built the car I was driving, and proceeded with a lot of questions about things that can be built vs. things that grow by themselves. We went through the explanations that trees don't need to be built. They just need water and grow by themselves. But wooden fences need to be built. And so on...
I think the categorization between these 2 concepts worked pretty well for Daniel until he asked if sand was built or growing with water. Well, it turned out that there are more than 2 categories, and so I had to go on and explain another way things might be. That's when things started to become more complicated. Daniel continued asking if kids were built or growing with water... Hm, not really either.
We had a very good discussion about all kinds of different things, and we ended up returning to our topic of cars. We identified that cards didn't have eyes, so they were objects and not people.

I think this was one of the most complex discussions I have had with Daniel so far. He was very engaged asking questions and repeating the key concepts I was discussing. This is how I realized that the world is complex for kids to learn. We, adults, take all of these facts for granted. But for kids, identifying patterns, and learnings what belongs where is a difficult job. No wonder Daniel was completely exhausted by the time we got home....

On the other topic of learning languages, Daniel is continuing his slow but steady progress towards making real sentences in French or German. It still only represents a fraction of what he says, but he frequently says entire sentences in French, and the grammar is mostly correct. It also include prepositions, verbs, etc... English is still the dominating language by far, but it's encouraging that he keeps trying.

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Oct 22, 2010

Time for Christmas cards planning

Two weeks ago, we attended this great wedding in beautiful Santa Barbara. The location was perfect: right by the beach, and the weather cooperated: very warm all the way through the evening. We could enjoy having drinks outside and watching the sun set. The adults obviously had a great time. But even Daniel and Charlotte did really well. Not sure if I would say that Charlotte had a great time. But she definitely didn't mind playing with a variety of new, very friendly people. Daniel loved the new experience of music, dancing, seeing the groom come to the wedding on a horse, etc...
And we managed to take a decent family photo, which I hope we will be able to use in our Christmas cards this year.

Because, yes, this is this time of year again. Within 2 weeks, the weather changed to rain and wind. Days are clearly getting shorter, and pumpkins are "flourishing" everywhere. The Holidays will be upon us quickly, so it's not too early to start thinking about Holiday cards. Fortunately, I already know where I can find great cards. This year, Tinyprints is offering the largest selection of great and unique Christmas card designs. Not only does it include the usual formats with all the details that make the cards special. But this year Tinyprints introduced a lot of new formats that you can't find anywhere else: round, ornament cards, flip cards and pop up cards, trifold cards, story cards and more. Choosing is going to be tough. Good that I am starting early. Now on to browsing my favorite site to start identifying my favorite cards...

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Oct 3, 2010

Mobility 101

I should have known that this wouldn't last. Charlotte has been such an easy baby and happy baby so far... to the point that I even had concerns that she might be quite introvert, not really demanding anything and hard to upset.

Well, this has changed, like 180 degrees, in 2 weeks. Charlotte started rolling, and with that, she discovered a whole new world of possibilities. The idea of lying on a play mat for hours doesn't sound that great any more, and she wants to move, constantly. Except that she can only roll in one direction and she ends up on her tummy, completely lost and frustrated because she can't go anywhere. She looks as if she wants to try to crawl but she isn't even able to move an inch. She is starting to sit by herself quite well, but she puts herself out of balance from trying to reach to toys far away. So she ends up in a position she doesn't like, helpless. And this generates lots, lots of crying.. all weekend long!

What happened to our quiet baby? Part of me is relieved that Charlotte is showing interest in moving and discovering new things. It means that she is not that passive after all. But I know that we will be going through a couple of hard weeks, until Charlotte is able to master some basic moving skills. I can't remember when Daniel started rolling in both directions, but I know he crawled at 7.5 months. This is another 2.5 months away. Long time to be frustrated!

I hope that Charlotte won't end up moving too much during her sleep, until she is able to master rolling on both sides. Daniel went through a phase where he would wake up on his tummy in the middle of the night. He would get so panicked/frustrated that he would cry for 1 hour in the middle of the night. I am fine with the crying during the day, but I sure hope that Charlotte continues at least to be a good sleeper. Fingers crossed!

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Sep 25, 2010

Concept of time at 2.5 years

I know I said it before, but I love the 2-year old phase. Daniel is learning so much every day and I find it fascinating. A big and challenging topic right now is the concept of time. It is hard, no doubt!

Daniel is at the point where he understands that some things happened in the past, some things happen now and some will take place in the future. He also asks a lot of questions about time. However, there is little understanding of the length of time and any of the subtleties.

Everything that happened in the past is described as "yesterday" even if it was last year. Tomorrow means everything from "in 5 minutes" to "next week". When I say: "tomorrow, we are going to xxx", Daniel typically gets up, ready to go, asking: "Are we going now?" When I ask, "what did you do today", he might tell me about something he did 2 weeks ago.
Recently, Daniel started being interested in Halloween and we already bought his costume. I drew a calendar to show him how long we still need to wait until we celebrate Halloween. It was a full page. I also explained that he needed to go through 6 swimming classes before it was Halloween time (we registered him to swim classes every Sunday now). I described other things we needed to do before Halloween (e.g. a friend's birthday, a trip, a special weekend) And yet, every day, Daniel asks if today is Halloween! Mom-Fail!

However, the encouraging thing is that Daniel is starting to remember situations that belong to the same time frame, or that follow each other. For instance, I explained to him that his birthday (January 14) is in the winter (when it's cold), after Santa comes. The other day, we were talking about the fact that the weather was getting cooler. And right away, Daniel commented that it would soon be very cold, then Santa would come, and eventually his birthday.

I had also explained to Daniel that Charlotte couldn't eat solid food as a newborn, but that, when she grew older (sometimes after our Europe trip), she will start eating solids. On the day we came back from vacation, Daniel asked if Charlotte would eat bananas now. He remembered the sequence!

These examples are definitely signs of progress, and I acknowledge that learning the concept of time is very difficult. I am wondering at what age kids understand it all. Does anyone have any tip to help kids make sense of it?

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Sep 24, 2010

Maybe? Why? Repeat...

I thought the "why" phase happened around 3 years, but we have already reached it with 2.5 year-old Daniel. It has probably been going on for 3-4 months now, and it's intense! It's nice to see that he is interested in so many things, and he wants to understand the details and reasons. In most cases he is very engaged in the conversation and loves to listen to the explanations. But sometimes, it can be very annoying. He doesn't take any answer for an answer and he continues to ask the same thing over and over again. He seems to ask "why" again before I even answer his earlier question. (I am sure this will sound familiar to people that have already gone through this). Anyways, when it happens, I just try to remind myself that this will end eventually.

