Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

Today I spent the whole day alone with my litle girl. I haven't done that since October, and in the days leading up to today we have had so many people around taking Elsie off for walks, preparing her food, reading to her, that I was actually a bit concerned about how I'd manage it. Being 38 weeks pregnant and running around with a two year old is not everyone's idea of a restful holiday.

I was totally unprepared for the fun we had. We made thank you cards with sticky glittery stars and photos. We rolled out pastry and used new Christmas cookie cutters to make little mince pie hearts and bells. We went out to the supermarket ('delHAIZE') and did the washing and unloaded the dishwasher - all the boring everyday things that are a tad more interesting when you have a little one shadowing you and pointing out the things you might miss ('Daddy t-shirt, WET!'). We had serious conversations ('Mummy tummy BIG!' 'Yes, because there's a baby inside it' 'babby, inside, [thoughtful nod] hmm'), listened to music ('ferge jagger, ferge jagger...') and read books. I noticed how chatty she's becoming; repeating new words she heard me say, bringing out her own.

I'm grateful for all the help we've been getting in recent days, and God knows we're going to need it in the near future. I'm happy to have such a wonderful hands-on husband, but especially in these days when we are still a family of three, I am incredibly grateful for the time I have alone with my amazing little Elsie.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Essie speak, an update

Amul is still the strangest word in her vocabulary. It means yoghurt and it is possible that it always will to her. When she's finished her supper after creche, Elsie invariably asks for an 'amul' - 'Essie Amul!' 'what do you say?' 'peeeeeeeease?' (this last all-important word said with a head tilt and besseching expression.) 'You'd like a yoghurt?' Strong head nod.

Slippers are piz-wizz and socks are choks (with the Scottish ch from loch). This might be because 'sok' in Polish is juice, and she recognises the need for diffferentitation between these two important objects in her life. On the other hand, it might of course just be an idea she's got in her head and is finding hard to shake.

Orange is 'oh-wince!' and banana is still missing the 'ba' but the rest of the fruit in our bowl she's got licked. Apple, pear, mango, are all present and correct. Even pineapple is nearly there (pie-apple!)

In this Christmas season Saint Nicholas is Ikowah and the experience when he visited the creche was so traumatic to her that it is usually accompanied by GONE! As in Ikowah GONE! coupled with a couple of affirmative head nods and a look of relief.

The best thing about this stage is how quickly things change. Apart from the few words she only learned approximately at an eary stage and then never bothered updating, new words are added to her vocabulary at such a speed it is stupifying. Elsie is doing a good job of labelling her world. We're the ones who expect her to have three labels for each object, so we can give her a break when she adds the odd extra sound here and there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My baby's baby

Elsie turns the baby doll towards her and looks into her face. 'Baby yum yum?' she asks, before shaking a sachet in the direction of the little bowl, stirring it with a tiny plastic spoon and blowing three short sharp blows over it. She thrusts the spoon into the doll's mouth a couple of times before deciding that's enough, and brings the bib up to wipe at her mouth.

'Mulk?' she checks, before carefully placing a finger over the top of the bottle and giving it a good shake. Elsie holds the doll's head steady with one hand while she puts the bottle between the plastic lips. Satisfied that the baby is fed and watered, she flashes me a grin and wanders over to play with something else.

I sit, in awe. When did my baby turn into this little girl?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

One more thing

OK, let me get this straight. We pay the commune to reserve space outside our new house to make room for the movers. Despite it being a quiet road, we decide to pay the fee and have the signs so that we have an easy move. When the movers arrive however, your car is parked in the reserved space. The movers call the police, my husband asks round the neighbours to see if they know who the owner of the car is, and the movers have a cigarette break (paid for by us, 100 euros an hour). The police finally arrive, check the signs, and call someone to tow your car. The police tell us we can get a document to claim the money we've wasted on the movers while we wait for your car to be towed. We decide that would be a further waste of time and agree not to.

