Just the other day, I had put Maya down on her play mat. I was reading Allegra Goodman’s Intuition. The novel had reached a suspenseful point and so with an eye on her, I continued my reading. Maya, as she is wont to now, flipped onto her belly with ease after a few minutes of pulling at the toys. Someone (I forget who) had gifted Maya with a book that has a plastic mirror in it. The book now lay a feet or so away from her reach. She struggled to reach the book, flailing her stubby legs and arms desperately. She looked askance at me and when I was not forthcoming, she decided to take matters into her own hands. The real life proceedings had turned more fascinating than the book now. Raising her buttocks up in the air into the shape of an inverted V, she tucked her knees under her chest and pushed with her head, moving forward a few inches. She raised her head and looked at the book. She repeated the motion a few more times and the book was in her grasp. This was the first time I saw her engage actively in a goal directed behavior. She had turned five months on that day.
This caterpillar-like motion is among the newest additions to her ever growing, always engaging repertoire of behaviors. The month saw one major change in her routine that Maya acclimatized herself to with characteristic ease, though this required some planning. Shanthala returned to work on July 1 and last week was the first week that the nanny, Ginez, started her weekly routine. Maya has taken to her quite well now. On Friday, we were both gone for the whole day and Maya didn’t cry or fuss and was playing happily with her. That we had to hire a nanny was one of the more difficult decisions for me, even though we always knew that it’d come to that. When Maya initially cried on seeing the nanny, I worried about her losing her happy temperament. What if the nanny couldn’t read her signs well, what if Maya didn’t take to her at all for some unknown reason ?
After the initial three weeks or so of Saturday morning visits and a couple of weekday afternoon visits, we eventually chose to leave Maya with Ginez for an extended period on June 28th, when we went to Mark Knopfler’s concert in Berkeley. I wrung my hands that entire week, seesawing between going to the concert and staying back. Shanthala said that she was going with or without me. Her logic was that Maya had to get used to the nanny in a week from that date, when we both would be at work. My logic was that going to work was required while going to the concert was a diversion, a discretionary event. Berkeley is an hour away from home and I worried that if something went wrong, it’d take us forever to get back home. Eventually, I decided that I’d make an impromptu decision that evening to go or not, based on how Maya reacted to Ginez when she came. When we reached Berkeley, just before the concert started, I called Ginez to check if all was well. Throughout the concert, I’d check the phone every two songs or so, in case I missed the cell phone vibrating due to the music. All of this, coupled with Knopfler playing mostly songs that we’d heard umpteen times before, made me not enjoy the concert much at all. We committed the ultimate sacrilege by leaving at the start of the first encore, when we realized that he wasn’t playing Maya’s favorite song, Shangri-La. Maya had of course been fine with Ginez and all that angst had been for nothing.
Eating solids was another major change for Maya in her fifth month. Shanthala prepares Ragi gangi (finger millet porridge) and feeds her little by little. Most of it still dribbles out since she’s still figuring out how to swallow, but she seems to enjoy the activity. We also fed her some fruits, cherry, nectarine and orange, stripping a bit of the skin and holding it in her mouth as she sucks the juices. Maya enjoys this immensely.
She can’t seem to stop talking as we’re feeding her these solids, hmming and ahhing all the time as she arches her neck to suck more of the juice. “She’s going to talk early and she’s going to be a talker”, declared Ginez, one more confirmation to what we’ve suspected all along. Sometimes, she bites the nipple staunching the flow of milk, and starts talking. Besides cooing, babbling and squealing, she now seems to talk by flipping her tongue back and forth on her upper palate, producing a lot of soft, tha-tha-tha sounds.
She’s also taken to the swing that Shanthala hangs out in the backyard patio during summer. As she swings in it, she can’t stop thrashing her legs and flailing her arms in delight, a big grin on her mouth. I started playing a game with her that she seems to find very delightful. Just before I release the swing, I look around as if I’m thinking and suddenly release the swing saying either her name or one of the adjectives that we use for her such as “happy child”, “beautiful baby” and “sunshine”. Her eyes light up in anticipation, waiting for what I’ll say. And when I say it and release the swing, she squeals loudly with pleasure. Sometimes, when I’m holding the swing and seeming to take longer to come up with something to say, she starts babbling suggestions at me, unable to contain her excitement.
This light of anticipation is new. I also play the game by saying “one, two, three” and suddenly showing her a doll or showing her reflection in the mirror. Again, her mouth widens into a big smile, her eyes light up and she squeals at the end. She also shows signs that she is aware of what follows in a few cases. For example, if she got hungry and we missed the sign, before she’d cry inconsolably until the milk bottle was put in her mouth; now, if I show her that I’m preparing milk by showing her the bottle that I’m shaking, she smiles and soothes herself till the milk is ready. She also is comfortable being by herself at times such as when I wake up and am preparing and drinking coffee, or when I’m having a bath, or when I’m washing her bottles. I say a few words, show her what it is that I’m doing and she doesn’t mind being by herself for the next fifteen or twenty minutes.
Maya is also sleeping for longer stretches through the night. She had started sleeping for seven straight hours at night, typically from midnight to seven, when she was five weeks old. Now she sleeps anywhere from 9:45 to 10:30 till about 7:15 to 8:00.
Every evening, we go for a walk around the neighborhood for about an hour, with Maya in a sling. We tried going on a hike last week in the morning at Shoreline Park. Maya was hungry and sleepy by the time we left and we had to turn back soon after feeding her on the hike as she got more and more fussy. Yesterday, we went back again, but in the evening. The sun was weak and orange in a slightly hazy sky and the weather was perfect. Maya was quiet and seemed to enjoy the hike that lasted almost an hour and a half. I managed a few decent pictures in the dying light.
Musically, she continues to add genres and artists to her listening list. When she doesn’t like an artist, she stares fixedly at one point and struggles if I attempt to dance to it. This is what happened to Corinne Bailey Rae. Sade on the other hand, got a huge high five and has become her new favorite artist to go to sleep to. Today, I played the famous Indian classical music, Call of the Valley for her. Sitting in her chair next to me, she listened to a whole song without stirring, turning to me at the end of the song with a big smile.
Seeing this caterpillar is one of the joys of parenthood. May we live to see the day she’ll become a butterfly, and fly away, journeying into the garden of life. May we raise her well.