Another new routine for Daniel these days is to come up with hypothesis or suggestions starting with "maybe". It's interesting that Daniel is now aware of the possibility of different scenarios or outcomes. And he usually seems to be willing to accept any option, which shows that he is becoming more open and flexible. "Maybe my friends are already at school. Maybe not. I don't know. We'll see" is a typical sentence for Daniel these days. And he sometimes comes up with very advances hypothesis! What an imagination!

Daniel is also using his newly acquired understanding of "maybe" to make suggestions. Typically, when I pick him up from school, he will say something along the lines of "maybe we can go a eat hamburger tonight, maybe" (this would be a daily activity of him if we were only listening to him) or "maybe we can go visit my friend, maybe". Always in a very innocent and cute tone.

Unfortunately, a lot of his suggestions are not realistic for the situation, and I find myself having to explain over and over again why we can't do this or this. I hope that this is a regular phase for kids and that it's just a way for them to learn how things work.. sort of their way to bounce ideas off of the adults to see what is correct and what isn't. I hope that Daniel isn't taking these repeated "no" (although I am careful not to just say "no") personally. I would hate for him to be discouraged if he thinks most of his ideas are rejected. Hopefully, even if he expresses it differently in this context, he is also thinking that there might be a "maybe not" and he is OK with it too from the get-go.

Has anyone experienced this phase before? What was your experience? Any recommendation on how to handle?

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Sep 21, 2010

Thumb sucking: double-edge sword?

In the last 2.5 years, Daniel has never sucked his thumb once. It was just not something he came up with when learning all the things he could do with his body. He got addicted to the pacifier as a way to relax, and this turned into a challenge when we tried to wean him of the pacifier. I recorded this at length over the last year, it was tough and I am glad it's over!

So I didn't encourage Charlotte to use the pacifier. I knew too well that, while it might help in the short-term, it would make for longer-term difficulties that I wasn't ready to face again. It helped that she was/is a very good baby. She doesn't cry much and she is able to fall asleep without any help.

Really happy baby

So, I might have made the mistake to leave a pacifier for her at daycare, just in case. I obviously didn't brief them well enough. For a couple of days, the teachers would consistently give Charlotte the pacifier during nap time, whether she needed it or not. I think she got somehow used to sucking while falling asleep. I had a discussion with the teachers and they stopped the practice right away.

Not sure if this is a result of introducing the pacifier or not, but Charlotte now started sucking her thumb instead. I am not really complaining: she is even more easy-going than before, sucking her thumb when she needs some comfort, and not requiring us to step in. In a sense, it's easier than with the pacifier: no risk of forgetting it and getting a tantrum in public, no risk of dropping it, just more convenient in general. That said, I am wondering how hard it will be to get her to stop sucking her thumb eventually. Will we have to go through the same challenges as with Daniel? It might even be worse, because I won't be able to "hide" her thumb to avoid temptation...

And now that I know what might be ahead of us, I have about 1.5 years to start worrying how weaning is going to go. And I thought second-time parents were supposed to be less worried?!

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Sep 20, 2010

Good guys, bad guys

A couple of months ago, I wrote about our optimistic toddler. He was seeing everything so positively, and it didn't seem that he would be able to comprehend things that might be negative any time soon.
It looks as if reality is sinking in. Yesterday, while playing with his cars, Daniel asked me: "who is the bad one, who is the nice one?" (yes, cars have personalities in Daniel's pretend play). For the first time as far as I can tell, he wanted to make a story about bad and good cars... He still didn't have much clue about what the bad cars were supposed to do: within a few seconds, the bad cars turned into nice cars.
But it's interesting that the notion of separating into good and bad crossed his mind.

Is it because we have introduced him to a few new movies lately (Toys Story, the Incredibles)? Is it because I had to explain a few times why I needed to lock the door of the car to prevent from theft? Or did they address the issue of good and bad at daycare? Maybe all of the above, and more. Daniel certainly picks up on many clues these days.
In any case, it looks like the time of complete innocence is over. Welcome to the real world!

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Sep 15, 2010

From the mouth of my toddler

I have decided to try to keep a record of all the great comments from my kids over the next few years. I know I have already forgotten so many of the great conversations I had with Daniel over the past months, now that he is so good at communicating. I know this stage won't last forever, so I don't want to forget what it was. Here is a sample of the cute comments he recently made. I will update as the list grows.

June 2010
Sunday morning (very early): "Mom, I love your hair, it's so beau-ti-ful"

I am watching both kids, so having Charlotte in her bouncer by the bathroom door. Daniel in the bathtub. Charlotte grabs one of the toys for one of the first times in her life. I encourage her, Daniel continues playing. 2 minutes later: he says "I am happy."
I respond: "Great, it's fun to take a bath, isn't it?".
Daniel:"No, I am happy because Charlotte was able to grab her toy."

July 2010
After visiting the California Academy, I ask Daniel: What was your favorite part? (He just started to understand the concept of favorite and uses it all the time)
Daniel: Mama
Me: No, I mean, your favorite part in the museum
Daniel: Mama
Me: What was your favorite among the animals you saw at the museum? Was it the penguins or the alligator or the butterflies?
Daniel: Mama
... Priceless!
August 2010
Daniel and Charlotte are both playing in the kids room (with their own age-appropriate toys). I come in and Daniel tells me very proudly that Charlotte has been playing with the elephant and moving it back and forth. He says: "I told her: Good job, Charlotte!" Mama very proud!

September 2010
Shopping at the mall, we see one of the public telephones on the wall. Daniel: "Why is there an iPhone at the wall"? Yes, we live in Silicon Valley!

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Sep 5, 2010

First full sentence in French

It was a big surprise to me, but Daniel today said his first full sentence in French. I had not expected this to happen at this point, given Daniel's strong preference for English right now. That said, I had noticed that, since we came back from our trip to Europe, where he started adapting to the local language more, he had been using more French words with me, and he seemed faster at picking new words I would teach him.
I was still thinking that we were months away from him being able to use all the French words in a sentence. He seemed so much fluent in English.

But today, he saw Charlotte drop a spoon she was playing with and said: "la cuillere est tombee". All words in French, and correct!

I am very excited about this milestone. Maybe Daniel will turn out to be bi- or trilingual eventually!

Update after 2 weeks: Daniel is definitely on a trajectory to speak French more fluently. At this point, he says about 2-3 correct French sentences a day (especially encouraging since I only see him for 3-4 hours a day). His use of French vocabulary has increased as well. So it looks like we might be onto a big milestone.
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Sep 4, 2010

Easy kids

If I was superstitious, I shouldn't write this post. I am probably going to regret bragging about my easy kids. But I can't help. I am so excited and grateful for the current balance in our house. It's a lot of fun.
I started working again this week, and I was bracing myself for a lot of stress, especially from the kids who might not appreciate the new (time-crunched) routine. I ended up being quite seamless.

