Thursday, February 6, 2014

35 Month Update: State of the Eli Address

It's funny: it used to confuse me when people referred to their children's ages in months (after the kids' first birthdays, of course). However, Eli's not quite 3, and saying that he's two and a half makes me think 2 years, 6 months. There's a HUGE difference between Eli now and Eli 5 months ago. His charming personality and sweet smile are the same, but developmentally, he is miles away from where he was in October.


Eli is still speaking in paragraphs. And he talks NON-STOP most of the time. He surprises people when he speaks, because he looks (and is!) so young. From the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night, he talks and sings.  He uses correct grammar most of the time, and normally speaks in complete sentences. Yesterday, when we went to pick up Patrick from school, Eli walked straight up to a stranger and said, "Excuse me, where's my daddy?"  This was completely unprompted, and is very typical of Eli. In a restaurant, he will order exactly what he wants (after he has talked about it with us) from the waiter/waitress; he is fairly outgoing/confident and will sometimes stop complete strangers to ask questions or to try to sing them a song. In the grocery store, while I am shopping, Eli has been known to ask people if they want to hear a song - and then sing one for them (whether they walk away or not). Favorites to sing are the "gummy bear" song, the "Turkey Dinner" song (he learned this one at school), "Sadie Hawkins Dance" (by Relient K), "I Want a Mac, Daddy" (Toby Mac), Three Bears (this is a Korean folk song) and San Toki (another Korean folk song). The funny part is that when Eli's paying attention, he can actually carry a tune and has good pitch memory! Eli also loves, loves, loves to talk on the phone to our friends and family. All of this talking/practicing means that Eli has a great vocabulary and is very easy to understand. Luckily, this ability to express himself tends to help us quite a bit when he becomes frustrated or emotional. Eli has a great understanding of polite language as well, and often uses "please", "thank you", etc. On a few occasions when he's expressed being angry/upset, it's been nice to say "Will you repeat that in a nicer way?" and have him respond. This is a FAR cry from a year and a half ago, when our pediatrician thought that Eli might have some language delays.


Eli absolutely LOVES going to the movies with his Grandma/Grandpa; he recently went with them to see "Nut Job" and they treated him to dinner as well. He is still talking about it : ). Eli is also still loving to read, though his interest in books truly waxes and wanes. We follow his lead on what he wants to learn and how much he is ready to learn. Right now, he is enjoying re-reading familiar, favorite books, and practicing words he knows. He thoroughly enjoys spelling, and still frequently asks how to spell words, though he is mostly content with practicing spelling words he already knows (like zoo, cat, Eli, no, bed...). He really likes to get on the computer and type words he knows : ). Eli spent the last couple of months obsessively completing puzzles. For a while, he wanted to play only with his puzzles, and he completed some of them over and over (and then dumping several together, mixing the pieces, and completing them again). This is another interest that waxes and wanes, and I don't think he's touched a puzzle in over two weeks. Right now, Eli has wanted to color, paint, and play with his art supplies. He has a stamp kit that he loves, and he spent a lot of time stamping animals yesterday. He has asked to color or paint on a daily basis lately; we have a set of "twisty" crayons that he really enjoys. They are the same size as a standard pencil, and the crayon "lead" twists out of the pencil. They are much easier than color pencils (which he also enjoys), but not as chunky as regular crayons. He's been really learning to paint with a paintbrush, and use soft modeling clay. He was very proud of his painting yesterday, especially since he painted a circle without help. Eli has spent a lot of time lately on his roller skates; he skates around the living room and kitchen almost nightly. He can get his adjustable skates off/on by himself, and I think he likes how tall they make him. Finally, he really enjoys trips to the store, to go shopping for himself or others. We were  in Old Navy recently, looking for new pants for him, and he say a large display of graphic tees. I showed him how to find his size, and let him search through the shirts to find 2 that he liked enough for me to buy. He eventually settled on a Pluto shirt (Disney) and a Snoopy shirt. The next day, we were looking to replace his worn out shoes, and Eli picked his own shoes out at the store. We'd found a few pair for him to try on, and found two pair that fit. Eli chose one of them; and I asked him if he was sure these were the shoes he wanted. He said "I like these better than the brown, and these light up. I want to wear them and show my friends at school." Eli also adores cooking; he also loves to eat. Eli is a very adventurous eater, and I have often been quoted as saying that he'll eat anything that doesn't outrun him. Some of his favorites are onions, squash (especially spaghetti squash), okra, cucumbers, and avocado. He loves pork, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, and other shellfish. Not many kids will willingly eat sardines with a side of broccoli or brussel spouts...but Eli definitely would.

 Eli really, really enjoys cooking. He loves to watch, he enjoys helping to stir ingredients or roll out dough with a fondant roller, and he enjoys measuring and pouring ingredients. Tonight we made homemade mini-pizzas (he actually helped me roll out the pizza dough yesterday). I chopped and put ingredients into small bowls for us to help ourselves, and Eli really liked spooning the sauce and putting toppings on his pizzas. We even made dessert pizzas with chocolate sauce, coconut, almonds, and pineapple pieces. Eli has begun to understand that we follow steps to cook our food, and that we don't just randomly throw ingredients in a pan. He has really learned the words "first," "next," and "last" by cooking with me and asking questions about what I'm (or we're) doing.  When he has an unfamiliar task to do, he likes to ask, "Oma, what do I do first?".

