That is the sound of my infant daughter inquiring politely about the status of the bottle of formula I'm hastily preparing. She is briefly distracted by her own hand, and spends a moment turning it in the air in wonder. Then she tosses a toy aside listlessly and frowns up at me from the floor. An edge of impatience creeps into her voice: "Ba-ba!"
After slapping her thigh idly for a spell, she grabs the haunches of a nearby dog and hauls herself to her feet. She balances there precariously, one fat little fist clutching a pinion of fur, the other holding the dog's jowl and twisting it painfully. She stamps her feet and sings a loud, shapeless song. The dog looks at me in silent appeal.
The microwave beeps. The formula is ready, and it means reprieve for us all. The dog lopes over to drink some water, and I unfold my laptop. The time has come to issue my Sixth Trimester Report.
Eighteen months ago my immediate family included just two human beings; a year ago that estimate rose to two and a half, and nine months ago we made officially made it three. Come six months ago I detailed our newest friend's breastfeeding and crapping habits, and three months ago I told you about her budding teeth, and how she had learned to reach, sit up and squeal. And now young Ingrid is nine months old: she stands unassisted, she crawls like an all-terrain tank, and her primitive vocabulary is blossoming every day...
"Dada!" she squeals joyfully in the morning, standing in her crib and grinning with a mouth full of perfect little teeth. I am somewhat less joyful: it is a quarter to six in the morning. Like a small woodland creature, my daughter rises with the sun.
Once on the changing table, I carefully wipe the curdled-looking orange poo off of the angry, red skin of her nethers, engulfed in a blazing rash that is hard to look at. I gently apply a soothing salve of fucidin, cortisone and clotrimazole. Ingrid is unimpressed with my efforts. She complains mildly as she looks around the room and makes a clicking sound with her tongue. She keeps trying to turn over, twisting in my hands, threatening to spread poo everywhere. I juggle her awkwardly, and click at her for distraction. "Are you a little !Kung bushman?" I ask, tickling her belly. "Are you? Are you?"
In reply, she giggles like a hyena and clicks like a cooling engine.
My wife is getting ready to go to school. From the bathroom, she calls out which clothes should be put on what parts of Ingrid, and I do my awkward daddy-best to comply. Dressing Ingrid has become much easier than it used to be now that she's figured out how to co-operate -- I no longer have to fish her hands down the sleeves manually, for instance, because she now seeks the cuff of her accord own once her arm is inserted. On the other hand, she is less meditative than she used to be: her active mind is easily distracted.
A cat jumps up on her changing table.
"Kee-ee!" cries Ingrid in delight, clapping her hands and frustrating my efforts to enshirt her. She grabs hold of the kitty's tail, and tries to put in her mouth. Kitty reconsiders her options, and jumps away. Ingrid's attention flits. "Baba?" she asks.
"It's on the list, kid," I assure her, attempting to make tiny socks stick on her flexing feet. I give up, and call into the hall: "Does she really need socks today?" But I know the answer. Outside, the trees shine with red and gold: it's autumn in Canada, and the wind already bites. "Socks," I narrate to Ingrid solemnly. "Chaussettes."
Three mornings a week we bundle Ingrid up and ship her off to a grandmother or an aunt, to spend a morning cooing while my wife goes to class and I bring home bacon. Wearing my suave business robe, I accompany my girls to the chilly front door. Ingrid is jacketed, bebottled and loaded into her carseat.
As they go out the door I wave and call, "Have a good day, love; bye-bye, Ingrid, bye-bye!" I kiss my wife, and the pair of them are gone into the crisp, foggy drive. I close the door and yawn, scratching myself unmentionably.
Suddenly, my wife bursts back inside. "She just said bye-bye!"
...The pace of change at this point is dizzying. Ingrid accumulates new talents every few days comparable to the jumps she used to make over a period of weeks or months. It is the exciting climax of her infancy, and Ingrid has pulled out all the stops.