Charlotte in particular was a hero. Not only did she just go back to her routine of sleeping through the night right before I went back to work (a challenge due to jetlag after our recent trip). She just continued to be really easy going overall. We can leave her on her play mat for 45 minutes or so while getting everyone else ready, and she doesn't complain once. She can entertain herself very well. She loves going to daycare and seems to feel very comfortable with her teachers. She tags along with us when we go out, which we do a lot with our 2.5 year-old. And she never seems to be bothered by the new environment or the change to her routine. Also, she is very patient when she is hungry. The other day, we spent a fair amount of time at the park while she was starting to show signs of hunger (eating her fingers, etc...), but she didn't start crying or anything. She waited and when we finally came back home, she gulped a huge bottle. She was that hungry! And last, but not least, she usually falls asleep by herself, without any need for rocking, singing, pacifier or anything. She requires so little work and I can't remember the last time I heard her cry, this is amazing!

As for Daniel, he is also in a good phase. Since we came back from vacation, he has been happy to get back to a more regular routine. And actually, the fact that I am working again might help in that regard. He is so much more cooperative and doesn't throw the tantrums he showed a few weeks ago.
He has also developed into a self-sufficient little man. Now that there isn't away an adult to help him when he needs help, he has learned to try to figure out a solution by himself. He doesn't seem to mind to be on his own more often than before. Even when we go to the playground and I have to take care of Charlotte, he happily plays by himself, and he has learned how to climb high structures or use the swing without my help. He has never complained about the lack of support.

I hope this phase continues. It makes having 2 kids really enjoyable. Did I jinx it now?

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Aug 26, 2010

Where is everybody?

Our summer vacation in Europe was generally a success. I was a little bit concerned about the kids' reaction to new environments, especially because Daddy was not traveling with us. For them, the only piece of consistency was being with me. Other than that, we expected to visit 2 different houses, try a whole set of new activities, speak in 2 languages other than English and meet a variety of people the kids had barely met (but who were eager to interact with them). Not to mention the whole issue with long travel and jetlag. In short, it could have been a recipe for disaster, and I was expecting at least similar issues than the ones we experienced during our Christmas visit.

Overall, though, things went a lot smoother. Granted, we had some unavoidable issues with jetlag. Other than that, Daniel seemed to adjust very well. He asked for Daddy a lot for the first few days, but he didn't make a big deal out of his absence. He enjoyed all the activities we proposed and proactively asked for more (e.g. riding a boat as we drove by the beautiful Neckar river, going to the swimming pool several times). Even in France, where he had to meet 13 family members and other occasional visitors, he did really well. Most of the time, he seemed confident, enthusiastic and didn't throw the kinds of tantrums we saw over Christmas. Relief!

Interestingly enough, though, he seemed to become more needy and unstable as time went by. I think there was only a limited number of new experiences and people he could process without blinking. Over time, he wanted more alone-time with Mommy, and he became very preoccupied about where everybody was and where we were going. Due to vacation schedules, some of our family members had had to leave our vacation home days before us, just when Daniel had gotten used to them. This later generated concerns every time someone left the house, even to do a quick shopping trip. He wondered if they were gone for good. Daniel started asking "where is XXX" all the time. Also, with all the new activities we ended up doing, he also wondered more and more "where are we going?" This became his daily litany. On the way back home, he must have asked this question every 3 minutes, even though I think he understood from the beginning that we were going home (although, when I was asking him where he thought we were going, he didn't always have the right answer). I think it was either too much to process at that point, or Daniel wanted to be reassured all the time given that his self-confidence was low. It got to the point where I got very tired of answering the same question over and over again, but I tried to remind myself that it was Daniel's way of processing the new changes. He didn't do it on purpose to bother us, he just needed the explanations. And we needed to help him if we wanted to avoid other types of reaction to his stress.

Even now that we have been back for a few days, Daniel regularly asks where we are going on the way to school, a route he knows by heart. I am hoping that, as we settle in in our routine again, Daniel will go back to feeling self confident again, so that he can turn his questions to new things he wants to learn. (I am sure, though, that I might regret wishing this once I have to answer the "why" questions 10 times in a row!) In the meantime, I need to be patient, and to be glad that, overall, it was the best Europe vacation Daniel has had so far.

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Aug 23, 2010

Trilingualism update at 2.5 years

We just came back from a great vacation visiting family in France and Germany. We all had a fabulous time. It was great to catch up with family and the kids -especially Daniel- enjoyed new experiences such as swimming in the sea, taking a ferry, seeing fireworks for the first time, etc...

During our stay, I was particularly interested in observing Daniel's progress in French and German, since he was going to be immersed in these languages for several days, and interacting with people who don't speak English.

Progress at the beginning was slow. I remember rehearsing with Daniel how to ask his cousins to play with him in German, if he needed to. While the sentence was quite simple and while he knew all the German words separately, he just couldn't repeat the sentence correctly. He tried several times with good efforts, but each time he got the words mixed up or ended up finishing the sentence in English (OK, granted, he had come from a 10-hour flight and his brain might not have been in prime shape). It just seemed as though he wasn't able to process anything else than English to make sentences. This was in line with what we had observed before.

However, over time, German and then French started to sink in better.
Daniel started repeating sentences that were said in front of him, in the correct language (as opposed to translating them in English as he had been doing for several months).
His progress was mostly limited to repeating recent sentences, though. When "flying solo", Daniel still resorted to English as his primary language.

For instance, once we were in a train and his German-speaking grandmother talked to another mom to explain that the tunnel she had mentioned to her daughter was still far away ("der Tunnel ist noch weit weg"). Daniel heard this, and as often, wanted to contribute to the conversation. He repeated the sentence he heard from his grandmother -in German-, but added his own interpretation, to demonstrate he understood -in English. The final sentence ended up being: "der Tunnel ist noch weit weg. The tunnel is far, far away. We can't see it yet. We have to wait." Good logic... Wrong language!

In France, we had a similar experience, where Daniel started repeating sentences he heard in French more and more often. At the end of the 10 days, he was even able to "improvise" and use sentences he had heard in French several hours/days before. He was really good at reminding his cousin of things he wasn't supposed to do even when no adult was saying it (e.g. don't throw your spoon -> Ne jete pas la cuillere). He must have heard the sentence often enough at the beginning of the stay to remember it. And it was great to see that Daniel could use negatives in French. Until now, he might have used the right French verb when talking to me, but he added an English "no" to communicate the negative. Now, he was able to say a full negative sentence in French, although the use was limited to a specific set of instances. Also, we noticed that Daniel was including a lot more French words in his sentences, even though he never used them with me in the US. It was very encouraging to see that he had the vocabulary, he just needed to have an incentive to use it.

