With my daughter nearing her second birthday, I want to take the opportunity to contemplate her development and take some notes. Things happen so quickly, there's amazing progress, unbelievable and beautiful, and a few weeks later all these first steps have been taken a hundred times, become routine and don't merit a second thought.
Tapas started walking when she was thirteen months old. This was unsurprising. Three months earlier, on one of our many trips to IKEA, she had grabbed a little plastic stool and, pushing it around, started exploring the store. The joy in her eyes that betrayed excitement about being able to move around by herself was quite a sight, not something I would have expected of a child that wasn't even one year old.
Physically, Tapas is where she belongs. She slides the slides without fear, climbs stairs up and down, swings on the swing despite a recent fall that can be blamed almost entirely on her dad, takes little jumps, steers a tricycle with skill despite not being able to pedal because her legs are too short, and runs every which way with little high-frequency steps. This is what I might have thought a toddler would be like, had I ever bothered to think about this.
What would have never come to my mind is the mental skills toddlers develop early on. Tapas is bilingual at least. I speak to her in German, while Flucha does Spanish. We talk to each other in English but try not to address Tapas in this language. There's enough confusion already, especially since childcare adds another dimension in being a Swiss-German environment. Tapas called food "fein" the other day. This is not a word I use. It's German, but it came straight from childcare.
So the child is challenged. Books in the library and scientific studies tell me that this challenge will eventually be overcome and the experience leave a positive mark in terms of heightened cognitive skills later in life, but early in life it's a burden likely to cause a delayed development a linguistic skills. Whether this delay is outside normal child-to-child variations is another question.
If Tapas is delayed, it's not in a way that would cause me any worry. In contrast, I'm frequently stunned and left speechless by what she has already figured out. She has figured out, for example, that there are two languages, and that mommy and daddy speak differently. Most of the time, as long as she knows the word, she will address either of us in the correct language. She can also do translations. Ask her in Spanish what the German word for hat is, and she will tell you. This is nearly automatic for the translations she's done before. If she encounters a new word, she tilts her head sideways and stares blankly in the distance. After a bit of a think – for this is what she's having – she often comes up with the right translation, without having to consult a dictionary.
This thinking is something I still find astonishing. Toddlers aren't supposed to be thinkers. But when you ask her to find a particular animal in a picture book, she will scan the tiny page very carefully and then purposefully point out the requested critter. After she's done this a few times, she knows where all the animals are and points almost without looking.
Her memory shines in other ways, too. After she's practiced a few times, she doesn't solve puzzles where wooden shapes (e.g. animals) fit into cutouts by matching the shape to the cutout but by remembering where each animal goes. Before picking up a shape, she will point at all the cutouts and identify the animal that goes there. I sit there baffled, watching in surprise, asking myself, how does she know.
Childcare is a source of great joy to Tapas. She loves to go there. Are we bad parents? Is it horrible at home? I don't think so. But she's thrilled about childcare and tells us every night before going to bed what she will do there the next day. The most unexpected part to me is that what gets her going most are two children there. When she thinks of them and says their names, her eyes light up. She likes playing with them. They have developed a bond – and yet they're not even two years old. There's no way they'll remember when they're older.
In studies and books I've read that children cannot distinguish between reality and fiction or simulation. This is utter nonsense. Tapas got a wooden kitchen for Christmas. This appeared in the living room of our flat when we got back from Argentina. In Argentina, it was summer and, touching the exposed surfaces of playground toys, she had learned to concept and (thanks maybe to an overprotective father) German word for hot. Hot was the first adjective she learned, the first property of things and the first abstract idea whose implications she grasped.
On the play-kitchen are two buttons to light red diods underneath the hot plates, making them look like ceramic cooking surfaces. She describes them as hot when they're clearly not. When playing with her kitchen, she associates hot not with temperature but with the cooking surface, even if it's not a real one, and she will point out to us the dangers of touching it.
Or take her baby doll. Over time, this acquired one of her diapers, and now from time to time the baby makes kaka. When it has, Flucha or I take the baby's clothes off. Tapas then takes the diaper off and cleans it and the baby's ass with her hand. Then she goes to the bathroom to pull one (!) sheet from the roll of toilet paper and cleans her hand, throwing the paper in the toilet when she's done. The complexity! The mixing of the imagined and the real! I could watch for hours.
I could also write for hours about this, and yet I sit down all too infrequently. And so most little details will fade into oblivion in a process called aging, which starts the day we are born.