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All About Charlotte : celebrating the first year of development

by Jules on April 17

She’s Got the Look!

I am always taken by surprise at how a newborn baby engages with the world around them. I have three children, and each of them has begun their journey as a social being in their own way from the moment they were born; one with a look that made me feel he had been here before; the second with a triumphant cry announcing his arrival; and in Charlotte’s case, The Look followed by The Cry.

The Look has evolved as the weeks have gone by and Charlotte has now perfected more than one. There’s the ‘Mummy I love you and only you will do’ look (my personal favourite, although my husband claims that she is actually seeing food when she looks at me this way – sour grapes on his part, as he cannot come up with the goods). The sensory overload caused by her brothers’ antics produces a wide eyed look of shock. I am wondering if this stimulation is addictive as she seems lost without it? And there’s the Paddington Hard Stare which indicates that we are not at all pleased with the way things are going. This is always followed by The Cry.

As far as I can see The Cry is mostly just that. Its major feature is the volume. We are talking noise pollution potential. I am waiting for the complaints from the neighbours to come flooding in. For Charlotte, however, there are clearly subtle nuances that I, as a devoted mother, should pick up on. What this means in reality is that she cries and I guess what she wants (feeding, nappy change, feeding, burping, sleep and more feeding). She is beginning to make other sounds, the loveliest of which is the noise like a snuffling hedgehog when she wakes up to be fed in the night, which quickly turns into a panicky snuffling hedgehog if I don’t oblige at speed.

Early ‘conversations’ with Charlotte don’t just involve the Look and the Cry. She is never still. She resembles a beetle stuck on its back as she wriggles and jiggles her arms and legs. Her movements are faster if she is excited or upset, and slower if she is calm and observant. She is only completely becalmed when she is asleep, and that doesn’t seem to be very often!

Towards the end of these first few weeks of getting to know our daughter comes the one we’ve all been waiting for. The Smile. And oh boy is it worth it. We all claimed to have seen it first, each of us secretly knowing it was only wind, and then there it was. A beaming, dimply smile, perfectly timed in response to some ooing and ahhing from yours truly. I felt all warm inside, and so did she, I think, because she hasn’t stopped since.

And here she is, fast asleep….


A Big Hand

Charlotte has made a very important discovery. She has hands. She was lying on her back one day, doing nothing in particular, when her left hand came into view. For ages she watched it turn this way and that, appearing to be unaware that it was a part of her. There was something so calming about the way that she did this. A sort of hand meditation.

And then a few days later she was astonished to find that she had another one on her other side!

There have been a couple of technical hitches on the road to coordination. The first involved hair pulling; her own, not someone else’s. One of Charlotte’s newly discovered hands clasped a fistful of her lovely, soft baby hair and hung on for dear life. There was a lot of perplexed weeping and wailing, but the hand was out of her control. She could not get it to unclasp on demand. Fascinated as I was by this demonstration of the lack of fine motor skills in a small baby, I rescued her from herself.

The second hiccup was my fault. In an effort to advance my genius baby, I gave Charlotte a rattle to hold. A hard, wooden rattle. She made a valiant attempt to get it into her mouth, missed, and bashed herself on the nose instead. I waited for the bruise to show, while Charlotte did some more outraged wailing. Since then it has been soft toys only.

Finding out about her hands has led to her finding out about other things as well; touchy feely books, splashing water in the bath, ‘round and round the garden’, small bits of Lego left lying around by big brothers, mummy’s hair, daddy’s hairy chest (ouch), other people’s noses. She is just beginning to realise that there’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered.

Expertise has followed knowledge. Charlotte can now reach out with both of her hands to take a toy, and stuff it into her mouth without overshooting the target too much. And her party trick is to shake a rattle with extreme vigour and then let go, sending it flying across the room. Not bad for a little person who didn’t even know she had hands a few weeks ago.

Do the Locomotion!

It is a spooky feeling when your baby moves independently for the first time. I’m not talking about crawling, or those first wobbly steps. I mean when you put your baby down and then you pop to the loo or put out the rubbish or some other delightful chore, and when you look again she is not where you left her. And you know she hasn’t had any help because her brothers are at school and nursery. She may have only moved a fraction, but you get the sensation that you are no longer in complete control.