Now, we are back in the US and Daniel is again surrounded by English-speakers most of the day. I am not sure how long the German and French immersion will last, probably not long. But it's encouraging that, within a few days in each country, Daniel was able to make some progress. It seemed as if the German and French vocabulary and grammar were dormant in his brain, and they were able to come to the surface within a few days. As we settle back in the US, we are noticing that the French and German vocabulary are still coming up from time to time. Daniel still primarily speaks to us in English, but when he notices that we don't understand (in a loud environment for instance), he will look for the corresponding word in French or German to make himself understood better. It's great to see that he is aware of the different options, and he is trying to adapt to his audience if they don't understand him the first time.

Another example Daniel's new awareness of trilingualism was when we were listening to announcements in a tourist tour we did (that came in English, French and German). Once the French announcement came, Daniel recognized that the lady spoke "like mama". This was a very encouraging comment for me. Once Daniel is more aware of the 3 languages he knows, he should be able to focus on the right one depending on the audience he talks to.

We look forward to the next reunion with family to see what progress Daniel will make by then.

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Aug 7, 2010

Europe trip update - jet lag with kids

I survived my first solo (intercontinental) flight with 2 kids, aged 2.5 years and 3 months! The trip itself went quite well. It was a night flight, which helped a lot. Once the kids fell asleep (with some difficulties for Charlotte due to the over-stimulation of the new environment), they both slept through the flight. It was even one of the most quiet flights I had been in in a long time.
It was great to come and visit family. The kids loved being with the grand parents and they enjoyed the extra attention. Daniel had the grandest time, with all the activities planned, from visiting the zoo to riding the bus and trains, going on a boat trip, etc...all very exciting! He did really well during the days despite several bumpy nights due to jetlag.
Jetlag definitely is the bitter side of the trip. And, contrary to what doctors say, it affects babies a lot. That is, unless you are unlucky to have a baby who never settles into a day/night rhythm. With 9 hours time difference between California and Germany, the kids definitely had a hard time adjusting and we lost the great night schedules we had been enjoying at home..

Poor Charlotte had no idea what was happening to her. She would wake up happily in the middle of the night and be ready to play, like she did at home during the day. She didn't appreciate to be put back in bed right after feeding, and cried several times up to an hour when this happened. It took 3-4 days for her to stop crying when put back to bed at night, but she never reached the point where she slept through the night -European time- as she had been doing in the US for 7 weeks. Hopefully, she will be able to readjust to her natural schedule quickly when we come back home, and I need to go back to work.

Daniel was easier to handle, fortunately, as he can respond well to incentives ("you have to try to sleep in order to be fit for the zoo") and understand "rules" ("stay in bed until the sun comes up"). I had also tried to explain beforehand that we would have some problems with sleeping, although I don't think Daniel understood the reasons why. At least, i felt that he wasn't as surprised as Charlotte. That said, he still had a hard time adjusting and got impatient when he still couldn't fall back to sleep after laying quiet in bed for an hour or more. It also didn't help that he would hear his sister wake up and cry in the room next door, and saw that Mama went to take care of her. This triggered his own crying spell, and It sometimes felt that the kids were taking turns waking each other up. Unfair!

Somehow though, despite the many rough nights, I didn't experience this vacation to be exhausting. The first time we had come to Europe with Daniel at 3 months ( same age as Charlotte right now), I had a much harder time. I was disappointed to lose the precious nigh routine we had finally achieved at home. And I felt bad about the long and unavoidable crying at night. This time around, I was a lot more prepared to go through this. I also know that, even if the cries sound really desperate, the baby won't be traumatized. Daniel is a very happy and flexible baby, he loves coming to see the grandparents in Germany. So, jet lag and the sleeping discomfort isn't affecting his memories of the great vacations he has had in the past.

I still hope that things will get better over time. It's not very relaxing to enjoy less sleep on vacation than at home!

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Jul 30, 2010

Toddler dream: Can you be my friend?

Over the last week, we have had a lot of play dates and people visiting us. Daniel has always loved having friends and he did really well most of the time. He is usually very comfortable in any environment, old or new, and with other people, even people he doesn't know much yet. And most importantly, he LOVES having friends. Any friends. Really. To the point where he might be exposing himself to some disappointment.

Most of our play dates were with kids his age. He eagerly anticipated each of them, and talked about how he would share his toys with his friends and have a great time. When the play dates started, he was very excited, going right away to the other kid(s) and asking them: "do you want to play with me?", "Do you want my [insert Daniel's toy name here]?" Usually the other kids were a little more shy, so it took them longer to open up. I am not sure how Daniel experienced their initial skepticism. Watching the interaction, I felt a somewhat concerned that Daniel would feel rejected and disappointed. Fortunately, he didn't show much of a negative reaction (he kept repeating his questions until the other kid responded) and the rest of the play dates went really well.

We also had guests at our house, with kids age 6 and 9. This was an interesting set-up, a new dynamic for us. Daniel did really well as a host as well. Again, once he understood that kids were visiting, he was eagerly talking about how we would show them his toys and play with them. I tried to prepare him for the fact that these kids might not be excited about toys for 2-year olds. Fortunately, the 6-year old went along with most of his offers and played with him on several occasions. Daniel was so excited and kept talking about how fun it was to play together. At another time, Daniel invited the kids to watch a TV episode of Bob the Builder with him. He was so cute, asking (pleading) for them to come. Unfortunately, they were absorbed in an iPad game (that they had just discovered in our home) and didn't pay attention to Daniel. Once again, I expected some disappointment and felt so bad for him. I encouraged Daniel to go and watch TV by himself and maybe the kids would come later... And luckily the iPad quickly ran out of battery, so they ended up joining us. Daniel got so excited. He kept repeating "we are friends!" and bouncing on his seat.

So, yes, apparently, having friends is very important for Daniel. He needs the positive energy that comes from having friends. Lately, I read him a book about a bear who was looking for friends and got rejected by all kinds of other animals because he was different. The story was written in a funny tone, and it ended well (obviously). So I didn't think much of it... until I realized that Daniel (who I couldn't see because he was sitting on my lap) was sobbing. Poor him, he was really taken by the rejection experienced by the bear.

I recently wrote about my optimistic toddler. It's great to see his enthusiasm for everything. I know he is going to have to learn to deal with difficult experiences at some point, and I think that, when he realizes that making friends could take hard work (probably soon), it will be tough. I am already heart-broken just thinking about it. Good that he at least has a little sister now. In a few years, this should be a friend he can count on.

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Jul 29, 2010

Terrible 2s, Awesome 2s... The whole toddler package

We are back to a pretty challenging phase with Daniel: terrible 2s in full swing. We had a little bit of Terrible 2s earlier this year. It was quite short and consisted mostly in crying for a certain amount of time before calming down.