Today, you come to our house, complaining that you didn't see the signs and demanding half of the fee charged to get your car back. We, who paid more because you didn't see what we paid for to be there.

Not going to happen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

remembering to breathe

In a few weeks, when the dust has settled, remind me to tell you about the time I almost burned down the flat by leaving a pan of pasta on the hob while I went to a routine hospital appointment. For a few hours. And then ask about the insurance refusing to cover the repairs to the door the firemen broke down. If I'm a bit hazy on details, you can ground it in the week that one of the guys working on the house almost cut through his arm and had to be operated on for five hours, and how the ambulance guys, since they heard it was done with a knife, turned up with police cars in tow, to find out the full extent of this knife fight. At least Marek now knows where the police station in is our new neighbourhood. Remind me how relieved I was about having hired people here legally and covered by insurance. Once I've told you that story, you can ask about the time a couple of weeks later when we had three sets of house guests, and we moved house. By then, I'll be sitting back in our new living room, relaxed and happy, recounting the tales with distance and humour. Oh no I won't, I'll be up all night with a newborn baby. Forget it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

word play

I pass the hot crumpet quickly from hand to hand and drop it onto my plate. 'More!' Elsie says, pointing at it. 'More please Mummy,' I correct, and put a layer of margarine on it, allowing it to melt into the holes.

'Would you like honey on your crumpet?' I ask, and look at Elsie for her nod. Instead, she brings her hand to her mouth, makes a fist and starts tooting.

I struggle to keep my face straight. 'Crumpet' I repeat. 'Not trumpet.'

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

the creche run

I stick my head around the door and scan the little faces. Elsie's eyes meet mine and she grins, slowly rising from her sprawl on the floor next to a little blond boy. She points at him and explains, wide-eyed 'dwah-buh beri booli ooh.' I nod and smile as she walks over to me, open the little gate and kiss her head.

After exchanging pleasantries with the lady on duty, we walk hand in hand out to the corridor, Elsie pausing briefly to wave her other hand and solemnly declare 'bah bayeee' as the lady smiles and replies with 'a demain'.

I lift her onto a chair in the cloakroom and she tugs at her slippers. As she puts them in her shoe bag, I lace up her trainers and ask her how her day was. After a brief smile, a thumb is stuck in place and she listens patiently as I explain what's going to happen next. 'We'll walk home, and when we get back you can have something to eat.' I say 'Nana, kek?' she asks hopefully. 'Well, you've got rice and mince and courgettes first of all, and we finished the banana cake at the weekend, remember?' I remind her. 'But if you are still hungry after your rice, you can have some leftover brownie if you like.' I get a questioning look, so explain: 'the chocolate cake you helped me make, with cranberries in.' She hears the magic word and repeats it 'kek!' paired with a satisfied nod.

I hold the door open and she trots through, already pointing through the glass front door at something that has caught her eye outside.  I take her hand and we head home. Home to the kek.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

almost forgotten trials of week ten, ten weeks ago

The morning I woke up and *just* felt the familiar uncomfortable swell of morning sickness was strangely comforting. The tummy bug that had made me sick throughout the previous night had settled down, my tummy's gurgling brought to a standstill. The week before, part of the blob's placenta came away from my uterus panicking me into thinking I was miscarrying. Doctors put me on hormones (because that's clearly one thing pregnant women are lacking...) to slow me down and help the repair (read, 'knock me out') and since taking the final pill, they had finally worn off, and I was no longer seeing my world through a blur. A small triumph, I lifted my head from the pillow and faced another day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

one week back

I close the book and turn it over, half-expecting the 'geh-geh' Elsie's chosen to say for 'again' and has said every time I've finished the book for the last few days. It's her  book of the moment after all, with rich pictures on each page full of objects she can name. 'Ball! Bear! Shoe! Car!' I barely have to read it. Instead though, she points at the title, and clear as anything, says 'encore!' My jaw drops and I realise a week back at the creche has done its job. 'Sorry?' I ask, eyebrows raised, not believing my ears. Elsie blinks, looks right into my face and 'encore!' she repeats. I squeeze her tight, kiss her head and start the book again.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

joined up speaking

Elsie wanders round the flat sporting her sad face. 'Dah-dee' she says 'Dah-deeee'.

