All About Charlotte: part 2
by Jules on April 17
The Weapon of Mass Destruction- Mobile and Dangerous
Now that Charlotte is one, she has given up playing with her toys. I arrange them invitingly on a little play mat, but she stalks off with as much dignity as a girl who has only just learned to walk can muster, and looks for something less boring instead. This generally means anything that isn’t actually a toy.
A good place to start is the kitchen drawer that contains all the plastic plates, bowls and cutlery. She likes to stack. Out come the plates, and then she puts the bowls on top, adding the cutlery one piece at a time. After a while the stack becomes a sort of spread, and before I know it there is stuff all over the kitchen floor and Charlotte has moved on to the plastic containers drawer. Here she can indulge her other passion: lids. Each container is put on the floor and a lid is delicately placed on top. Is she exploring a ‘containing schema’ I wonder?
Next, Charlotte tackles the CD cupboard. In no time at all she has most of our collection of CDs out of their cases, fanning out around her on the rug in a shiny halo. If I haven’t intervened already (due to having dared to nip to the loo or do some other minor but urgent chore) she begins the task of putting the CDs back in the cases. At this point the discs are in mortal danger of either getting scratched or lost forever in the wrong CD case. I’ll admit, I can see the attraction of the silvery discs, but not of a sulky husband whose ‘Best of Madness’ CD has been ruined (although perhaps the demise of his CDs are not such a bad thing, now I come to think of it).
When she has exhausted these fun-filled spots, she moves on to the ‘make and do’ cupboard. This presents me with a dilemma, as it is packed with supremely unsuitable items for a one year old, but needs to be accessible to her creative brothers. The result is that Charlotte is exposed to things that her brothers were not: scissors, pva glue, sellotape dispenser, paint, glitter…. What really takes her fancy are the felt tips. This is because they have lids, of course. Lid on, lid off, lid on, lid off… lid lost.
Other chaos creating pastimes include un-sorting the washing, emptying the baby wipes out of their packet, and muddling up her clothes in her chest of drawers. As I watch my daughter systematically destroy the already precarious household organisation, I find myself piecing together her personality from her chosen activities. She is curious. She is precise. She is persistent. And she is so messy!
It takes relatively few words to rule the roost. Charlotte takes a few of them for a test drive.
I have decided that my daughter is going to be an extremely efficient person. Take her vocabulary, for example. There are no names for things, no ‘dog’, or ‘cat’ or ‘car’. Charlotte’s choice of words has a purpose: to get her point across. And she’s very good at that.
The word ‘no’ has been an early favourite with all my children. No surprises there. It’s easy to say and they almost always get a response when they’ve said it. Charlotte, however, has added new meaning to her ‘no’. She tips her chin up, looks down her nose and lingers on the ‘o’ in the most condescending manner. She is clearly above us all. Her airs and graces are encouraged by her brothers who fall about laughing every time she says it. Consequently she never says ‘no’ in any other way.
Another new word adopted by her Ladyship is ‘now’. I have to confess that this one may be my fault. ‘Now’ features a lot in my daily vocabulary; you know, the ‘clean your teeth….now!’ and the ‘turn off the TV…now!’ that accompany the parenting of five and six year old boys. Charlotte seems to have noticed that if you say ‘now!’ in a certain way, things happen. So, she goes to her favourite kitchen drawer, takes out the parts that make up her bottle, holds them up and announces ‘now!’ at the top of her voice. Or she goes to the food cupboard, stands in the ‘make and do’ box to get a bit taller, reaches for the biscuit tin and demands ‘now!’ in a tone that would do justice to the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. You know, the ‘Off with his head…now!’ tone of voice.