The new phase is more complicated. It still involves resistance to actions we ask from Daniel, and includes a lot of crying. The difference is that Daniel is much smarter in the way in tries to get to what he wants. Crying isn't just an outlet for his frustration. It's a thought-out negotiation tactic. If this doesn't work, Daniel tries other things to get our attention, such as hurting himself (or pretending to) on purpose. He also finds a lot of arguments to counter us when he disagrees, such as "cleaning up is too hard for me!" (yeah, right!). The score this time is a lot more even. He definitely knows how to test our limits!

I know it's normal, and we have to stay strong and realize that it will benefit him if we can communicate boundaries clearly. But I find it sometimes so sad that these crisis over-shadow other great experiences with Daniel. Usually, the crying/time-out happens at the end of the day, and it prevents us from finishing an otherwise great day on a positive note. What a pity!

Overall, Daniel is still a lot of fun at this age. He understands and remembers so much, and he makes connections between things we discussed several days ago. He is also very social and plain cute. We recently had quite a few gatherings with friends. He was usually the one sharing his toys first and offering the other kids to play together. He deals really well with his little sister. He always keeps other people in mind and has a lot of empathy. Discussions with him are a lot of fun. So why does he have to sometimes turn around 180 degrees and become this terrible toddler from time to time?

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Jul 28, 2010

Happy 3-month birthday, Charlotte

Today, Charlotte turned 3 months. It's been 3 good months, but I am glad they are over. The next 3 months - and many months after that - should be a lot more fun.
Overall, Charlotte is a happy baby. She is only fussy when she is tired and can't fall asleep. But in most cases, she falls asleep easily. Other than that, she smiles a lot and likes to interact with us. Her latest achievements and interests include:
- loves to sit, propped, by herself

- loves to push on her legs and stand (with help)
- coos and tries to make a variety of sounds
- smiles and responds to communication
- tries to grab toys and holds them for a few seconds
- observes her environment with curiosity
- weighs over 15 pounds!

I can't wait to see how she develops in the next few months. To be continued...

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Jul 6, 2010

The optimistic toddler

Over the last few weeks, it has occurred to me that our 2 year old son has an optimistic view of the world. A couple of recent examples:

When looking at pictures of babies together with just their moms or with no parents at all, Daniel first asks where the missing parents are. He quickly adds: "But don't worry they are coming back." So cute that he always expects the parents to accompany the babies, and for him to be so confident parents are coming back.
When breaking or scratching a toy, Daniel's usual reaction is: "It's OK, the owie will go away" (because that's what we tell him when he hurts himself)
When spilling something on his T-shirt, he tells us: "it's OK, we can wash it."

I think it is normal and healthy at his age to be optimistic. We don't want to scare him by telling him stories of parents not coming back or by turning every issue to a negative event. That said, I know that eventually, Daniel will have to learn a harder reality, one where not everything ends with a positive note. Yes, sometimes people are not nice. Yes, sometimes things happen that can't be repaired. Yes, sometimes he does things that, although harmless, can upset parents.

I am wondering at what age he will need to learn these things and what his reaction will be. Has anyone had this experience already?
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Jul 4, 2010

Loving Tinyprints greeting cards

I mentioned earlier in the spring that my company, Tinyprints, had launched a new type of cards, customizable, unique Greeting Cards. I was already expecting these cards to be a life saver for me. That said, I hadn't really thought about the way I would use them beyond the typical birthday or anniversary cards.
The last couple of months have given me an opportunity to take advantage of the service to create personalized Thank You cards.

With all the presents we received following our baby's birth, I found a perfect opportunity to showcase our beautiful girl wearing the nice outfit that each person had given us. Each of our friends got a Thank You card specifically speaking to and showing how Charlotte was wearing the outfit. I got really good feedback about the cards.

Where I got the most fun, though, was preparing Thank You cards for the grand-parents. We were lucky to have both sets of grand-parents come to live with us for a few weeks each, to help with the transition. They were wonderful, playing with Daniel (and bringing him a lot of new presents), taking care of Charlotte and helping us settle into the new house. They deserved a special Thank You. So, I put together a collage of the best pictures we had taken during their stay, highlighting the key events. I had to use the template of a birthday card for it, but since I could customize all the text, it worked out perfectly.

Here is an example:
Tinyprints greeting card used for personalized Thank You card
The inside had a family photo with the grand-parents and kids. The back had a small picture of the baby smiling with the comment: See you soon.

And the cards got the exact effect I was hoping for. Right on the day they arrived, my mother-in-law emailed us with the comment: "This is the highlight of my week, so beautiful for me to brag about it. (I already showed it to my neighbours.) I am keeping the card as one of my treasures for the rest of my life!"(translated from German). My parents loved theirs too!
Yay! So glad the cards made our parents that happy. This was exactly the intent and we couldn't have done it with any other card.
Thank you, Tinyprints!

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Jun 30, 2010

Living in a car seat...

It's funny how having a baby for the second time is a very different experience for me than with Daniel. I guess this must the "experienced mom" syndrome! It's very clear when I look at my activity schedule this time vs. last. Charlotte and I go out a lot!
Some of these activities are inevitable, result of having an older child. We need to pick him up at daycare every day, we go to the park or other kid-friendly places during the weekend. With a toddler around, we have to go out and entertain him before it's too late!
But also, I am choosing to do more myself too. I have found these excellent mom and baby yoga and fitness classes (Blossom Birth for yoga, Baby Boot Camp for fitness). I also want to enjoy the nice summer weather and go out for walks, meet friends or attend events at Daniel's school, which I usually don't get to do when I work full time. In short: I like to go out a lot this time.
And since Charlotte comes along with me, she ends up spending a lot of time in her car seat (which is also used for a stroller)

Charlotte has gotten used to sleeping in her car seat, which is probably the best use of the time for her. Now that she is more awake during the day, I try to let her play at home while she is alert, and I will time my activities for when she is supposed to sleep. This works out pretty well... except that Charlotte isn't learning to sleep in her bed much during the day. It makes it more difficult for her to fall asleep by herself in the rare instances when we are at home for nap time. Also, Charlotte has already started to dislike being in the car seat. When she isn't ready to sleep, she must find it difficult to be strapped in a small space, right when she wants to try to move. And she has experienced this frustration often enough already to complain when I put her in her car seat.

If she doesn't learn to fall asleep in her bed, at least I am hoping she is learning to be flexible and to appreciate being on the go to discover new things. For instance, it turns out that she loves watching the trees during my Baby Boot Camp class, something I wouldn't have thought of exposing her to, weren't it for this class. I hope she finds some type of benefit in our packed activity schedule.

I will only be on maternity leave for a few more weeks. After this, things will settle down anyways, as Charlotte will be attending daycare. There, she will be able to play with all the baby toys, and sleep in her crib, but she won't be going out much any more. So she should enjoy my activities while they last, right?

