A Day in a Life with a Toddler

Sometimes my friends will ask me how the toddler is, and I’ll reply, and they’ll tell me they don’t know if they want to have kids. True, keeping up with one toddler is tiring. (Life with more than one is apparently one of survival, but I don’t know about that yet). Still, I don’t want to sell the toddler short. She’s increasingly fun to be with, with every day that passes.

Today I was woken, first by her nursing in her sleep (she’s started wanting to sleep in our bed again, after a three-month stint over the summer in her room), and then by her announcement that she needed to pee. So up we went to the potty, and down we went again because I was not ready to get up. Then she announced she had to pee again, after another 10-minute nurse. Well, hello, day.

Even when she’s just waking up, she knows what she wants.

The first thing she wanted to do was to call 婆婆 (my mum), who turned out to be busy at work. Then 公公 (my dad), who asked me how I was. I was too sleepy for conversation, but was awake enough to start our morning routine. Brushing her teeth includes counting up to 30 in Cantonese and then (lately) singing Frère Jacques while she accompanies (she sings the last word-ish of each line: Jacques, –vous, –tines, and ding dong). Then she practices spitting (patooey! in the sink), I wash and moisturize her face, and she reminds me to give her her multivitamin.

After I brushed and washed up myself, we made breakfast. R sits on the floor with a small milkpan and a measuring cup, and I bring her ingredients from the pantry. She scoops oatmeal and raisins, pours chia seeds, and spoons out brown sugar into the pot. I set it on the stove and we watched animal videos while I trimmed her nails. She’d watch animals on TV forever, I think, if I didn’t stop her, so I tell her she can watch a bit when Dad comes home. Then we ate.

Following breakfast, I introduced her to a new nursery rhyme. She started repeating words at the ends of songs all on her own about a few weeks ago. I wonder fleetingly if I should encourage her to recite more, but then I remember Holt’s admonishment on how asking children to prove their learning takes away from their joy of learning, so I refrain from doing so. She’s been into animals all summer (she refers to her animal encyclopedia as her ency-pedia) and so this rhyme is about bees.

Here is the beehive. Where are the bees?
They’re hiding away so nobody sees.
Soon they’ll come creeping out of their hive,
One, two, three, four, five! Bzzz!

She likes it! I am very pleased (yes, partially because I stayed up last night colouring bees). She asks me to repeat the nursery rhyme 4 – 5 times and I do so, handing her a bee for each number. Of the other activities I have set up (a colour puzzle and play with tongs, which she already did last week), she is less interested. Instead, we read books in her room, and then R begins exploring the living room. I am more tired than I realize, though, and snap at her when her attempt to climb something puts a plant pot in danger of falling.

My snapping signals to me that I still need more rest, so I go to lie down in bed. This has been something I’ve been doing more and more often. When I notice that I feel on edge, I realize I’m probably just tired and so I lie down. R follows and asks to nurse, and… we fall asleep until lunch time. I guess we were both tired.

When we wake, I am in a much better mood and ready to play with R. We heat up food, leftover turkey congee and chicken fingers (she prefers mustard). I’ve developed a strategy to balance R’s meals whenever there’s something soupy: she must alternate bites. In this case, “一啖雞雞, 一啖粥” (one bite of chicken, one bite of congee). Usually the soupy part is the healthier bit, and this way, the variety keeps her eating (she gets bored with just one food). She eats a substantial amount of both, hurrah!

This is when we first started back in February.

We clean up. She stands in her learning tower (that Jack made a while back) and takes dishes out of the dry area to pass them to me. Then when I wash, she drops clean cutlery into the cutlery box. She also plays with water by catching it in a measuring cup and pouring it over the clean dishes, or by seeing what happens when the water hits the underside of the cup. From time to time, I catch sight of the ketchup and mustard still sitting on the kitchen table and make a note to put it back in the fridge soon.

Then, because she’s been such a big help, we look at the dishes. This has been a regular request for a few weeks now. It began with “睇杯杯” (look at cups) and then “睇碗” (look at bowls). Probably has something to do with the fact that she gets to stand on the counter and look into all the previously unreachable cupboards. She peers in and then begins playing with the water pitcher I keep by the stove. I figure that it’ll be less stressful with her on the ground, so we move a few bowls, some stoppers, and the water jug onto the kitchen floor to continue. She pours water into one bowl, drinks out of it, and pours water from one bowl into another.

She let me tie up her hair and kept it in for longer than two minutes today! What an occasion.

Partway through, I start eating an orange and she looks up, interested. She’s always interested in food, but I’m dubious because she used to spit out all fruit. Still, I’m ever hopeful, and the orange is sweet and juicy. She bites into it, chews, and swallows… and asks for more! So I cut up half my orange with scissors and she eats it all with a fork. Today is turning out pretty swell. The ketchup and mustard are still on the table and I realize it only when I get up to look for scissors.

Sometimes she eats more when she has someone to feed (in this case, her lion). Other times, she likes knowing about what she’s eating, and likes identifying her veggies in her book.

As she eats, she recalls a word. “Bursay,” she says, and I try to puzzle it out. “Bursary?” She gives me a look (and I facepalm inwardly). “Bursay to you,” she says again, and I realize, “Happy Birthday to you?” and she smiles. “Daddy,” she says, because Dad’s birthday was last week and we talked about it. “Pookie,” she goes on, and I ask, “Do you want to read Happy Birthday, Little Pookie?” She assents and I go to get the book, with her telling herself, “等一陣” (wait a moment). She’s been self-regulating out loud more, lately. We read, and then she points to the back of the book, where other titles are shown, to another title that we have. I ask her if she wants that one but this time, when I bring it, she says, “All done!” meaning she’s not interested in reading the title. She’s also done eating her orange.

Then we head to the living room and I set up her art easel, allowing her free rein of her stationery box. I leave her alone for less than two minutes, to put away the ketchup and mustard (finally!). I come back and she has poured out all the crayons, pencil crayons, and markers together, and pulled open the pencil sharpener to boot. Little shavings litter the carpet. I look at the pile and try to explain that we don’t shake the sharpener out over the carpet. “Oh R,” I begin, and she replies with a very dramatic, “Oh nooo,” waving forlornly at the mess. As if it couldn’t be helped.

How did she get so big?

I pull out the vacuum and she mock screams. She’s not scared of it but she’ll pretend to be, running away, and then laughing when it can’t get at her. I vacuum, put it away, and sharpen a few pencils to show her how the sharpener works. She pulls open the sharpener again before I can stop her. Then, at the look on my face, she waves her hands. “Oh noooo. 吸塵機!”(vacuum cleaner!) This time, I chase her into her room with the vacuum and she jumps into her bed giggling.

The rest of art time is about her uncapping and capping markers, with the occasional scribble on the easel. I sharpen pencils and am careful to keep the sharpener away from her fingers. At some point, she tires of her activity to the point where she actually starts picking up her own crayons. I continue sharpening pencil crayons until they’re all sharp. It leaves me with a minor sense of accomplishment, but also the realization that my energy is flagging. She asks to nurse, and I ask to lie down while she does. And… wonder of wonders, we fall asleep. A two-nap day is a miracle; I thought she had given up all second naps. We sleep until Jack comes home.

Of course, the first thing she does when Jack wakes is to run to him. “電視!” (TV!) she proclaims, because, remember, I told her in the morning that she could watch more with Dad when he came home. “R!” I chide, “You can’t just greet someone with teling them what you want,” and so she corrects herself. “Hello, Daddy!” She pauses for him to reply, then follows up. “Animals! 睇動物 (look at animals)! 電視!”

I wonder what tomorrow will be like.

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