Life with a toddler can be pretty monotonous. Feeding them yogurt, peeling apples, wiping noses and bottoms, giving baths and brushing teeth amidst much protest. You get lulled by the normalcy of the days and then one day you wake up and poof! your little boy turns three years old and you think to yourself: how on earth did that happen?! Well, it's happened friends. And with the passing of another year, here I sit, writing every thought I've had about him for the past 12 months, or so it will seem to you, patient reader, from the length of this post. In a deviation from past annual updates, I've decided to make this a post about him and not a letter to him and I added categories. Since the post is so lengthy, I think I was better able to organize my thoughts this way.
So here it is, a rambling summary of my little boy's life at age three:
Living in Barcelona, Roman is exposed to two languages on a daily basis plus a third at home with the Professor and I. In the public daycare that he attends, Catalan is the official language but Roman does hear Spanish from the other kids, from TV shows, from our family members and occasionallly, from us. For the most part, he understands that in different environments, a different language is spoken. So at home when he’s finished eating, he’ll give me his plate and say ‘No more’ but at school, he’ll say ‘No més’. Sometimes, just to cover his bases, he’ll use more than one language at a time just to make sure he’s understood. I used to joke that he sounded like a hotel concierge, ‘Hola, hello’ and ‘goodbye, adiós, adéu!’ I think that he uses language in a clever and lazy way, picking the word that’s easiest to say in one of the three langauges he knows. So he’ll say the Catlan word for bread, ‘pa’ since it’s easier than saying both ‘pan’ and ‘bread’. He’ll also say ‘milk’ instead of ‘leche’ and ‘gracias’ instead of ‘thank you’ and ‘allá’ instead of ‘over there’.
It could be because of all the languages and the fact that’s he’s still absorbing it all, but Roman’s conversational ability is not very advanced for a three year old. He knows the most words in English which is his mother tongue, but he tends to speak in sentences of mostly three or four words often omitting the verb, for example: ‘Look Mama tiger wet’. His favorite way to get your attention verbally is to say ‘LOOK AT THIS!’ which is his way of saying the following things: I want that, give it to me, help me, I spilled juice, I can’t find my lion, my foot is dirty. I could go on. You get the idea.
A couple of months ago, we became concerned about Roman’s language delay and started seeing a speech therapist. We weren’t sure if he was hesitant to talk because he didn’t know the words, or if he was physically having trouble forming them in his mouth, or because he just didn’t want to speak. I was leaning towards the latter explanation because Roman will pick the easiest way to communicate with me, through gestures and pointing and the like, but will articulate a word when I feign miscomprehension. After weeks of sessions with his speech therapist (who he loves), Roman is now speaking more and copying almost everything he hears. Sometimes he says something we’re surprised he knows, for example the other day I asked him if I could have some of his peach and he very politely said ‘Of course’. Another time we were sitting together eating dinner and Roman looked up from his plate with a big smile on his face and said, ‘¡Qué bo! which is Catalan for ‘How good’ or in this context ‘Yummy!’ I think the greatest thing about this age is that we’re witnessing how he’s discovering and digesting the everyday things we say and to hear a normal sentence uttered in his sweet little voice is the best part. It’s hard not to smile when he looks at me solemnly and says, ‘no bath mama, ok? no bath’.
The Introverted Kid
We’d noticed for awhile that Roman tends towards introversion. He gets a little anxious and clings to us whenever we’re in big groups or meeting people he doesn’t know, he prefers to spend time one on one with children his age, he observes everything before he decides to engage and how much, and he can spend a lot of time focused on solitary games like stacking blocks, doing puzles, playing with his trains or Legos. We never really spent much time thinking about Roman’s socialization skills until it was brought to our attention by his teacher and a school psychologist both of whom suggested that Roman’s lack of interest in playing as part of a group is something we should work on. Their concern is that when Roman begins pre-kindergarten in September where there is an even bigger student to teacher ratio (25:1), it’ll be easier for a loner like Roman to get lost in the shuffle. It’s not clear to Roman that when his teacher gives instructions to the group, they apply to him as well. Often, she’s told us, she needs to issue a personal invitation to him before he joins in. But after he does join the group, he’s happy to be there.