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Jun 27, 2010

Bye-bye diapers!

This week has been a good week for Daniel. At almost 2.5, he has achieved 2 big milestones: stopping to use the pacifier all together and getting rid of diapers during the day. We are very excited he is eager to move on and become a big boy despite seeing his little sister being able to keep her diapers and pacifier.

Potty training hasn't been that difficult after all. We had thought it would happen earlier this year, when Daniel started to show interest in the potty. However, once his curiosity faded out, he resisted trying for a while. With all the other changes happening in the family, we didn't insist at the time. But when we realized that Daniel was doing so well getting used to life with a baby sister in the new house, we tried again. The process took about a month from there.

The motivation was being able to wear big boy underwear featuring his favorite characters (and for some reason, he insisted on finding Bob The Builder underwear, which turned out to be challenging. But thanks to online search engines, I was able to find a small retailer selling them). He would be allowed to wear them for a few minutes each time he used the potty. This was fun for a while. We still went through a little back and forth when the new underwear became less exciting and when Daniel realized that wearing diapers had its advantages (after a few accidents). However, we persisted, and tried to reinforce the progress. After a while, using the potty became a routine and Daniel even started telling us in advance when he had to go. He has now been wearing underwear all day for a week. We still had a couple of accidents, but he doesn't seem to be discouraged. So I count it as a success! Almost done with diapers!

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Bye-bye pacifier!

This week has been a good week for Daniel. At almost 2.5, he has achieved 2 big milestones: stopping to use the pacifier all together and getting rid of diapers during the day. We are very excited he is eager to move on and become a big boy despite seeing his little sister being able to keep her diapers and pacifier.

Isn't he so much cuter without the pacifier?
(disclaimer: photo to the left was taken 9 months ago)

Letting the pacifier go took a while. After several attempts at getting rid of the pacifier last year, we had managed to make some progress earlier this year, when Daniel accepted to not use the pacifier during the day. It was such a great milestone for us. That said, he would still want to use the pacifier for sleeping. This meant that the pacifier was still around, and he was able to "trick us" into using it during the day from time to time. For instance, he would claim that he was tired at 7:30 pm and wanted to go to bed with his pacifier. (his usual bedtime is usually around 9pm). 10 minutes later, he would have had the rest he needed, and he would get up, leaving the pacifier in the bed. This opened the door to a lot of grey area situations, and some frustrations.

Recently, though, we had an opportunity to get rid of pacifiers all together. Daniel started chewing on them so much, that several of them got distorted within a few days of each other. We had to throw some pacifiers away and this was an opportunity for a long discussion about the pacifiers' journey from the garbage bag into the garbage truck, etc... We also warned that, if all 6 current pacifiers got distorted, we wouldn't buy a new pacifier. This would be the end.

For some reason, the story he told his teachers at daycare was that a ladybug had taken his pacifiers away. And from that moment, he didn't even want to use a pacifier for naptime at school (we had brought a good one as a replacement). Daniel still insisted in using a pacifier for night time at home. We let him do it for a few more days. But after a night when I had to get up in the middle of the night to help him find the pacifier he had lost, I decided to force the transition. Surprisingly enough, we didn't get a lot of pushback when we suggested Daniel to try falling asleep without a pacifier. He just claimed he didn't want to go to sleep yet, and somehow managed to stay awake and fit until about 10pm. He was probably trying to avoid having to deal with the new reality as long as possible. But once he was in bed, there was very little protest and he fell asleep shortly after. The next morning, he was very proud to be pacifier-free like a big boy, with 2 good (un-chewed) pacifiers to spare! We are relieved, and I hope this means no more getting up in the middle of the night to find a lost pacifier!

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Jun 18, 2010

Processing the new routine with the baby

Daniel has been doing really well with his new sister. He doesn't show much jealousy, and is trying to help her when he feels she needs it (which is every time she cries even just a little...) although his response is often more aggressive than it should be - we are working on it! I mentioned the other day how understanding life stages seems to help a lot.
Our routine has inevitably changed, though. While Daniel is doing well adapting, he is still processing the change. Yesterday's role play was telling.

When Charlotte was born, we were told it would be a good idea for Daniel to also get a present... since the new sister would be getting many. Given that Daniel seemed to be interested in babies, we gave him a doll, his first doll (he is a guy after all). He was very excited at first, like he is with any new present. However, the interest didn't last long and the doll spent the last 6 weeks on the shelf. However, this changed yesterday.

All of a sudden, Daniel played a scenario with her that replicated our new morning routine. Often, Daniel hears Charlotte crying in the early morning, when he is about to wake up. He usually gets up pretty quickly after that and finds me nursing her in the bed. I tell him to wait until I am done nursing and burping before we can all have breakfast and get ready for school.

Well, yesterday, that's exactly what he did. He pretended he was nursing and burping the baby in his bed. While doing that, he clearly told me to wait until we could all eat. Then, we pretended to have breakfast. To my surprise, he even continued the play by bringing the baby to school and having her say Good Bye, something that must be hard on him right now since I am staying at home.

Very interesting play. Our routine has changed after all. And while he doesn't seem to be affected too much, he has noticed. Hopefully, he can continue to use role play with the new doll to help process the changes, so that he is still easy-going even with the new sister

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Jun 17, 2010

Awareness of trilingualism

For the last several weeks, we had visitors in our home: the grand-parents on both sides, one couple right after the other. This means that our house has been immersed in German and French more than usual. Not sure if this is coincidence or if this new environment triggered new developments in Daniel's language abilities. In any case, he has shown interesting progress in the last few weeks.
First, his active vocabulary in both languages has increased a lot. For a long time, he has understood French and German quite well, but he has mostly spoken in English. Now, he still mostly speaks in English (and even repeats what we tell him in French or German in his own mother tongue). But he also started to incorporate more French and German words in his sentences. In most cases, the sentences are a mix-up of languages, though. He still far from mastering complex sentence structures in French or German to communicate his thoughts in one of these languages only. I hope that this is progress, though, even if it means that he now speaks broken English with us. I still think that when immersed in a 100%-English environment he can keep his English language intact.

And I am especially hopeful about this because, in the last few days, Daniel has started to show awareness for the different languages he knows. He frequently stumbles upon a word he knows in 3 languages and says: "Papa says Schule, Mama says Ecole, Teachers [at daycare] say school" for instance. This is very encouraging to me. I think it makes it easier to teach him my language. When I repeat something he says in English with my own French words, he will hopefully find it less confusing now that he understands Mommy does things differently. I don't know if he ever felt discouraged or surprised when I didn't proactively acknowledge his English vocabulary in the past. But if it was the case, hopefully now he will know why.