The most amusing new word was taught to her by her brothers. They were playing a game of throw-the-soft-ball-and-shout-ow-when-it-hits-you in the way that brothers do. Very sweetly they decided to include Charlotte in their clowning. And then the cutest and most dainty of ‘ow’s was uttered by their naughty little sister, followed by hoots of laughter from the boys. The game went on jovially for a long time, inevitably ending in tears (Charlotte’s), but ‘ow’ was by now definitely part of her vocabulary. She uses it with impeccable timing, such as when I’m man-handling her into the pushchair, or stuffing her into the car seat. Her plaintive ‘ow’ makes passers by turn and frown at her terrible mother.
There are some other delightful words. For ‘hello’ she forgets her airs and graces and drops the h. Anyone, or anything, that enters the house, from Auntie Al to the post popping through the letter box is treated to an ‘ello’. And finally we have ‘mummy’. After being ‘daddy’ for so long, I am once more an individual. The only drawback is that I can no longer claim that it’s daddy she wants to change her nappy/wipe her hands/put her coat on. Her ‘mummy’ is as clear as a bell.
Charlotte has obviously worked out that there are words that get you somewhere, or get you something, and these are the ones to know. Then there are all the words she can’t say yet but can understand. And with this ever increasing vocabulary, spoken and unspoken, she shows us a blossoming personality – a force to be reckoned with!
Little Miss Bossy
Juliet learns that, despite every intention, some traits are genetic not environmental. Nature showing nurture a clean pair of heels…
Having begun motherhood with two sons, I was adamant when our daughter arrived that she would be treated in exactly the same way as the boys. There would be no gender stereotyping in our house. No frothy girlie stuff and absolutely no pink. I lost the pink battle as soon as the grannies got involved. And what I had not factored into the equation is Charlotte herself. As she grows, she displays some definite female qualities. Or perhaps I should say, she does things that her brothers never did.
For example, Charlotte is an organiser. In those rushed minutes between finishing breakfast and spilling out of the house on school mornings, it is Charlotte who picks up the boys’ shoes, thrusting them under their noses and saying “shoos!” in a commanding sort of way. The amazing thing is they actually put them on. Then she gets their lunchboxes, carefully checking she’s given each of them the right one. Finally she trails their book bags behind her, following her brothers around the house, as by now they have forgotten that they’re getting ready for school. She does the same for Daddy as he leaves for work. When her job is done she stands back and beams with satisfaction. A feeling I can relate to wholeheartedly.
The organising can go too far. Charlotte’s rearranging skills have moved on from random mess-making (see 12-14 months) to misguided tidying. You might think this is an improvement. It’s not. Only her intentions have progressed, not the end result. She likes to unload the spoons from the dishwasher and put them…somewhere. She likes to sort the clean washing into the dirty laundry basket. She likes to take the cushions off the sofa and place them very neatly on the floor. All these things are done with an air of bustling business accompanied by a babbling commentary on the very important jobs she’s doing.
I’m not saying that cleanliness is next to girlieness, but Charlotte does want things to be clean. Or to be more precise, it’s the cleaning itself that she enjoys. One of her favourite pastimes is wiping. I give her a little cloth, and off she goes, wiping up real or imaginary spots on the kitchen floor. She is delighted if a drink gets knocked over due to excessive clowning by her brothers (and that happens quite a lot). I’ve even caught her spilling a bit of her own drink on purpose so that she can wipe it. The other day I watched as she took a tea towel and wiped her bottle as though she was drying it. She rubbed the outside, and then pushed the towel into the bottle and twisted it round. She was holding her breath with the effort of concentrating so hard.
As you can see, Charlotte is a child who likes things to be just so. If they are not, she gets very cross. It’s the cat who usually bears the brunt of her wrath. If he dares to sit on the table, or sleep on someone’s jumper, or bat one of her toys with his paw, all hell breaks loose. Charlotte stands up as tall as she can, clenches her little fists and lets rip a stream of furious babbling. Her brother gets similar treatment when he puts her toy buggy on his head. As he only does this to torment her, I feel the outrage is justified.