'Daddy's still at work, my love' I explain, getting a puzzle out of the box. 'He'll be home soon'. She wanders over and looks at the puzzle. 'Will you help me?' I ask, and she sadly shakes her head. 'Dah-dee' she continues to wonder.

'Shall we call him and see when he'll be back?' I ask, and get an enthusiastic nod. I dial the number and put the phone on loadspeaker. 'Are you going to say hello when he answers?' I ask and Elsie starts practising 'ello Dah-dee! Ello Dah-dee!'

'Hello?' he says and there's a moment of uncertainty when Elsie's eyes meet mine. I nod my encouragement. 'ELLO Dah-DEE!' she says into the phone, a huge grin spreading across her face as he tells her what a clever girl she is.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bai go goo

Elsie's language is slowly changing. The summer holidays with long stretches of hearing nothing but English have worked wonders. She now says 'chair' 'bear' 'Claire' 'Hair' 'air'... you see the theme. But we also get 'plane', 'car' and 'book'.

She looks at me when I ask her to repeat, concentration in her clear eyes and a willingness to succeed that I can feel. 'Well done!' I say, 'clever girl!' and she smiles, a victory grin.

If there is something she doesn't know the word for, which still applies to a lot, she'll study it and use her fail-safe standby word. 'Bai go goo' she'll say, eyebrows raised and pointing. 'Yes Elsie,' we encourage 'an umbrella'. A slight nod of agreement, 'bai go goo' she'll confirm.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Literal child

Elsie puts down the pen and looks at her hands. 'Uh-oh!'

'What's up love?' I ask and she shows me the multi-coloured traces across her palms. 'Shall we wash your hands?' She nods and walks to the bathroom.

'Wait a minute, Ruth's in there. Let's wash your hands in the toilet instead.' She gives me an uncertain glance.

I follow her in, and get there just in time to pull her back from the toilet bowl. The basin in the toilet, my love.' I explain, 'the basin' and turn on the tap.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rediscovering hormones

I struggle with pushing the door and pulling the pram, but eventually we are in. Elsie is twisting round in her seat and demanding more raisins: 'more! more!' but I tell her to wait until we have finished in the shop. She moans, pulling at her straps in a vain attempt to be out, and I scan the shelves. No tea of the kind I want - something with ginger to ease the nauseous lump that has taken up residence inside me in recent days. I push Elsie over to the bread and weigh up the pros and cons of white baguette versus multi-grain baguette. Avoiding taking a decision, I stick one of each under the pram hood and go to pay.

Out of the shop and back on the street, Elsie has lost interest in raisins and sticks her thumb in her mouth; the other hand stroking and pulling at doudou, her blue comfort toy. I swear under my breath as I note the escalator to the metro is not working and carefully ease the pram wheels down each oversized step until we reach the bottom.

A girl in a long skirt, hair pulled back from her young face, is sitting in the dirty entrance to the metro station and holds out a hand. I look her in the eye, say bonjour and continue on my way, justifying my reluctance to give her money in my mind... organised gangs... human trafficking... better to give to organisations that help communities at risk... no guarantee she benefits from what she collects... at the same time as wishing I had brought a banana or muesli bar I could have handed her. 'Excuse me' she calls out after me. I know I won't give her money, but I turn. 'Could I have a small piece of bread?' she asks quietly, pointing at my two baguettes sticking out of the pram. I pick them up and show them to her. "Which do you prefer?' I ask, and when she points at the white one, I hand it to her. "The whole thing?" she is surprised, and thanks me, a smile lighting her face.

I try not to think about how old she might be, or what her daily life is like. My struggles with Elsie suddenly take on proportion: Meaningless ups and downs in a comfortable life. A tear threatens to spill as I walk away.