I also hope that it will help him keep a clean distinction between English and the other languages, eventually. If he understands that English corresponds to what teachers say, he will hopefully put as little German and French as possible when speaking to them and other English speakers.

Given the recent visits from the grandparents, we are reinforcing for him the motivation to learn how Mommy and Daddy say things. We are explaining that other people in the family also say things like mom and dad (and they wouldn't always understand English!). Hopefully it will be motivating for him to continue to learn French and German, so that he continues on his slow-but-still-progressing learning curve.

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Jun 16, 2010

First smiles

Charlotte turned 7 weeks today, and she really started smiling. I think she is cute... but what do I know, I am biased!

In any case, she is already using her new ability as a good relationship-building tactic. When waking me up at 1:30am the other night without being hungry, she smiled at me for 5 minutes and made me forget that I was upset she had woken me up. Smart girl!

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Jun 9, 2010

Putting the pieces together

Before the baby was born, Daniel had been concerned about where the baby would sit in the car. He kept asking us regularly until we got the baby seat and showed him that this would be for the baby. At the same time, he was still very territorial about his own car seat: it was his and only his.
However, now that the baby is here, Daniel has been great at understanding that people do different things - and use different products- at different ages.

Putting all of this together, he was very proud to explain to me this morning that when Charlotte is older, she will take his car seat. It was not a question, it was a statement. And there was no jealousy involved, no regret. Daniel had put all the pieces together!
So, he got the concept right. Now let's see how he applies it when his sister starts playing with his old toys and developing more of a personality on her own.
To be continued!
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Jun 8, 2010

"When I big...", Toddler aspirations

I can't remember when exactly this trend started, but for the last few weeks our 2-year old has clearly been focused on understanding the concept of age and what people do at different life stages. It might have come as a natural progression in his learning, or maybe as a result of our recent move (and the implications of having to reset some of the rules about what mom & dad can do in the new house vs. him), or it was most likely triggered by the birth of our daughter 5 weeks ago.
In any case, Daniel currently spends his time talking about "when I [am] big, I will do xxx" and about what he did when he was a baby.
He clearly understands that he is on a growth path, away from the baby stage, towards becoming what mom and dad are, or more. Things Daniel wants to do when he is big include: being able to turn on the oven himself, drinking beer, burping babies and becoming an astronaut(!). Yes, good ambitions already. I think this helps him deal with some of the restrictions and rules we impose on him. Instead of seeing them as punishment against him, he now understands that it's a matter of age, and a temporary thing for him (even though it will take years). It's much easier to accept that he can't play with the fireplace for instance, knowing that eventually, "when he is big", he will be able to do it.

In parallel, Daniel likes to confirm that, when he was a baby, he also did the same things as his sister currently does. This includes feeding at mommy's breast, lounging in the bouncy chair, crying and even having tummy pains. Yes, he really wants to make sure he didn't miss out on any of the baby experience! So far, he seems to be doing really well in terms of not being jealous towards the new baby. We think that understanding he went through the same baby phase himself helps him accept that we currently treat the baby differently from him. As long as he knows he was able to enjoy the bouncy chair or to nurse in mommy's arms in the past, he isn't trying to do it now. On the contrary, he knows he is now big, which has a lot of great perks: playing with other fun toys, eating a variety of good food.

It's been very interesting to watch how important this concept of growing has become for Daniel. It's a daily topic right now. Hopefully, this will help him continue to learn and being inspired to do great things when he is big. He will need to be patient, though, because some of the ideals he aspires to are still a long way ahead!

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May 31, 2010

Learning proper English in a trilingual environment

As I mentioned in a few earlier posts about Daniel's progress in language development, English has now become his primary language, by far. It's not really surprising, since Daniel is surrounded by English speakers for 9-10 hours a day at daycare, TV from time to time and American friends we meet during the weekends. At almost 2.5 years, Daniel is able to make correct complex sentences in English, while his sentence structure in French and German is very basic, if existing at all. In most cases, he just starts a sentence using the English filler words (e.g. the, with, tomorrow, etc...) and just includes the main words in French and German as he sees fit, depending on the person he is talking to. Interestingly enough, when we explain to him a complex concept in French or German, Daniel repeats the explanations almost word by word... in English. He definitely understands everything we tell him in the other languages, but he processes things in English. In a way, it's a good sign: it means that he is now self-sufficient in English to be able to create his own sentences from scratch. It doesn't look like he is eager to speak full sentences in French or German, though.

As a way to continue to boost his French and German, my husband and I make a point of repeating most of what Daniel tells us in English in our own language. This way, we think that at least, he gets familiar with the vocabulary around concepts he is currently thinking about. Over time, we hope that it will encourage Daniel to make his own full sentences in French or German when talking to each of us.

That said, we regularly have some concern that Daniel doesn't really get a lot of support in learning the proper English. While his sentence structure is good, Daniel still makes a lot of mistakes in English. Recent examples include: "I ate all of them" (when talking about eating all the yogurt), "He is crying" (when talking about his sister). Since we repeat these sentences to him in different languages, we don't have the opportunity to correct his English at the same time. I doubt that the friends he mostly talks to at daycare correct him either, and the teachers probably don't have time. So, how will he know how to correctly use "all of" or the right words for the right gender? I guess it will take him more time to fit all the pieces together. And in the absence of someone repeating right away with the proper form, he will have to use long-term memory and deductive reasoning to come to his own conclusions on the grammar rules.

Hopefully, it's not a big deal... He has already made it this far without any support from us in English. We need to be patient and hope he will listen well when other people speak proper English around him. We will see. To be continued...

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May 16, 2010

Toddler fun: visiting farms in the South Bay

Our 2-year old son has been interested in animals from the youngest age. And indeed, many of his first words were animal sounds. In the past year, we have looked for ways to foster this interest in animals, and have tried to find farms to visit around the Bay Area. Today, we discovered a new one that we are very excited about. We now have quite a few options, which will become handy as we will need to find entertainment options for Daniel and his new sister for the next several years.

The farms we have visited include:
* Hidden Villa Farm: Animals include pigs, cows, chicken, sheep. There is also a nice garden with a variety of plants and crops. The farm is easy to walk to from the parking lot, and it's quite compact. It has a limited number of animals, though.

* Deer Hollow Farm (Rancho San Antonio park): This is a small farm with one cow, sheep and goats, pigs, rabbits and chicken. It's about a mile away from the parking lot, so you will need to take a stroller (preferably jogger) or your kid will need to be able to walk long distances.

* Ardenwood Farm: This is actually more than an animal exhibit. It is a complete farm, restored over the grounds of an old one. It includes the mansion, nice lawns incl. gazebo, various barns, a collection of old tractor pieces, a blacksmith, an old train. As far as animals are concerned, we could see sheep, goats, a cow, horses, chicken and turkeys (free range) and birds in an aviary. The size of the farm is quite extensive, but still manageable for a 2-year old on foot (one-way... we took the train on the way back). I think it could be a great destination in the summer, it could be very pleasant for picnics, and there are many picnic areas.