As per the recommendations of the psychologist, the Professor and I are trying to work on Roman’s socialization skills which is a bit of an effort for us since the both of us are introverts too (albeit to different degrees). But lately, we’ve made more of an effort to invite one or two classmates of his to our home to play, or we meet up with our friends at the park and we always explain to Roman in advance where we’re going and who we’re seeing so that he’s prepared beforehand. We’ve noticed a big difference that could be due to what we’re doing or else just due to the fact that he’s growing up. When we celebrated his 3rd birthday with a party in our house, he played with all of our guests, sang along to the birthday song, and clapped and cheered as he was given presents. He even smiled and posed for pictures! It was such a big change from last year (remember this post?).
You can discover so much about a child just watching them play and seeing what their little imaginations come up with. Roman’s favorite toys are puzles, Legos, train sets and his animal figurines. Roman loves to pretend that his animal figurines or dinosaurs have feelings just like he does. One of his most common games is to pretend that one of his animals is the mommy and the smaller one is the baby. It’s so adorable to watch how he treats the baby animal and how he makes the mommy cuddle her baby. He also uses a soft, tender voice to talk to us about the baby. Indeed, Roman thinks that anything small is necessarily a baby version of something else and this extends to things besides toys (so for instance, apricots are baby peaches according to him). He also commonly uses his toys to reenact scenes from cartoons (like putting Mrs. Jumbo, the elephant on the train) or from his life. He’ll pretend that his dinosaurs have had a fight and the loser goes into the corner to cry. At this point, he’ll come to me and tell me that the dinosaur is crying and wants a kiss and I have to resolve the pretend dispute (normally it’s that one dinosaur hit the other or that the dinosaurs don’t want to share their food).
A time for too many feelings
Looking back at the post I wrote for his second birthday, I can see that I wrote about Roman’s difficulty managing and expressing his feelings. This is kind of a continuing theme, unfortunately. It seems that sometimes, he just feels too much and his feelings overwhelm him (us too, actually). Whenever he feels frustrated or thwarted or overwhelmed or lonely, he likes to find a sad place and goes for self-appointed time outs. He’ll normally crawl under a bed or a table or else find some small, inaccessible corner where he’ll pout softly. In the beginning we’d go after him immediately and try to find out what was wrong. Now we’ll just kind of let him hang out there for a minute and then instead of trying to pull him out, we’ll ask if he’s finished crying or if he wants some more time. Normally he’ll scramble out and join us, troubles forgotten. However, there are times when time out is something we impose on him. If Roman is being disrespectful or aggressive (for instance, hitting someone or throwing his food on the floor), one of us’ll escort him to time out and tell him that we don’t like his behavior and when he’s ready to behave, he can come out. Then we’ll wait a minute and go ask him if he’s ready to come out. A humbled, ‘Sorry Mama and Papa’ normally puts an end to whatever happened. We’ve also noticed that for discipline, counting to three works great. Often, I don’t even have to get to 3. He’s doing whatever he’s supposed to do by 2.
He’s not at all the adventurous baby he once was. He used to try anything no matter how weird looking or novel, now he certainly won’t. The only way I’ve managed to get him to try most vegetables is to trick him into it by changing the name of it. So broccoli are little trees, green beans are snakes, and asparagus are dragon tails. There are a few vegetables he’ll eat without being compelled, mostly those that are not green like sweet potato, carrots, red and yellow bell pepper. He still eats a pretty varied diet though because he’ll eat things that have vegetables in them but he doesn’t know that they do. For instance, pesto (which I make with spinach or with green peas), kuku which is a Persian herb omelette, or zucchini fritters. In the colder months, he loves to eat pureed soups like broccoli and potato or cauliflower and leek. Strangely, he’ll eat things at school that he won’t eat at home, like lentils. This mystifies and frustrates me to no end but his teacher assures me that it’s pretty common.
We began potty training Roman at the end of February and by the end of March we were done. That makes it sound like the process was pretty easy but believe me, it wasn’t. A lot of people talk about the click that happens when a child suddenly gets it. They’re supposed to recognize the sensation of needing to go and then be able to hold it long enough to communicate their need to a parent, find a bathroom and take off their pants and undies. To hear some parents tell it, this click happens overnight. For us, the click took a month and change. In the beginning, I felt that we were accident free not so much because Roman was potty trained but because we were. We watched him so closely, we could guess the second he had to go and immediately whisked him over to the potty. What let us know that he did indeed get it, was that he was able to communicate with his teacher in school when he had to go or when he started going without being prompted. Now, he’ll let us know when he has to go by saying either ‘Pee pee’ or ‘Uh oh mama, big poop’ and then we race together to the bathroom. This summer, we feel he’s ready to proceed to nap times with no diaper and an adapter seat on the toilet instead of a stand-alone potty.