Our fresh child now stands about 69 cm (2' 3") tall, and weighs around 11.4 kg (25 lbs). Her fair hair is slowly but surely thickening up. Women tell me her eyelashes are to die for (and I believe them: those eyes do sparkle so framed). Unlike some children her age, her skull has not at this time been deformed by a growth spurt into a freaky alien shape. She has eight or nine teeth, but no molars. She has not yet decided whether she is right or left handed. She is a great friend to anything with a face on it, from pictures to puppets.
Watching Ingrid's instinctive programme of acclimitisation execute and unfold is a daily marvel. There are times when it seems like she is not a new human being learning about the world at all, but a recycled one remembering it, so natural is the ease with which she takes to our ways (suddenly Plato and the Hindus don't seem so half-cocked in their cyclical impressions after all). It is awe-inspiring to witness millennia of experience compressed into a crash course measured in months: she strains to walk and run, to grab and manipulate; her tongue works to strengthen and articulate, preparing for intelligible speech; her mind churns relentlessly to catalogue, classify and understand all that she sees...
But observation can only take you so far. To understand the world, we must interact with it, and so Ingrid's next stage of development has been predicated on her mobility.
Just days after I issued the fifth report, Ingrid triumphantly figured out how to use her floor-swimming limbs to transform a series of random lurches into progressive locomotion. Unfortunately, her crawling transmission seemed to be jammed in reverse.
She would spot a desired toy lying before her, and then decisively crawl away from it, frowning in confusion and annoyance when she would come up against an unseen obstacle from behind. She woke us up in the middle of the night once with a plaintive wail after managing to back herself up into the side of her crib, lodging her splayed limbs through the bars like a talcum-flavoured pretzel. She made a daily routine of sputtering in frustration as her mis-geared appendages failed to do her bidding -- toys tauntingly retreating from her, walls attacking when her back was turned...
The impasse ended the day when by purposeful trials or flailing experimentation she somehow mastered the rhythm necessary to crawl forward (a transition I sadly did not witness, as I was toiling away in the downtown pixel mines at the time). Ingrid's new found ability to navigate her world at will brought with it a renaissance of new skills: rolling over and sitting up with unprecedented ease, pulling herself up to stand against walls, furniture, legs and dogs; waving, clapping and pinching; humming and clicking and singing out.
And now she is a force to be reckoned with. When she espies something she wants on the other side of the room, she will squirm like fish until she's released to motor purposefully across the floor while making a raspberry sound with her lips. Animate or inanimate, she usually gives her prey a warning shout of "Hai!" and then seizes upon it and attempts to interface with it orally. She is a particular fan of carpet-fluff mixed into a ball with lint and cat hair. "Mam-mam-mam," she says, when the things she finds are particularly delicious.
She is not yet shy around strangers, human or otherwise. She'll spend the day away from mommy and daddy as soon as eat an ant. She will tolerate being picked up and held by people she is new to, and even bop and sing for them if she's feeling frisky. She is happy to be licked and tackled by dogs of all sizes, and only reasonably abashed by a hissing cat. She has a profound, transfixitive fascination with all manner of swimming fish, and -- as we found out while watching the feeder at our cottage last week -- birds, too.
"Birds," narrated my wife, smiling at the baby's wonder.
"Birs," Ingrid agreed, eyes wide and flitting.
She is social by nature, and seeks out her peers. She recognises other small people being carried or led around, and squeals with pleasure when she sees them. She wants to touch their faces. She wants to stand up beside them, and see if they like clapping, or clicking. If she's feeling friendly, she may lick them. (She may have picked up that last one from our dogs. I'm not sure.)
Like her mother, Ingrid loves to sing. She will croon formlessly along with the radio, the television, the pets or anyone at all who seems to be a source of music. When my wife sings short, three note melodies, Ingrid tries to reproduce them (she is getting good at mimicking the first and third notes, but the middle notes is always lost to her). She will also hum along with her theme song, which we sing often. It runs like this:
Ingrid, the ingrid-girl: the ingridest girl in the whole wide world;She will not, however, say "bye-bye" to her daddy. Another morning goes by in which she bids the driveway farewell instead of me. My wife pokes her head back in the door and offers up the child, hopeful for a reprise. I wave at Ingrid and prompt her, but now she is mute. She looks at me with wide eyes and a blank expression. (She is like the talking dog who, when auditioned by talent scouts, will only reply "rough!" or "roof!" and "ruth!") My wife sighs, and leaves again.
