Jamie is two and a half now, and it seems incredible that only a few months ago he was barely talking. Now, he’s expressing his thoughts in long complicated sentences: "Take Maisy Mouse upstairs, read in bedroom, then have nap." "Put handles on cup. I think yellow handles might be good." He’s learning to negotiate: "One more time." "Go in garden little bit." "If want music off, then put telly on." (This last was advice to my husband, who dislikes the Bob the Builder CD that Jamie loves playing – he was torn between being impressed and being annoyed that Jamie had advanced far enough to figure out a way to use this as leverage to try to get what he wanted.)
He’s starting to get the hang of rudimentary manners. Specifically, he has figured out that "Thank you, Jamie" is the appropriate phrase to be uttered on the occasion of him handing either of his parents something. So he now announces "Sank you, Jamie!" loudly as he presses some object into our hands. (Or as he tries to lift my food to my mouth for me whenever he decides that I’m taking too long a pause between one bite and the next and might, perhaps, have forgotten how to transfer food to my mouth myself and need some assistance. I’m still working on convincing him that I do need a modicum of time to actually chew the stuff.) I started trying to teach him ‘Please’ just the other week, when I got bored with being peremptorily ordered to go get more Mr Men books, and he does seem to be getting the general idea. At least, when I prompt him with "Now, how do you ask nicely?" he responds "Ask nicely please". I prefer to think of this as his attempt at getting it right rather than as a reciprocal instruction to me.
When he had his assessment back in March, one of the questions the health visitor asked me was whether he could follow the plot of a simple story. At the time, I wondered how on earth it was possible to know – while there was no doubt that he adored books and being read to, how did I know what he was following and what he wasn’t? I would now unequivocally be able to answer this question in the affirmative, because he has taken to commenting thoughtfully, apropos of nothing much, on events in his favourite television programmes. I’ve grown quite used to hearing a little voice pipe up with updates on what Pocoyo and Pato have been up to while I’m trying to bathe him, put his toys away, or do something otherwise totally unrelated.
He has also taken to coming out with random quotes from his favourite books – usually the Mr Men books, though the line from the Dr Seuss Sleep Book about the clock not going tick tock but going tock tick is also something of a favourite. It’s at times like this that a good memory comes in useful, because when I hear him musing to himself "Had to stay there all night" or "Tried to open door outwards ‘steada inwards!" then instead of being hopelessly bewildered I can simply agree that, yes, indeed, it was very unfortunate that Mr Bump fell into a hole when there was no-one around to help him out, or that Mr Wrong got stuck in his house for ten minutes while he figured out how to open the door properly.
He is also utterly fascinated by the numbering of the Mr Men books. Every time we read one, he has to start out by checking the little number on the spine to confirm to his own satisfaction that, yes, this Mr Man book is still such-and-such a number and the universe is as it should be, and then look at the back where all the different Mr Men are listed with their numbers. And he knows them in amazing detail. The other week, when we were in the shop and I asked him which book he wanted this time, he told me "Mr Nonsense!" and I couldn’t find it straight away on the shelf so I asked him what number it was and he knew it (number 33, in case anyone’s interested), and then, when we got it home and read it, we discovered that Mr Silly (one that we didn’t have at that time) appeared in it as a character and Jamie immediately announced "Mr Silly number 10!" and, what do you know, he was right. He goes through them all and recites lists of the first ten – "Mr Tickle number 1, Mr Greedy number 2…" and will point at and name lots of the other pictures of Mr Men on the back. It’s practically his specialist Mastermind subject.
