Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Ants in her pants

Helena was a squirmy baby. Now we've achieved a whole new level of squirminess.

Toddler. One who toddles. To toddle. Toddling.

Used metaphorically when applied to the city of Chicago: "that toddlin' town."

I love that word.

We meant to stay housebound yesterday, what with it being rainy and gray, but a break in the weather seemed a good opportunity for a run to the grocery store. Maybe help lull Helena into a state of sleepiness.

The grocery store is three and a half short blocks away. In that stretch we passed 5 squirrels (at ground level), 4 pigeons (at ground level), and 2 dogs. The approach of each brought on squeals of delight, a stream of baby-babble words, and much waving. As I pushed the stroller on by, laughs turned to shrieks of torment, then settled into that moany baby whine only parents ever develop a tolerance for. I thought she'd bite through the stroller straps to make a break for it.

The way home was as bad, so rather than hang a left I went straight through to the park, thinking, "She'll tire herself out in a few minutes; she's napped barely an hour today."

The playground was mucky. Ugh. And I hadn't put proper outdoor toddlin' shoes on her before leaving. But I let her go. Only two other kids with their mom there. Of course, they were in the bouncy fire chief's car. Sigh.

The squirrels were bold. Two in particular, which I remember from last summer. I've never seen squirrels that colour — a creamy light, winter white shade, but not albino. For these parts they're huge, healthy. And they're back.

They prey on that playground. One each climbing the only two strollers there. The little rat got his grimy paws on my baguette, the bastard!

I was a little tense for the rest of our outing. I even lugged the stroller 'cross the wet sand (instead of leaving it parked at the side, as is my and everyone's usual practice), keeping pace with Helena. We started heading home, then Helena decided to head off in the opposite direction. The equivalent of 6 city blocks later, I wrangled her back into her seat. She did not sleep.

(She did eventually fall asleep face-first into her supper.)

For today I'd planned a book-shopping expedition.

Nicholas Hoare was a bust. Does it qualify as an independent bookseller? Four stores in three cities — that's a chain. Anyway, this particular outlet had a more paltry selection than usual. Every time I hear Mr Hoare as the guest on the radio noon call-in show, he plays up the 'we can order any book you want' factor. I thought about trying that once. Four weeks, they told me. Amazon, within days. If you stocked more interesting things that I've never heard of more regularly, I'd be more likely to stumble across them in my browsing.

Chapters. Shame on me. (I have got to find some "independent" English-language bookstores in this town.)

I took more time browsing than was to Helena's liking, so I let her out of the stroller, which effectively put an end to my shopping. She zipped through aisles for a while, but finally settled down to work on a project of her own devising — moving the stack of boxed-set alphabet books from the shelf to the floor. This kept her happy and distracted while I finished up; then we moved them back. (I let her loose in a department store once. That was a mistake. I have yet to figure out how to manage the toddler–shopping thing.)

On the recommendations of people I barely know (but whom I know better than Amazon reviewers and whom I trust more than some friends, who've exhibited faulty judgement), we came away with Jamberry, by Bruce Degan, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle.

By all early indications: they're perfect.

Jamberry is lovely. The rhymes are fanciful ("Hatberry/ Shoeberry/ In my canoeberry"). The illustrations are soft and sweet, out of the ordinary in this era of colour and mayhem.

Both books are exactly appropriate to Helena's "stage of development" in that they're not long, complex stories (in a more traditional sense of the word — like, say, fairy tales, filled with words), but they're more stimulating than basic picture/vocabulary books (there's more than one word per page) and in this they satisfy my need to be entertained. They have the bones of a narrative structure, with lots of potential for exploring illustrations and imagining backstory.

Helena has sat quietly to be read to from each of these, with giggling and pointing and an expression of wonder on her face.

Over the last week, she has been spontaneously "asking" to be read to. She's always bringing me things, including books. Sometimes it's simply to show me stuff, other times it's part of her massive reorganizations plans, and sometimes it's because she wants me to do something for her. I've tried this "reading on demand" thing before, but it never held Helena's interest. It seems something's clicked with her. Add to this that I'm learning to read her signals better and we have material that's suited to her level.

(Bedtime reading had never worked for us. Helena has no problem being put to be bed and quietly examining a toy or "reading to herself" for a few minutes before falling asleep. If J-F or myself is present, it only inspires her to jump and climb. So we find quiet time during the day for reading, but it's not a strictly enforced schedule.)

I haven't cracked a book for my own reading pleasure in days. My brain's feeling a bit mushy.

There's a reading list making the blog rounds. You can see the list at Scribbling Woman. Classics of one sort or another. I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read very many.

I fare significantly better on the alternate list, more modern and international.

While it'd be nice if the original list offered some alternatives for works by an author (Love in the Time of Cholera or 100 Years of Solitude), I'm not sure the alternate does better in listing so many multiples (five by Jane Austen).

Then there's the list of children's books. I'm familiar with very few, but will keep the list as a handy reference.

The problem with lists: break them down by genre, age-group, nationality?

What's with our fascination with lists?
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