Daniel running after the free range chicken
ardenwood farm free range chicken

On the way back to the entrance in the historical train
ardenwood farm train

I will add to the list when I come across other interesting destinations. Do you know any other interesting farms for kids in the Bay Area?

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May 4, 2010

Big brother Daniel

Having a new baby is a lot of work, and there isn't much reward at this age. While Charlotte is developing every day - and a good baby in general, her progress is slow and she doesn't really give a lot of positive feedback. So far, I find it a lot easier to take care of a baby with a toddler around. Daniel is so much fun at this age, that I get a lot out of just watching him. And this makes a big difference to my days spent alone with a baby.

For instance, we discovered that Daniel had made a lot of progress with drawing. Not only can he draw a couple of shapes by himself, but he is really good at concentrating now. He tries really hard to draw what he plans to do. It's really fun and interesting to watch. We can have discussions about the stories he is laying out. This is such a fun interaction.

Also, the other day, we were watching a kid movie where the main character was sad and frustrated. It was interesting to watch how Daniel kept suggesting that the character should go to his daddy... I guess his assumption is that Daddy can make things a lot better when you are not doing well. How cute!

Finally, on the big brother front, Daniel has been great so far. He gets very excited when Charlotte wakes up, and he pays a lot of attention to what she does, asking a lot of questions (it also turns out that he is in the "why" phase, so he applies it to his observations about Charlotte). He is also very protective of his little sister. When people approach us to look at her, he always want to make sure they are nice to her. He also makes a point of pushing her stroller when we go out... So nice!

We still have to teach him to be gentle. Daniel wants to help her, but patting on the back or offering the pacifier sometimes takes the form of pushing things on his poor baby sister. I know he will be able to learn it, and hopefully, he will continue to be a caring big brother.

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May 3, 2010

Welcome, baby girl!

A week ago, I was writing about all the changes that were happening in our family, and wondering if our baby girl would wait a little until Daniel had adapted to the new environment before making her grand entrance.

Well, it turns out, she didn't.

She came in 10 days in advance, and rushing to come out. The entire birth process took less than 2 hours! It almost started as the worst case scenario I had been afraid of: baby coming in early (before grandparents were here to be baby-sitters for Daniel), labor progressing very quickly (very little time to get organized for plan B). But fortunately, a couple of things played in our favor.

Labor started when we were all home, at night. We didn't have to rush back from work and think about the logistics of picking up Daniel from daycare. This would have been a major issue given that we barely had time to make it to the hospital as is (I only stayed in the birthing room for 20 minutes!) Our back-up baby-sitter, who lives 1 hour away, turned out to be closeby when we called her, and she was able to come in within 20 minutes. She probably wouldn't have made it on time if she had had to come from home, and we would have had to take Daniel to the hospital with us, I guess. Not ideal.
We were also lucky that we left close to Daniel's bed time, so he didn't have to spend too much time wondering what was going on and waiting for us. When he woke up the next morning, Daddy was already back. And he was the most excited big brother to come and say Hi to little sister Charlotte at the hospital. And then, the last piece of luck was that Charlotte was born during the week, so we could send Daniel to daycare while adjusting to the new baby for a few days. By the time the weekend came around, we were back at home, which made it much easier to handle.

Baby Charlotte is a healthy baby: 3.5kg, 51.5cm. Strong lungs and a good appetite!
I have to say that I didn't really start realizing what was happening until about 30 minutes after she was born. Initially, I was in a weird phase, where I didn't have enough energy to enjoy her much. I was still processing the quick change of events. 2 hours before, I had been cooking, talking to Daniel about the book we would be reading before bed time, and thinking about all the work I would have to do tomorrow. Things had changed so drastically and I had had to leave my first born at home and had now a new baby. There was no chance I would finish the work I had left pending! I was also in terrible pain for some time after the birth, the after effects of things happening so fast.

Fortunately, things got better and the recovery went fast too. I quickly started enjoying my little girl. I will report on Charlotte's first days in the next post. Stay tuned!

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Apr 26, 2010

Time of changes

These few weeks are expected to be quite eventful for us. First, we moved to a new place a week ago, and then, there is the new baby, expected at the end of next week (really meaning any time between now and the next 2 weeks!). This also means a series of visitors in our new home: first my husband's parents and then my parents who will be coming to help with the baby. Busy time!

We didn't really plan for all of it to happen at the same time. But after looking for a new place for 6+ months (and granted, being very picky about it), we just found the -almost- perfect place a few weeks ago. So we had to take advantage of it, and organized the move pretty quickly. All in all, it went well. Given that I can't carry much or bend much at this point in the pregnancy, we got a lot of help with the move, and this turned out to be very beneficial (ok, my husband worked like crazy as well). After a week in the house, we have already settled in. All boxes are empty, and we have all the furniture in the right place. We love our new place!

Daniel seems to be doing well with the new "big house" too. He was very excited when we started telling us about the moving truck that would pick up our stuff. The notion of his bed and toys being in a big truck was particularly fascinating to him. For the few days before the move, he would point at every truck he saw, asking if it was our truck. At some point, he even decided that he wanted our moving truck to be blue. This was a strict criteria! Fortunately, the moving company we used had a blue logo. Phew!

Daniel ended up being very easy going on the day of the move: he spent hours watching the movers pack our items in the truck. This was fascinating to him. I was concerned that he wouldn't like the idea of them taking his belongings away. But he didn't seem to mind. He even fell asleep for his nap right away in the new room (Ok, it was 1.5 hours past his naptime, after an exciting morning, so no real surprise after all)

Adapting to the new house was a little bit tougher. In the first afternoon, Daniel kept repeating that he wanted to "go home", meaning the old house. We had to comfort him that this was his new home, and the old home was gone. This was tough! But we emphasized the positive, and he was quickly dancing at the idea that he has now a bigger room and more storage for his toys! That said, even after a week, he still asks about the small and the big houses. I think he misses the old house, his first house... And we need to remind him that there is now only the big house.

Now we are on to the next challenge: the transition to life with baby. We set up the crib and some of the baby stuff in the new home. Most of it is in our master bedroom, and I think Daniel is realizing that the baby will get to sleep closer to mom and dad than he will. This is a disturbing thought to him. This past week, Daniel has often asked to come sleep in our bed. He even asked to sleep in the baby crib yesterday! I think he is starting to understand the implications of this baby thing we have been talking about for a while.

Hopefully, he will have a few more days to adapt to the new house before another major change takes place. This could potentially be the biggest of all transitions he has had to live through so far.

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