Mal's vocabulary has exploded this year. He was certainly not "at level" when he turned 2, which is something like 75-200 words. But now, he pretty much knows all of the words and uses them correctly, including sarcastically and manipulatively. But as conversational as he is now, there are three "baby" phrases that have persisted: 1) boh-bos, for breasts; 2) dee-dees, for breastfeeding, his take on "nursies;" 3) la-la, which is to say "the other one," or "You're trying to put that shoe on the wrong foot; try the other one." All we have to say is "la-la" and he'll stop trying to put his shoes on and he changes feet. Or he'll look at me and ask, "La-la?" I say, "No, that's the right one."
Mal has experienced so many milestones this year, in addition to the verbal explosion.
The first time I visited my new church after we moved, it was January 1, and hardly anyone was there. The next week, they had childcare. At 2 years and a few months, Mal had still never stayed in childcare throughout the church service. I dropped him off, giving the attendant my cell number so she could message me if Mal decided he was through. I never got a text. He stayed the next week. And the next. And he has never looked back. In fact, in August when we had our student-led worship and so there wasn't "class," he cried, bitterly disappointed. He loves his playtime, and I love being able to participate in church for the first time in years.
Basically, he adores our church. From the minute we get on campus, he rushes to check to see whether the fountain is on or not. Typically, it isn't on yet when we arrive, but someone turns it on later. Somehow, in his brain, Mal has associated the piano music happening with the fountain being turned on, and he assumes that Darlene playing the piano is what activates it.
Then, as we head inside, he acts shy but loves being greeted by "Miss Jackie." Once we're in the sanctuary, he runs over to the coffee table to pick out a doughnut (usually pink or white frosted with sprinkles) and one chocolate doughnut hole. During the beginning of the service, he often goes into the "youth room" to hug the giant teddy bear or play with the foosball set. And he likes to get a name tag to "fill out"... and cut up.
When it's time to pass the peace of Christ, Mal usually says to me, "Mommy, hold me! I want to get peace!" He will high-five people and be generally charming, if, again, somewhat subdued by direct attention.
He's gotten to where he will sit in my lap for the children's message, and even hold hands during the prayer afterwards. But his favorite part is when that's over, Darlene plays "Jesus Loves Me," and he knows that's the signal that he can run into the other building for free play. (Sorry; he's not very spiritually mature.)
As physical as Mal is, gymnastics seems like it might be as good a fit for him as it was for D at this age. However, we took a free trial class a week and a half ago, and it was exhausting... for me. Mal just isn't ready to (or isn't in the practice of) pay attention to a sequence of instructions, then line up, wait his turn, and remember the instructions. They had about 40 minutes of structured class time, then 20 minutes of free play. He really enjoyed the free play, but not on their gym equipment! They have a big toy/book area where the kids can do stuff while they're waiting, and that's what he chose to do.
One issue I had with the class setup was that there were just too many kids. It might have been because it was the first class of the session, and a lot of people were like us, trying it out. But for a few kids, including mine, it was difficult staying focused in the long stretches between "turns." And there were only two adults: the coach and an assistant. So several of us parents had to walk our kids through the paces to keep them on track.
I was pretty tired after the whole thing, but since Mal enjoyed it, decided I'd let him try one more time (because they give you two trials before you have to commit), anyway. The next week, though, he made it easy on me. I asked the night before, "Do you want to go to gymnastics tomorrow?" He said, "No!" His answer was the same the next day, and I'm glad we were on the same page!
Mal has always been a big kid, weight well off the charts when he turned 2 and weighed 36 pounds. He was in the higher percentile for height, too, at about 90 cm (35.5 inches, more or less). During the past year, he has not gained a single pound! He has, however, shot up a few inches. I'll measure him later this week, but he's closing in on 39 inches, I believe.