So far, Charlotte’s personality has been greatly shaped by her brothers’ influences. She knows how to rough and tumble; she loves playing with cars; she uses her buggy as a battering ram, not as a baby doll carrier. But what I have learnt about having a daughter is that there is something in her that is different to the boys. Charlotte has the bossiness gene, which in our families has definitely been handed down the female line!
Invasion of the Cuddly Toys
Charlotte’s got the toys organised and under control. Next step, parliament…
Charlotte has recently developed a passion for cuddly toys. I have to confess I have always found them a bit pointless, and so far their population has been kept to a minimum in our house. Unfortunately, a few must have slipped through my charity shop net because Charlotte has found a sizeable collection. This motley crew of stuffed things are commandeered into acting out the familiar events that punctuate Charlotte’s day. She does this on a continuous loop, like a goldfish swimming round and round its bowl.
Charlotte shows no loyalty to any particular toy. They fall in and out of favour on a daily basis. Perhaps this is why she does a perpetual role call of her current favourites. One by one, she lines them up on the sofa. They have to be sitting up straight. Anyone caught slouching gets a severe telling off. As she arranges them she says their names; ‘Bear, Duck, Teddy…’ Inevitably one will have gone AWOL. A search party is sent out for the Lost Toy. When (thank goodness) the wanderer returns, she starts the head count all over again. I can’t help thinking that Charlotte would be a great asset on a school trip.
One of Charlotte’s favourite role plays is taking ‘Lolly’ (dolly) for a stroll in the ‘buddy’ (buggy). Her rather grubby and raggedy doll is unceremoniously dumped in the pushchair. Charlotte does up the straps, and then undoes them. Lolly is rearranged with a ‘humph’ and done up again. This goes on for a while. When Lolly is finally ready to go, the bags come out. About eight of them. They are hung over the handles in a jumble and with another ‘humph’ Charlotte is off around the house: a busy mum in miniature. I wonder what this says about me?
Another repeated activity is nappy changing. Charlotte calls it ‘bot-bot’, a term her father is entirely responsible for. None of the soft toys has escaped this ritual. Even Duck and Cow have been stuffed into a lopsided towelling nappy complete with liner and wrap. And there’s no scrimping on the routine. She knows exactly what to do, and what order to do it in. It was adorable until I caught her applying sudocreme to one furry ‘bot-bot’ – that behind hasn’t been the same since.
Eavesdropping on Charlotte’s private conversations with her toys is a delight. I learn so much about her when I tune into these moments. She chatters away in a mixture of recognisable and made up words. It’s not what she says that’s so interesting, but the way she says it. When she’s putting them to bed, she whispers; when they are naughty she uses her scolding voice; when she’s organising them she has a busy tone. She persuades, shares a joke, cheers them up, and shows them love, all with changes in the way she’s speaking. She clearly already knows a lot about social interaction.
In all this play, Charlotte is mimicking the things she sees going on around her. She is practicing who she is in the world. With her soft toys, she is in charge. Something Charlotte hasn’t quite managed with people – yet! Perhaps cuddly toys have a purpose after all.
The Good, the Bad and the Toddler
Charlotte learns the meaning of the word ‘Mine’ – and applies it with enthusiasm…
With the summer holidays stretching lazily before us, our house has become like the Wild West. Everyone has been fighting tooth and claw to stake their claim on whatever they can lay their hands on. Anything from a bit of (barely visible) floor in the children’s bedroom to the last chocolate chip muffin has been fair game in the quest for ownership. And the most forceful gunslinger this side of the kitchen table is Charlotte, of course.
Charlotte has always had a strong sense of what belongs to whom. For a while now she has labelled everyone’s clothes as I sort the washing: ‘Daddy’s…’Mo’s…Barty’s…’ When I get to something that belongs to her she shouts ‘mine!’ and disappears with it. Later, I find a small heap of her socks, skirts and shorts stashed in a corner, as though she thought one of us might steal them from her.