Monday, July 16, 2012

soft play Sunday

I push the door open and Elsie walks cautiously through. She takes Daddy's hand as I rummage in my bag for my purse, and hand over the coins to the man on the desk.

Spotting our friends, I go forward to greet them, (your little one has grown! what a big boy!) and Marek takes Elsie's shoes off and stores them on a shelf. 'Ooh look, Elsie!' I gush. 'a ball pool!' I love those things.

She looks up at me with a blank expression, and only wanders over when I lead her. Ignoring her friend, she stands in the middle of the play area, staring at the kids rushing past. The noise, and colours, seem to overwhelm her, and she just stands. Takes it all in. Absorbs the madness.

More friends arrive, and we sit down to chat about the sleeping newborn in her carseat, upcoming holiday plans and the ridiculous size of our firstborns. The two boys from our party join the buzzing crowd, rushing about, sliding down slides and jumping into the pool of plastic balls. Our little girl is still standing immobile, wide-eyed and solemn.

One of the other dads helps her onto the rocking horse and she takes fright, lip wobbling before the full blown weeping takes hold. He apologises and I tell him it's not his fault. It isn't. Elsie calms down, but won't move from my lap. Eventually I coax her over to the beanbag.

We take it in turns, sitting in a cage of brightly coloured padded fun, before handing over the relay and escaping to the island of adult conversation and cool drinks. Finally, I look over and instead of a serious little girl wondering where the hell her parents have brought her now, I see a smiley Elsie, jumping in the balls and shrieking with the rest.

The boys come out of the craziness for their snacks and I see Elsie walking round to the slide, taking her turn in an uncharacterically patient manner, and sliding down with a grin. A big boy in a green t-shirt pushes past and she laughs. No sign of the teary sensitive soul remains. She is finally tempted over to us with grapes, but is keen to get back as soon as her snack has been eaten.

After a while the boys droop and the newborn stirs, ready for a feed. Friends say their goodbyes and we are left, Elsie raring to go. We use our remaining time for a bounce on the bouncy castle. Elsie loves it, and bounces about with bigger girls, who rush past her roughly, adding to the excitment.

Shoes are put back on and we go outside with a surpisingly compliant Elsie. Only when we are half way into the carpark does she realise we're heading home. She turns back around, and runs. When I finally catch her, she wriggles in my arms, desperate to get back. I promise her we'll come back and she unwillingly accepts the inevitable.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


'Ssssssssssss' Elsie hisses, pointing at a long snakey animal in her book. 'Yes,' I agree, 'it does look like a snake doesn't it, but it's actually a caterpillar' she looks at me uncertainly. 'ouww?' she wonders, unconvinced. 'No' I laugh, it's not a cat! A caterpillar. Remember the very hungry caterpillar in one of your other books?' She looks into my face, confused. 'Remember how the hungry caterpillar eats lots and lots and then turns into a butterfly?' Her features relax into comprehension. 'Mo-mo!'

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

cleaning up the rain

I am unloading the dishwasher when I hear Elsie's footsteps thundering through the apartment, all the way from our bedroom, along the corridor, through the sitting room and towards me. 'Hello you' I say, but she ignores me, grabbing a cloth we keep handy for clearing up what ever she's dropped during mealtimes, and running back the way she came.

Wondering what she could possibly have dreamed up for herself now with such urgency, I leave the dishes and wander after her. When I get to our bedroom doorway, I see her at the window, where raindrops are running down the outside of the pane. She is enthusiastically wiping at the drops. On the inside.

hmm yum yum

Elsie points at the table, where the blooming bunch of peonies sit, pink and luxurious. She sniffs, expectantly, and motions at the flowers.

I pull the vase towards me, and gently place it on the floor, so that Elsie can get up close. Elsie carefully puts her face down towards the flowers and breathes in. She moves from one flower to the next, comparing fluffy flower head with fluffy flower head. When she's smelt most of them, she lifts her head and gives her verdict.

'Hmm, yum yum!'