Charlotte ’s dabbles in locomotion began with a slow rotation. She lies on her back and spins gracefully whilst chewing a toy. If there was another baby head to head with her doing the same thing they would look like synchronised swimmers. I’m not even sure how she does it. It’s one of those movements that you only notice afterwards. She has found that going round in her cot works less well. If she spins here she ends up with a limb wedged between the bars. Not quite so graceful.

After spinning came rolling. Charlotte’s first roll over was fuelled by some angry back arching on the changing mat because I had dared to put her down to wash my hands. Before she knew it she had done a sideways flip and was on her tummy. There was a perplexed silence (much to my relief) while she tried to work out what had happened, and where her left arm was (trapped underneath her) and why Mummy was clapping her hands and getting all excited. The trapped arm is still a problem, and she can’t roll back again, but she can now roll over when happy too.

There has been some vertical movement as well as all this horizontal stuff. Charlotte is really big on bouncing. The standing on Mummy’s lap while she holds you up and jiggles you sort of bouncing. This is met with energetic enthusiasm and has recently been accompanied by Charlotte saying ‘da da da’ in a sing song voice. (Why is it never ‘ma ma ma?) Great fun for her, but a killer on my upper arms. Who needs a gym? My biceps are bulging from baby bouncing!

Of course all this is a preamble to hard core locomotion. But it won’t be long before I’ll have to toddler proof my home again. All breakables will have to move up a shelf; I’ll have to get those child locks for the kitchen cupboards that not even adults can undo; and all those millions of tiny pieces of big brothers’ Lego are just sitting there waiting to be choked on. Arrrrgh!

Food Glorious Food!

It’s a rite of passage. The initial step towards independence and letting go of the proverbial apron strings. That, and the added toil that comes with all the cooking, steaming and pureeing – if you’re one of those annoyingly puritanical mums.

I am one of those annoyingly puritanical mums. Or at least I try to be.

My health visitor had updated me on the new guidelines for parents recommending weaning at six rather than at four months. Breast is best and all that. How can things have changed already? It wasn’t that long ago since I had my first child. Suddenly my parenting experience seemed out-dated. I wondered if I was now categorised as an ‘older’ parent? I tried not to let this bother me as I wildly whizzed and mashed and filled a gazillion ice cube trays with organic, wholesome mush.

We started with baby rice. Charlotte’s first mouthful was a bit like being at the Oscars. Daddy was the paparazzi, camera at the ready to record the moment; big brothers were her adoring fans whipped up into a frenzy of excitement by said paparazzi; and I was Best Supporting Actress, scooping in the gloop so that the little star could shine.

Since then Charlotte has had many food firsts. I’ve loved watching her try out all those new flavours on her virgin palette. She has eaten almost everything with gusto, except parsnips and avocado. Favourites are met with a frantic flapping of arms and legs, and less popular flavours with a resigned look. As the mother of two boys who are in a ‘nothing-green-no-bits-I-won’t-even-try-it’ phase, I am making the most of my daughter’s culinary enthusiasm while it lasts.

Finger food has been a big hit. Charlotte is particularly fond of anything she can suck to oblivion – apple rings, slices of peach, croissant. She has her own ‘hands off’ approach, letting go of the food once it’s in her mouth and then madly sucking so that it hangs out like a droopy cigar. She can also store finger food in her cheeks like a hamster for a surprisingly long time. Both of these techniques have led to gagging incidents, which seem to not to bother her at all, but leave my nerves rather frayed. Like a customs official, I now check her mouth for unauthorised food storage before allowing her to leave the table.

But my emotions are soothed. Charlotte is well established on the food front. I’ve loosened the apron strings and helped her take the first step towards independence. And my freezer is well stocked with ice cubes of organic, wholesome mush, for now at least.



Camping Capers

Charlotte has had a life changing experience. She has been camping. Not the close-by-just-for-the-weekend-in-case-it-rains type of camping. This was the real thing; two weeks under canvas in France. And it did rain. A lot.

I must admit I had been feeling quite relaxed about the whole thing, because I had a stationary baby. Apart from a bit of rotational bum shuffling, Charlotte just sat. Camping was going to be easy peasy. And then, the day before we left, she moved from one end of the room to the other. Just like that. Hers is not the conventional approach to crawling (I wonder whether this individuality will be a recurring theme in her life?). The left knee goes down while the right remains aloft – a sort of cross between squatting and kneeling. The raised leg propels her across the floor at an impressive speed.  Oh dear. Not so easy peasy on a campsite.