We don't impose "arbitrary limits" on Mal, meaning that he pretty much decides when and what to eat, when to use and what to do on the computer, when he goes to bed and gets up, and that kind of thing. It's definitely made interacting with him more peaceful (compared to my first attempt at parenting a small person), which we really need, given Mal's naturally demanding personality (which my first did not possess, but was pretty phlegmatic).
While this might sound like a nightmare waiting to happen, it's panning out quite well at the moment. At two years old, Mal will often watch videos for twenty minutes, put his computer to sleep, and invite one of us to play with him. Or ask to get out the Play-Doh. Or go into his room to play with Paw Patrol. Yes, there are days (like Friday) when he goes back to the computer multiple times throughout the day. But there are also days like today when he doesn't think to turn it on at all, even though James and I were both ready for him to chill in front of some videos by 4 PM! Even though we (almost) never say "no," (unless, say, we're getting ready to walk out the door), we never suggest it, either.
Same thing with bedtime. Mal will play or watch TV or want to sit outside and look at stars or whatever, and then stop at some point and say accusingly, "Mommy! I'm tired! I need to go to sleep!" He knows when he's sleepy, and by the time he goes to bed, he's ready. Of course, there are exceptions that prove this rule. Tonight, for instance, he was going physically bonkers at around 7:30. I had to keep asking him to stop jumping on things or falling into things because he was going to injure himself. He's usually pretty coordinated, but when kids get tired, they get clumsy. Finally, at around 8:15, I asked him if he wanted to go for a drive. I felt like having him strapped in was the only way to keep him from harm, and he did want to go on a drive, but he wanted to end the drive at the park, wherein he intended to play on the playground.
He's gotten so bold on that thing recently that I didn't want to chance it. So he cried in the car for a good while, lamenting that we wouldn't take him to the park. "I'm really sad that we can't go to the yake." "I know you are, Mal, and I'm sorry." After about half an hour, he said, "I want the music class music!" I put the CD in and he listened happily the rest of the way home. When we got here, he requested that I carry him "like a baby" to his room, and he rapidly went to sleep.
To answer your questions: Yes, he still nurses to sleep. Every time (sometimes he *does* conk out in the car). Including when he wakes up in the middle of the night, which is frequently. How frequently? I don't count, but I'd say I consider 3-4 times "normal." It used to be 6-12 times, so we're improving. But, yeah, we usually "expect" a 3-year-old to sleep "better" and that is just not where we are. We're making it work.
Mal is a crazy sleeper, so we have a futon mattress on the floor. He rolls off of it almost every night. Many times when he wakes up asking for "deedees," he's lying with his feet on the pillow and his head toward the foot of the bed.
Increasingly, he has dreams. He'll say things, seeming to be awake, but that make no sense to me, so I'm guessing they're related to whatever is in his head. "Mommy, stretch it out. YOU CAN!" ??? He's also awakened at least a couple of times in the past month crying and scared. I went to pull him in one time, and he yelled, "No! I want my mommy!" I kept assuring him it was me, and he finally calmed down, pulling my arms tighter around him.
Once, we had to get up and walk around, as he insisted we get out of the bedroom and into the living room. We sat on the chair for about half an hour, then he was ready to go back to lie down.
Another remarkable thing about this little kid is that he expects to be taken seriously. When he says, "Let's go to the park!" he will start getting his shoes on because he has learned that we try to honor his wishes whenever possible.
He has his favorite places to go and things to do, but will often (as with the gym class, and sometimes even things like the library's storytime and other events) choose just to stay home. Any time we're gone for a while and come back, he croons, "Aww, I missed my home."
His favorite things to do are to go to the lake (and he has a circuit of playground, "gump rocks," visiting the doc - much to our horror - and then back up to the playground), to play and eat at McDonald's (4 chicken nuggets, strawberry GoGurt, apple juice or chocolate milk, and fries with ketchup or ice cream), go to the mall ("Mickey Mouse store;" indoor playground; inflatables playground - which he wants to enter but is terrified of the jump structures because they're loud, so we often argue about not paying $8-10 to walk around and do nothing for 20 minutes; window-shopping at Build-a-Bear; and newly a big fan of the escalator), Chuck E. Cheese, and to go to any store (drug, grocery, and even gas stations).