TV is a pretty big thing in Roman’s life, not because he gets to watch it much (he normally gets an hour after dinner on a weeknight) but because of how much entertainment he gets from it. TV exposes him to worlds he would never know about without it. We suspect that the reason he loves animals so much is because they feature prominently in most of the shows and movies he watches (The Lion King, The Aristocats, Finding Nemo, Dumbo, Curious George, and Daniel Tiger are a few favorites). The reason he’s into dinosaurs is because of the PBS show Dinosaur Train, which is actually a favorite of ours as well (so informative! And the intro is so catchy!) It’s so funny to watch his reactions to his favorite cartoons. He giggles and shrieks, he sings along, claps, says ‘Oh no!’ when something bad happens and if the characters are dancing he’ll jump off the couch, hold his hand out to his papa or me and say ‘shake it!’. This invitation (or demand) to dance with him is equally adorable and frustrating mostly because Roman can’t really dance and really just wants to spin and jump around which is very nauseating and exhausting. Because of his love for Dumbo (I think we watched that movie every day for a month which was a good break from Frozen actually), he became enamored with elephants and began carrying an elephant figurine with him everywhere who is named, of course, Mrs. Jumbo. It’s also hilarious to watch his reaction to the Lion King. In the beginning of the movie during the ‘Circle of Life’ song when Rafiki holds baby Simba up for the kingdom to see, Roman holds up his stuffed lion at the exact climatic moment. I’ve realized that as entertaining as it is for him to watch cartoons, it’s more entertaining for us to watch him. He’s such a kooky little guy!
Since he was little, he's had to always hold something in his hands. It’s like a security blanket for him. This has been a recurring thing since he was around a year old. I remember the days when he used to go everywhere with a toothbrush clutched in his fist (remember this post?). After the toothbrush phase had passed, he still wanted to hold onto something but it was usually a food not a toy. So for instance, he’d go everywhere with a cookie or a breadstick in each hand and carry these around for hours before he’d decide to eat them. Around September of last year, he moved on to carrying toys with him. The first toys he picked were these wooden dinosaurs that came from a puzzle he’d been gifted months earlier. We couldn’t leave the house for school, or the park, or a restaurant or a walk around town without making sure he had his dinosaurs. This obsession lasted a few months and then, seemingly out of nowhere, came his sudden, unexpected attachment to a stuffed tiger.
This stuffed tiger, which he had had for some time and never noticed and certainly never played with, was on the verge of being donated when Roman suddenly decided that he would never be parted from it. For MONTHS, Roman and the tiger were inseparable and their togetherness was somehow much more noticeable and much stronger a connection than he’d had with anything previously. Not only did the tiger go everywhere with him, but the tiger had to be with him no matter what he was doing. If Roman was sleeping, the tiger was laying down with him, if Roman was eating, the tiger was sitting beside him, if Roman was taking a bath, we had to put the tiger, who could not get wet, as close to the bathtub as possible so that Roman could see him as he was bathing and hold him as soon as he got out of the tub. As an indication of how special the tiger had become, Roman chose to name it, something he had never done previously. At first he chose the name Julie which was a bit of a puzzler because the only person we know with that name has neither whiskers nor stripes. After a month or so, he decided to change his tiger’s name to Big Tiger, probably because the word ‘big’ is one of his favorite adjectives.
Like all phases though, the tiger phase seemed to run its course. Recently, Roman’s moved on to animal figurines. Normally an elephant, a horse, a baby lion, a triceratops, a parrot finger puppet, Sully from Monster’s Inc. or a dinosaur with wheels accompanies him wherever he goes. He normally takes one toy in each hand but sometimes he’ll travel with an entourage of up to five toys. I don’t feel though, that anything is as special to him as his tiger was. He still plays with the tiger and asks for him often and the Professor and I make sure to bring him with us whenever we go out of town so that Roman can have a friend with him, but the attachment is not the same. And even though it was so tedious to wash that tiger every week and drag it along with us everywhere we went during those months, I have to admit to being a little sad that Roman has moved on. It feels a bit like the end of his babyhood for one thing, and for another it just seems so wrong, like if Christopher Robin suddenly went to college without bringing Pooh. Oh well. Perhaps I'm being a little overly sentimental.
Well that turned out to be less of a summary and more of a deposition, wouldn’t you say? I guess you should never give a mama too much time or space to talk about her child (but it’s my blog so too bad!) :)
Your papa and I love you so much you cheeky monkey.