The mantra ‘thas mine!’ can now be heard pretty much constantly. Especially if another small person has come to play. We are lucky enough to have two push-along toys in our house. Enough, you would think, for two toddlers. Charlotte doesn’t think so. When the other tiny tot dares to nudge one of the buggies forwards Charlotte states firmly ‘thas mine!’ and whisks it away. After some mediating I suggest that her guest has the second push-along. Without hesitation, or embarrassment at her lack of grace as a hostess, she reaches over and adds ‘thas mine!’ too. There is no shoving during these exchanges. Charlotte is sweetness and light; Sweet, light and very possessive.
Charlotte also lays claim to things that are blatantly not hers. She folds her brother’s much loved toy whale into a hug with a firm ‘mine!’. She sneaks her other brother’s sports drinking bottle up the table towards her, takes a few swigs, and delivers a lip-smacking ‘mine!’. The next door neighbours’ cat is ‘mine!’. Daddy’s wellies are ‘mine!’. The latest Harry Potter book is ‘mine!’. ‘Mine! MINE! MINE!’
I had this vision of our third child already knowing how to share and cooperate with others simply because of her position in the family. Now I comfort myself that her ownership issues are ‘just a phase’. There is a touch of My Naughty Little Sister about Charlotte. She’s worked out that it’s survival of the fittest and buggies at dawn in this Wild West.
The Cutting Edge
Charlotte hits two years of age and starts nursery.
Charlotte has officially entered the phase grown ups like to call ‘terrible’. Never one to follow a trend, she has decided to be cute and adorable. She must be saving terrible for later. As well as being two, Charlotte took another great leap in the journey of life on her birthday: she started nursery. I have had to explain to her that the sessions will not always be about cakes and candles, but it was not a bad way to begin.
I must confess that I have had more then the usual insight into Charlotte’s pre-school explorations, as I work at the nursery she attends. I expected her to flutter shyly around me for the first few sessions; I should have known better. Charlotte marches in, finds the pegs, takes off her shoes and puts them in the shoe rack, occasionally pausing to try on someone else’s shoes on the way to the baby dolls and buggies. After that I am only worthy of recognition if she has been wronged in some way, or if I happen to be doing something of interest to her. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed!
Charlotte is quite canny in her choice of activities. She tends to go for the things she doesn’t get to do at home. Painting and play dough don’t produce the same excitement as glitter or the sand tray. Cutting is the activity she enjoys the most. At home we have those totally pointless scissors that are so safe they don’t actually cut, but at nursery they have proper scissors. Charlotte is happiest when she is turning paper into confetti all around her. Last week she snipped the edges of a piece of paper, giving it a delicate sort of fringe. She held it up and announced ‘For Daddy’ (it was his birthday). The pressure was on to get it home to Daddy with all fronds in tact.
There are some things about nursery that bemuse Charlotte. For example, at snack time she likes to choose her own space rather than sitting where her name tag is. This produces a domino effect of displaced children. Some very skilled diplomatic negotiations, worthy of the United Nations, are required to prevent a complete breakdown of the snack time routine. Another tricky moment is story time. At home, Charlotte will share books with me for ages, listening attentively and joining in. At nursery she sits for about two seconds and then she’s off looking for something else to do. Obviously she feels she can read books with Mummy any old time. The novelty of the resources and the company of other children at nursery are just too great to resist.
And finally, a word about Charlotte and shoes. At the end of each session, when all the children have gone and the adults are clearing up, Charlotte sits by the shoe rack. She takes out all the wellies and slippers and shoes that are left and lines them up. Then she tries them on, sometimes a matching pair, sometimes odd ones. She shows each combination off to whichever adult is nearest before finding some more. This is perhaps the most absorbing activity of all.
During these first few nursery sessions, Charlotte has shown a character that is well-equipped to cope with the world outside her front door. She’s charming, creative, and won’t take no for an answer. And she likes shoes. What more does a girl need in a personality?