Mal is kind of obsessive about color order. He has a series of "cubbies" in his room with drawers that are red, orange, yellow (on the top shelf), green, light blue, and dark blue (on the bottom). One time, after he'd taken them all out, James returned them willy-nilly and I just left them, because whatever, right? But a couple of days later, Mal announced, "Daddy made a 'stake," and switched them all back.
We also have a marble maze with two pieces that have things like "water wheels" for the marbles to go through. The way those pieces came, and are shown on the box, is that the piece with the yellow frame has a purple wheel and the piece with the red frame has a yellow wheel. Mal will not allow the maze to exist like that. He insists that the yellow wheel goes with the yellow frame, and anything else results in destruction since he can't take the wheels out without pulling everything to bits.
Mal's imagination is ramping up. Many times, he'll be playing in his room and I'll think he's fussing for me, but when I go in, he's just playing, acting out an argument between two characters. He makes up games and scenarios that he has to (and can) explain to us so we can play along. He is alternately a baby, or a monster, or a dog, or a "bad guy." He also talks about what other people are doing when they're not around. And what they might be thinking or feeling.
He also recognizes that the above-pictured cat is Rudy, which is his cat. He knows that Carol is D's, and might scratch him if he's not careful. And he knows that Aish is "the pretty one," so soft, and belongs to Daddy. He tells me that I need a cat, but I assure him that I have enough to take care of without having a cat of my own.
Mal still cannot sit through a meal, so we know where all of the places with play areas are.
His favorite foods are scrambled eggs, grapes, chocolate rocks, Runts-style bones, French fries, bananas, cupcakes (but only the frosting part), yogurt, straight sugar, and Mommy's soda.
Mal doesn't really have a lot of patience for sitting down to read stories, although he likes to look at certain books. He prefers books that have pictures but no plot, so he can chat about the pictures. His favorite picture books are: The Jellybean Book, Diggers and Dumpers, Colors, The Big Animal Book, and a collection of number books my mom gave him.
Those are tiny board books, with like 5 pages each, and on every opening, the left page will have the ordinal ("2") and the word spelled out ("two"), then on the right will be a picture of that amount of something (candles) with the word written underneath. This morning, we were looking through the first book, and before I could turn the page, he said, "Wait!" Then he pointed to the right page, "r, a, t, t, l, e... for 'rattle.'" Next, he pointed at the left page and said, "o, n, e for 'one.'"
This kind of decoding isn't anything we've ever done with him, and I'm not sure where he picked it up. Anyway, on the next page he did the same thing with a drum, then said, "o, n, e for 'one' again." I assured him it would be spelled the same way every time.
He "spelled" "one" on every page, but not the object. And by the time we got to the "2" book, he was just finished with that whole exercise. It was pretty neat, though.
Mal also recognizes sheet music for what it is.
There are so many other things James mentioned when I asked him for ideas, but it's almost midnight and I had to shoo him out and tell him to stop, because as much as we might want to record everything for posterity's sake, we just can't. If I've left anything notable out, he can write his own blog post about it (hint hint).
Suffice it to say that these are the magical times. As much as I don't adore being the primary caregiver for a baby, I absolutely relish the toddler and preschool years. Yes, even on the days when I'm ready for a mental health break by lunchtime. There's just something so cool to be able to watch a kid figuring things out and growing and becoming a person totally separate from you or your spouse.
Happy almost birthday, Mal!
Here's a goofy video of Mal dancing with my keys to distract me to keep me from leaving the other day. Sorry for the weird angle, but he's pantsless. (Which leads me to another thought: he's almost totally potty-trained, something I wouldn't have believed possible a month ago. #blessed.)