She's Ingrid, the ingrid-girl: the ingridest girl I know.
She's ingrid from the top of her head,
She's ingrid to the bottom of her toes!
She's ingrid deep in her belly,
And even to the tip of her nose! She's
Ingrid, the ingrid-girl: the ingridest girl in the whole wide world;
Ingrid, the ingrid-girl: she's the ingridest girl that I know.
And while I know it is the most hackneyed tripe of parenthood ever, permit me this: it positively amazes me that the mere gastric hint of life I described in the earlier reports is the same little girl sitting beside now me now in a tiny plastic chair with smiling bunnies on it, feeding herself a cookie. "Cookie," she remarks breathlessly between bites.
"That's true," I agree. "Cookie. Biscuit."
"Buth," she offers.
If disposition at the end of infancy is any indication of what kind of moods will govern an adult life, Ingrid will be a happy woman. She wakes up delighted, and parts with us for sleep with futile reluctance. She is tireless in her charm. When we take her visiting, people are taken by her from the start -- but they are not truly impressed until hours have passed, and Ingrid remains sparkling. "This is how she is...all the time?" they ask. "God, I wish my kids had been like that."
My wife and I smile sheepishly. It is polite to maintain the illusion that parenting a baby is always very hard work. We shrug. "She makes it easy, that's for sure."
It is Ingrid's second day of visiting in a row, and she shows no sign of tiring despite a series of skipped naps. "Doggay!" she cries, investigating the dog's nose with her thumb. Drinks are flowing, and the crowd is boisterous. My brother is getting married.
My step-father introduces his yachting buddies to the baby. There's the jovial ex-patriot Englishman who lives in a boat, the bespectacled and balding boat-broker with his aging whisp of a mother, and a smiling Caribbean mechanic whose golden tooth shines as he speaks. Ingrid is instantly hypnotised by the golden tooth, and stares fixedly at the mechanic's mouth. The tooth glitters, the mechanic laughs. Ingrid blinks and makes a breathy noise of awe.
"Bling-bling," explains my wife.
We bundle her up to go home while she gnaws on a rice-cake. We interrupt the fawning scrum around her to work our way to the door. "Bye-bye, Ingrid!" everyone is yelling. We part amidst earnest offers to keep Ingrid for an afternoon, a day, a weekend...
"You know, it's funny," I say to my wife as we carry the car-seat between us down the porch steps. "The way everyone thinks people feel about their kids, people actually do feel about ours. It's bizarre. We scored a Hollywood baby, right out of the movies."
"That's because she's the most perfect little girl in the world," says my wife, tipsy on babylove and sparkling wine.
Ingrid cranes her head up to look around. She catches sight of the gaggle of guests at my mother's door, and smiles. "Bye-bye," she says, clear as a bell, waving her rice-cake in the air. Her voice is high, breathy and soft-edged. "Bye-bye!" Ingrid calls.
And I melt. She speaks, unprompted. She's looking around, and she's following along. She is a person.
And so we conclude these trimester reports with the sixth. No longer an infant, Ingrid is on the cusp of becoming a walking, talking toddler. She is barely a baby now -- she is a little girl. From conception to birth to barrettes, in a breeze eighteen months long. I join a billion others in chanting the stunned motto of every parent and witness to the process since time immemorial: it all happens so fast!
I fondly remember her goat-noise ("B'huh-huh!") which seemed for so long to be her sole expression -- but now I look back and realise that it couldn't have been more than six brief weeks. It seems like only yesterday I was calling her "Boss Hogg" as she first filled with fat, and now all of sudden I'm calling her "Colonel Standers" as she stands unsupported and squeals in triumph, clapping her hands. Yesterday, she took her first step unassisted. Next thing I know I'll be packing lunch for school. This is a new kind of time, and it is more slippery than the old sort. Months squirt by, and years blur.
And one day many such blurry years away from the time I write, Ingrid will read these reports for herself, reliving the haziest chapter of her life through the eyes of her younger and dumber dad, and I wonder what she will think.
What do you think, Ingrid?