a new little man
Munchkin returned from America a changed little man. Many of his antics are not entirely new, but even those behaviors that he had started to exhibit in the weeks before we went home have acquired a quality of mastery they had lacked before. In the words of his nanny, he returned a more “compact and complete” child.
Unlike his earlier milestones, it is a bit harder to pinpoint exactly when he broke new ground with some of his recently acquired skills. For example, his speech is still limited to onomatopoeic sounds. However, not only has his repertoire of one-syllable words increased dramatically, but so has his general comprehension when we talk to him.
He understands when we ask him to come to us, to bring a book, to give his hand so that we can walk somewhere hand-in-hand. Comprehension does not always mean compliance, of course — especially when we ask him not to do something — but that is a different matter altogether.
Much of his new vocabulary consists of the animal sounds that recur throughout his books. He had previously mastered sheep and dog noises, and recently added cow, cat, and a passable pig noise to his lexicographical menagerie. This means that reading has become a lot more participatory. When D reads The Three Little Pigs, Munchkin puffs out his cheeks and blows along with the wolf. And when cued, he usually responds with the correct animal noise, regardless of whether we ask him in Russian or English. It’s not a question of visual memory either, because we sometimes ask him about his favorite animals without a book in sight.
Thanks to D’s grandma, Munchkin now runs around wagging his finger and saying, “no, no, no.” D’s mom, meanwhile, taught him the exact opposite. There is a stanza in one of the better-known Russian children’s poems in which well-meaning parents admonish their children not to go play in Africa. “Africa is terrible — Yes! Yes! Yes! Africa is dangerous — Yes! Yes! Yes!” (Kids being kids, they go anyway). Munchkin started emulating D’s mom when she read the poem and quickly incorporated an enthusiastic “Da! Da! Da!” into his repertoire.
He has also picked up on the fact that we think he’s incredibly funny, and he tries to make us laugh at every turn. He heard D exhale contentedly one morning after finishing a cup of tea, and now he exhales a long, guttural “ahhhh” every time he takes a drink of water.
D also taught Munchkin to scream “goal” when he kicks a soccer ball. He hasn’t quite wrapped his mouth around all four letters yet, so he runs around waving his arms and screaming “goa, goa, goa” instead. D is happy that Munchkin’s inclination is to kick round objects rather than to throw them, though Munchkin sometimes takes his enthusiasm for soccer too far, kicking his toys and anything else that might appear in his path.
He has picked up several mannerism: clapping, waving hello and goodbye, pointing. D’s parents still use their landline, and whenever the phone would ring in their house, Munchkin tried to answer the call. Sometimes he picked up the actual telephone, but just as often he pressed the TV remote to his ear instead. He has finally acquired the coordination and patience to build with baby Lego blocks, and he is now old enough that we let him leaf through his paperback books. Sometimes he still gets a little too excited and we have to stop him before he tears a page, but we get the sense that those days will soon be behind us.
The most exciting development for D was Munchkin’s full-force embrace of the word “papa.” S spent part of our break doing interviews in Washington, DC, and in that time “papa” became Munchkin’s favorite word. Music to D’s ears!