I recently started singing to him. Yes, I know I should have been doing this all along and that singing to your child is just one of those Things A Mother Is Supposed To Do, but somehow I always used to go blank on thinking of songs (apart from the ones from my medical school days, and, believe me, singing those is not on any official list of Things A Mother Is Supposed To Do), and when I did think of any he didn’t look overwhelmingly interested. But then, a few weeks back, I spontaneously started singing "Five Little Ducks" while Jamie was playing with his ducks in the bath, and he loved it. Then he demanded the Tumbletots song, which didn’t actually narrow things down very much as Tumbletots change their songs every fortnight, but I tried him with "Little Peter Rabbit", which was the one we’d been singing at the most recent meeting, and he was delighted with that one too. Then, since "Little Peter Rabbit" is sung to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, I impulsively tried him with one of the old campfire versions that I happened to know, starting out "He jumped from thirty thousand feet without a parachute…", which I would be the first to admit in retrospect was not one of my smarter moves because he also loves the Parachute Song, as he calls it, and asks for it often, and, yes, I will regret it deeply when the day comes when he demands "Vicar took him home for tea an’ spread him on his bread song!" in front of my eighty-something-year-old grandmother. But right now it’s great fun. And since then I’ve just taught him most of the less raunchy songs I know. He comes up with his own names for them, which are sometimes hard to decipher. "Go home song!" proved to be "Sloop John B", and "Walk song!" is "You’ll Never Walk Alone" (tremendously important to any child born into my husband’s family of die-hard Liverpool fans), but we are still trying to decipher "Tunnel song!" or, at the very least, to convince him that we might have an easier time singing it for him if he could recite enough additional lyrics to serve as an identifier.
He’s just starting to use the hand gestures for action songs, as well – something he really hasn’t shown much interest in until, well, basically the past few days. But at Tumbletots last Tuesday, when we sang "Grand Old Duke of York", I went through the ‘up’ and ‘down’ arm movements with him for the first chorus, but he then started doing them quite of his own accord in the second chorus, and got them pretty much right, as well. He can point to all the right bits in "Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and will recite the lyrics to himself (he doesn’t sing) while pointing, or point while I sing if I go through very slowly. (The other night he got a bit excited trying to recite it to me when he was supposed to be going to sleep: "Heads an’ shoulders, knees and toes… an’ glasses an’ shorts an’, an’ trousers!") And, earlier this week, when I sang him "Ten Green Bottles" during his bathtime he picked up the empty sunscreen bottle that’s one of his bath toys, held it up against the wall, and let it slide down when I got to "accidentally fall".
He still loves reading letters and numbers, but he’s now also just starting to read words. He can read Jamie, Mummy, and Daddy. This weekend, he’s extended his repertoire to James, thanks to a lovely present of a cup with ‘James’ on it from a visiting cousin. It puzzled him at first as he went through the letters "J… A… M… I… no I! E… S" but, once we explained, he rapidly picked up the idea that J…A…M…E…S spells James. (Or Engine Number 5, as the name James is otherwise known in our house. His fascination with numbered characters extends to the "Thomas the Tank Engine" stories. If he ever reads This Perfect Day, he probably won’t even realise that it’s meant to be a dystopia story.)
He now has his own computer, put together by Barry out of leftover parts and a few new ones. This is an extremely exciting development in a boy’s life, although it was unfortunately delayed by some of the parts not working once it was fitted together. Poor Jamie had to wait patiently through days of "It’s not working yet, little one. Daddy will fix it when we get the new parts" before Barry could finally get it functioning. He’s learning how to start it up, how to use the mouse, and how to open the programmes he wants (quite a bit of which he already knew from his insistence on using our computers, but being able to practice with the mouse on his own computer has made a big difference). He loves practicing typing (mostly just random letters and numbers, though Barry’s taught him how to type ‘Jamie’) and playing on the Teletubbies website.
The other day, we were playing together in the garden. Jamie played with the stones by the terrace, and ran round on the grass (carrying one round stone that took his fancy everywhere with him), and played on his slide (sending the stone sliding down first each time before he slid down to pick it up), and poured water out of the watering can onto the flower bed to make into mud, and balanced along the wall at the side of the garden and the low wall round the flowerbed in the bottom corner, and climbed up the stairs to the deck where he could get me to play peek-a-boo from just below the edge of the deck (this is a particularly hilarious game), and tried to poke bits of earth through the cracks between the planks of the deck, and squatted down on the edge of the deck to share grins with me as I stood on the grass below and laughed with him at the fun of it all.
And, at intervals, he would announce "Going to lie on grass" and throw himself down to stare up at the sky, a mini-Hallmark moment come to life. I would lie down next to him and reach over to rub his little tummy affectionately, and we would look up together at the sky, me pointing out the contrails to him, he commenting on the clouds. Quiet, shared, joyful moments together before he jumped up and ran off to the next exciting project grabbing his attention.