Elsie's world

I love the glimpses I get into how the world works according to my little girl. It has a simplicity that I admire, and is full of good intentions that the reality usually lacks.

One afternoon walking home from the creche, Elsie tugged her hand away from mine and pointed at a stationary car. I looked through the drizzle to see what had caught her eye, and noticed nothing out of the ordinary other than the fact that the car's wipers were going steadily against the rain. When I turned back to Elsie, she had a big grin on her face and was happily waving back.

My heart smiled.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Our daughter gets English from her Mummy, Polish from her Daddy and French from the creche and much of the outside world. The poor kid is drowning in languages but instead of picking one, or using some words from each Elsie has decided the way to approach this is to add her own language to the mix.

Ah-Duh is hello. She says it mostly when holding a phone (mobiles, toy phones, remote controls... the kid's world is FULL of phones) up to her ear, but has also been known to use it while waving to welcome someone in. Give her a real phone with someone on the other end though and Elsie is at a loss. She goes quiet, gives you a worried look and backs away. Phones are supposed to be talked at - they are not supposed to answer. Also, she has been perfecting her phone chat over the months and now can go for several minutes, chatting, laughing at her imaginary counterpart's jokes and 'mm'ing in agreement on occasion. I love it.

Mo-mo is butterfly; accompanied by hand-fluttering and swishing noises that approximate everything a butterfly encompasses. This could arguably come from the Polish word; motyl, but it's not as straight forward as that. Elsie understands both the Polish and English words; if you ask her where the butterfly is, in either language, she will point at it, and tell you it's a mo-mo.

Amul is apple. Or mango. A flexible word that seems to mean fruit-that-I-like-to-eat. If you ask Elsie, 'would you like some mango?' she will say 'AMUL!' with great enthusiasm.

There are others, but these are her most established. Of course she does also have words that sound very much like English words. 'Mummy' and 'Daddy' are perfect, and she will connect Mummy with Mamusia, if Daddy refers to Mummy that way.

Animals are still referred to by the noise they make. If you point at a small animal sitting in a window and ask her what it is, Elsie will invariably say 'eouw' rather than tell you it's a cat. She answers the same way if you ask in Polish or French, and does the same with other animals too.

Signs are very common. There's butterfly of course, but she also has the plane hand movement; the star twinkling and the ever-useful, hand motions asociated with eating. Hand coming up to the mouth repeately signifies 'I am hungry and must eat immediately or I will dissolve into a heap of starving angry mess' and once the feast is over the twirling final bar of an orchestra's conductor signifies that she would like to get down.

Elsie's world has rules and routines, which she sticks to and appreciates. I can't help feeling though that in the journey to decipher this funny old world, she is making some things even more complicated for herself.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


As we got onto the bus to the airport before 7am on the day the Big Canadian Adventure was due to begin, I couldn't help but sigh at all those hours ahead of us. Work had managed to keep me so occupied in the days before our departure that I had managed, until that point, to put off thinking about what 16 hours of travelling with an 18 month old would be like. Not just any 18-month old either. Our daughter - remember? the one with the big lungs and stubborn will?

Now, over 24 hours later, as I sit in the dark of a Vancouver night - my body confused into being awake when all the extended hours of the previous day should have been more than sufficient to persuade it of the benefits of being asleep - I cannot believe how quickly the time passed.

The short connecting flight was a dream. Ok, the baby belt was not a big hit and it took some serious book and food diversionary tactics to stop the tears, but baby did good! We got to Frankfurt with our spirit and smiles intact.

The three hours before the big flight also passed with just enough time for the nappy change/recharge batteries/re-arrange plane seating essentials, and there's no denying the sight of the aeroplanes and the excitement of moving walkways and wide empty spaces to march along, parents in tow, were pretty impressive to one little chick.

