At the start of 2016 I was a full-time stay-at-home dad. When I had errands to run, I strapped the kid to my chest and walked or got on the bus. He was curious and observant, but couldn’t express himself very much. What little vocabulary he had was limited to nouns in rudimentary Japanese or pseudo-Japanese baby talk. He had clearly mastered some aspects of abstract thought and had an okay memory, but didn’t have many practical uses for these tools. He had a decent set of teeth, could climb up and down stairs, and could walk around and engage in some rudimentary climbing and exploration. He liked vehicles, dogs and cats, and picking holly berries off of the decorative bushes that surround our apartment complex.
It’s only to be expected for a toddler, but there have been dramatic changes in every area. On the external side of things, the two biggest were probably getting the kid into daycare and getting a bike seat for him. Where before daycare I had had at most a couple hours of uninterrupted time during his nap and again in the evening – and spent a significant portion of that time on chores – suddenly I had the whole middle of the day open. And where before I was almost his sole source of human interaction, suddenly he was spending hours each weekday in a roomful of other kids. And after we got a bike seat, we suddenly had a new activity to do together and expanded travel options. (And it was a good thing, too, because he had outgrown the carrier I’d been wearing.)
Going to daycare had a huge effect on his communication, of course. He picked up loads of English – random phrases at first, like “Oh my gosh!” Then he started assembling random words and snippets of grammar into his own private pidgin. At this point, he’s clearly got a lot of gaps, but he’s essentially speaking in sentences.
One of the most interesting “gaps” is that he doesn’t seem to have really caught on to what “me” means yet. He says it often enough in English, and he seems to have intuited that it has to do with an action being performed, but that’s all. He used to use it in an almost emphatic way, for example “[Name] fart me” to simply express that someone has farted. But now he’ll make a request like “Give me that,” followed by his own name. Since he says his name [a very common first-person usage for Japanese-speaking children], it implies that he doesn’t yet understand that “me” also refers to the self.
What with daycare, holiday visits with my parents, and other exposure, his English has been developing by leaps and bounds – this despite the fact that I’ve been using almost exclusively Japanese with him for over a year. Nobody else in my family speaks any Japanese at all, and he seems to have caught on to that – he uses English preferentially around them, even with me, unless I’m making a point of prompting him repeatedly until he speaks Japanese. (I’m not sure this is the best tactic, but I do want to make sure he understand that I expect him to speak Japanese with me when possible. Otherwise there’s just too much danger that he’ll end up half-bilingual, able to understand Japanese but hesitant when it comes to speaking.)
That’s not to say that his Japanese isn’t improving as well. He’s acquired a lot of verbs recently, and has even picked up the “te form” used in most imperative structures. (Which may say something about how often I’m telling him to do things… and/or how often I’m guiding him through full-sentence requests when he wants something from me.) He’s even picked up the emphatic sentence-final particle zo recently. This is a strongly informal, relatively masculine emphatic particle – a kind of spoken exclamation point – and hearing a two-year-old break it out (with correct usage, no less!) is cute and hilarious.
Perhaps his most significant advance in abstract thought is grasping conditionals and orders of events. He understands when I tell him that one action or event (such as watching a train video or eating a snack) must follow another (such as getting his diaper changed or drinking some water). He also has a very long memory: he’ll refer to events from many weeks previous. For example, we visited my parents over the Thanksgiving break, and for a couple weeks after we went home he would comment on how his grandpa wasn’t there with us.
He still likes vehicles, and watches train videos on a daily basis if we let him – including branching out into videos about toy train sets and Thomas the Tank Engine. And he still likes animals, although his interests have expanded to include rabbits, fish, snakes, and others. He still likes picking berries, and fortunately he’s also good enough that he listens and obeys when I tell him they’re not to be eaten by humans. But he’s also added interests. He likes the music of OK Go and the Muppets. He likes specific books, and even specific stories from certain books (like the Frog and Toad story about cookies and willpower). He likes certain shirts, and prefers to wear them when possible. He likes dried fruits and pomegranate seeds. He likes insects, especially praying mantises. He likes to run and jump. He likes to line things up:
He likes his train set, but by far his favorite thing to do with it is build bridges. Not just standard bridges, either: he builds delicate, sophisticated concatenations with long pieces held suspended in midair by nothing but tension and balance. And his preferred use for his blocks is to build “tunnels” over the railway.
It’s not all cuddles and sunshine, of course. He’ll get upset when things don’t go his way. He’ll try to hit people or things when he’s angry (a habit I can’t help suspect was picked up, or at least strengthened, at daycare). He’ll get loud and opinionated. He finds it amusing to spit. He’ll just sort of randomly bite you sometimes, even when he’s not mad at all. He’ll deliberately test boundaries. Sometimes he requires a lot of coaxing, distraction, comfort, or other tools before he’ll accept certain realities or do what we’ve asked him to do. In short, he’s two, and he’s got about the level of emotional maturity you’d expect from a two-year-old.
But overall he’s an amazing kid. 2016 was a crappy year in a lot of ways. And on top of that, the biggest things that made 2016 feel crappy were developments that made it clear worse was coming, so overall I don’t have high hopes for 2017 being enjoyable… I’ll settle for endurable. But one thing I am looking forward to is seeing how the kid develops. And I’ll try to make a point of posting about it more regularly here, especially when something seems to offer broader insight into how people work. 今年も宜しくお願いします!