Over the next two weeks, as the rest of us embraced the great, wet outdoors, Charlotte embraced everything. It seemed that all those weeks spent sitting were in fact a time of quiet and unsuspected consolidation of developmental willpower. She proceeded to ‘cruise’ round things on two feet, stand unaided, cut three teeth and extend her culinary tastes, all before we got back from our travels. The upside was that she seemed so busy making progress that she didn’t crawl off over the horizon every two minutes as I had feared.

How she managed to master the art of cruising around the furniture I have no idea because we didn’t have any (we couldn’t fit it into the car – something I must work on for next year). Charlotte wasn’t about to let this stop her. If it was higher than her knees she used it as a toddling aid; cooler box, food boxes, and once she made a lunge for the gas cooker (luckily switched off at the time). One morning, after another torrential downpour, we blocked the entrance of the tent with boxes and bags so that we could have some fresh air without Charlotte escaping onto the soggy ground. Or so we thought. In a flash she was making a passable attempt at climbing over the blockade. I remembered the steep wooden stairs in our house and made a mental note to find the stair gates as soon as we got home.

Charlotte stood unaided by accident. She was clasping her adoring daddy’s hands and sort of forgot to hold on. For what seemed like ages, but was probably only a few seconds, she was upright and alone in the world for the first time. Then the enormity of what she had done hit her and she collapsed in a tearful heap. She hasn’t repeated the experience!

The three teeth appeared almost overnight. Two top, one bottom, giving her an adorable gap-toothed smile. Charlotte quickly learned the benefits of being able to chomp rather than suck her food and she sampled the local cuisine (cheese and croissants) with gusto. One afternoon she combined her new skills of crawling and chomping, making her way to some nectarines and covering herself in juice as she munched on them. She smelled sweetly of nectarines for days afterwards.

On reflection, the camping trip with two energetic boys and a ten month old was a surprise success. And in all the bluster and business of the holiday, these milestones in Charlotte’s life didn’t seem so big. It was only when we got back I realised that we had left with a baby and returned with a blossoming little girl.

Baby Talk

Charlotte has reached the grand old age of one year. As well as cakes, balloons, and doting grandparents, her first birthday has brought with it a new level of understanding and communication. As if by magic she seems to know things and can make things known.

Smiling and crying are so last month. It’s nodding and shaking the head that are all the rage. After much enthusiastic head waggling I realised that she hadn’t quite worked out which meant what. Of course, it was all Mummy’s fault that she had to keep batting away unwanted drinks/food/toys as she nodded and shook her head at random. She has now learnt to stop and think before nodding or shaking ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A habit she could do with holding on to as she gets older!

Nodding is often accompanied by a vague wave of the arm and the sound ‘dadah’. This (obviously) means ‘I want that’. Identifying ‘that’ is for Charlotte to know and the rest of us to find out. Another round of snappish batting while we go through all the things it could be. But, oh, the delight for her (and relief for us) when we get it right! A shake of the head is now so clearly associated with ‘no’ that she does it while getting up to mischief; emptying the kitchen cupboards (where are those child locks?), eating the cat food, sitting in the very hairy cat basket. All are done with a beaming smile and an emphatic shake of her head.

Charlotte has also said two actual words. The first was ‘Boo’, the name of our cat. She adores him, he tolerates her. It is a very soft, breathy version of the word, but it is definitely a label for the cat as she says it every time he comes near her. I am wondering whether she thinks that all cats are ‘Boos’?

The other word is – you guessed it – ‘daddy’. She pronounces it ‘dahdee’ in an adorable sing song voice. Daddy is a bit smug about this, but I’m not bitter. I would just like to point out that Charlotte’s ‘dahdee’ is a label for any nice person. I am ‘dahdee’ (humpf!), so are her brothers, in fact anyone who smiles at her in the street can get called ‘dahdee’ if she’s feeling chatty. When she learns to say ‘mummy’ it will be used just for me….

So my daughter and I have been dabbling in our first verbal conversations. Admittedly they are a bit monosyllabic, one sided, and a lot gets lost in translation. But we are having so much fun.


Education Advisor and Content Editor

Jules qualified as a teacher at UCL Institute of Education and has taught in both schools and nurseries. For a while she was writing articles for the Foundation Stage Forum and bringing up her three children, then in 2018 the FSF and Tapestry team finally agreed to take her on for real. She is an education advisor and has also taken on the role of content editor. She looks forward to continuing to connect with educators, hearing their voices, and the important work that needs to be done to support children who will become the adults that shape our future society.