When we finally made it onto the big plane, we managed a full agenda of food, books, watching the baby in the seats next to ours, scribbling, monitoring the tiny plane on the Atlantic map (hand outstretched soaring above her head 'whooooooo'), changing the odd nappy, sticking the odd sticker and wandering up and down the odd aisle making friends up and down the plane, to let the ten hours pass without much incident. Little Elsie slept for a little under one hour the entire time, and trying out the bassinet took a bit of persuading, but once she discovered she could almost climb out on her own the prospect of this forming part of her, and our, in-flight entertainment was all the persuasion she needed.

Once we arrived, the bright sun and fast paced chatter gave us the boost we needed to be tricked into thinking it was not the middle of the night, but the baby crashed on our way to the rental flat, and bar an hour or so of happily playing ball with Uncle Edd and Auntie Krista and putting up with a less happy bathtime ritual, continued sleeping off the experience for hours.

I find myself in that strange in-between world of feeling one time zone and experiencing another. With husband and baby snoring in the bedrooms, I sit and look out at our wonderful temporary view over the water, excited about what comes next but still wanting to hold on to the anticipation of now.

Monday, February 13, 2012

winter sniffles

I turn away from the laptop as I feel the tissue tugged from my hand and Elsie trundles off with it in both hands.

As I watch, she brings it up to her nose and wipes side to side. I can't help but smile as she hauls herself up the step to the toilet, throws the tissue down into the bowl and drops to her knees, shuffling backwards back down the step.

She's got the routine down perfectly.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

miss communication


Elsie holds her toy telephone to her ear... if her ear were on the back of her head. 'Uh-der!' she says, pausing for the response 'thuh-beliting-no-limi-nuh' her face is deadly serious. 'ah-nuh' she finishes.
'Puh-sh, puh-sh' she says, holding it out to Marek. 'There's the Polish coming out' I smile as Marek takes the phone. Prosze!
'Ra ra!' she exclaims, seeing her puppy. I move it to one side and recover Bagpuss from the toy box 'Ooow!' she says, right on cue. 'Me!' I correct, 'meouw'. She gives me the kind of look she's honed. It says 'whatever.'


We know when she's hungry because she tells us; one hand, finger ends brought together, comes quickly and sharply up to her mouth several times. Once she's delivered the message, she takes herself off to the kitchen, just to underline the urgency. She no longer wants help getting the food to her mouth though. Once you've prepared the food, your role is over. As soon as her bib's on, she tucks it down into her lap, grabs her spoon and fork and watches to see whether we're telling her to blow. It's hot Elsie!' we say and she hoo hoo hoos over the food. Once she's stabbed with her fork, scooped with her spoon and grabbed with her hands, her face is smeared and she chatters away happily. 'Moar!' she occasionally reminds us, if it looks like we might take what's left away. 'What do you want for pudding Elsie?' is usually met with 'Na na!' If it were up to her she'd eat nothing but bananas all day. When she's had her fill, her hands twirl a dramatic conductor's finale.


'Deuh deuh!' she says, in a high pitch, full of feeling. I glance over and see what she has spotted. 'Yep, there's doudou, Elsie' I confirm, as she totters over and grabs the light blue blanket toy. She holds his head and sticks her thumb in her mouth. Do you want to sleep Baby? I ask, watching her droopy eyes. As I watch, her eyes brighten, and she holds clenched fists up under her chin and I take the cue. 'Meunier, tu dors...' I start and she gets to the good bit way before the song does. 'ton moulin ton moulin va trop vite' I sing as her hands swing round like a windmill and her face breaks open into a wide grin. Doudou discarded, she walks around, twirling her windmill, pure contentedness showing on her face.

At bathtime the ducks are 'duh DUH' then her milk is 'muh', not to be confused with water, which is 'murh'. If you ask her to bring a bedtime book, she delivers a selection; and if it's the one with the cow, then you get sound effects on top. 'Bmmmmuh! BmmmmmmmUHH!'

Soon though the games are over. She lifts her arms to be carried, and buries her head in my neck as I carry her to her sleeping bag. We do the nightnight tour, her waving solemnly to the neighbours, her toys, each room as we pass through. Once she's blown her last kiss, the thumb gets stuck in and bunny is held tightly. Good night little one.