More gains:
Eli's memory has continued to develop, and it still startles us when he brings up events from weeks ago. Earlier this evening, we were eating dinner, when Eli brought up an episode of Batman that he'd seen at least 3 weeks ago. He was able to remember the basic story and the characters in that particular episode. His question about the show was when he'd seen it. While Eli understands that "today" is current, "tomorrow" is future and "yesterday" has happened already, he doesn't understand the difference between time constraints like "yesterday," "a few days ago" or "last week." He absorbs information at an incredible rate, though, and seemingly recalls it with no trouble. He has also become very good at sequencing events (like knowing the order/schedule for the day, or knowing the order of events for getting ready in the morning), and following multi-step directions. Eli also now knows many of his written numbers and has memorized the track numbers to the songs on his favorite CDs. He often will tell us which track # of a CD he would like to hear when we are in the car. So, we hear, "Oma, play number 3 on my Korean CD, please" or "Appa, play number 8 on my Bob n Larry CD, please." Eli has been a great counter for a while now, but really hasn't been interested in counting past twenty objects. However, he has great number sense and can tell us  how a count of objects will change if we add one or two more objects or take away an object (or two). The fun part is that he is now learning that a bill with a 5 on it is worth five bills with a 1 on them. He hasn't quite gotten it figured out, but he does know that they are not equal. Eli has also begun to really love some board games, like Don't Break the Ice, Candy Land, and Hi-Ho Cherry-O. He has gotten great at taking turns and is really learning to follow game rules. We are hoping to try Chutes and Ladders or Perfection next.

Eli seems to feel a strong need to feel in control and responsible, and chores are one way we try to let him. Eli is also doing exceptionally well with chores. He's always so interested in what grown-ups are doing, that I like to give him jobs that are either helpful or that mimic what we're doing. For example, Eli has always enjoyed feeding the dogs, and can now do so independently. We are still helping him close the door of one of the dog crates and turning on the pantry light for him, but that's it. Eli gets very hurt/offended if we try to help him, which tends to set off massive tantrums. He also likes to help sort laundry, check the mailbox (with supervision, of course), get himself dressed/ready in the morning (except for smoothing down his cow-licked hair and brushing his teeth; he cannot do either of these independently), and keep his room tidy (with help). Tonight, I decided to extend his chores to include setting the table (since he is now big enough to reach it), pouring water into our cups for dinner (using a plastic pitcher; he loves anything that involves water), and helping to clear the table/wipe it down after dinner with a damp washcloth. I am trying to pick chores that I know he can do, and that I think he will enjoy. I know he liked the fact that he got to wipe the table while I wiped the counter. This simple action was helpful and it was enjoyable to see Eli take pride in what he was doing.

 Not all is sun-and-roses, though. Eli has made some great strides (and some downright amazing ones), but he really is struggling with a few things, too. First, we are seeing more tantrums/crying spells, as I've mentioned in previous posts. Sometimes, this is for no apparent reason, but a few things have helped. The first is making sure he's had enough sleep (which doesn't always happen, see below). The next is to use timers when we are getting close to changing activities (an oven timer to tell when it's time for dinner, a bedtime-timer set 3 minutes before bed to let him know when he has only 3 more minutes to play, etc). Another is to make sure we especially make time for cuddling and spending time in close proximity. BUT - the best way we have to prevent Eli from getting upset is preparation for change. We go through our schedule/sequence of events at different parts of the day, reminding him what comes next. For example, reminding him know that he has play time, then we cook dinner, clean up, etc., seems to help him. Eli really doesn't seem to mind changes in routine, as long as we tell him ahead of time that we are going to do something different. Tonight, for example, I let him know that we are going to go to the market tomorrow (on a different day/time than usual) and asked him to think about what foods he would like to eat next week. This generally goes over pretty well. From what I've read, routine/order isn't just nice for toddlers/preschoolers - for many of them it's an actual need. Letting him know of changes ahead of time (when possible) isn't just a comfort, though - it's also a courtesy. I liken it to letting my boss know if I'm going to be late to work...the "heads-up" shares helpful information and gives the other person time to adapt to the change.  When we have truly unexpected changes, Eli handles them well about 50% of the time. Tonight, I think he expected to have time to spend with his Grandpa; when that didn't happen (because we didn't know that Grandpa needed to go to Great-Grandma's house to help her), Eli fell to pieces and threw one of the louder tantrums we've seen/heard. Eli also, as I said earlier, really seems to want to have a little more control/responsibility. Allowing him to participate more with what we do around the house seems to make him happier than playing near me while I am working on something. Finally, limiting any TV during the week to shows that are very low-key and are not animated seems to help (we tend to rotate through various shows/channels through the week, but Gilligan's Island, DIY network,  and Call of the Wildman are some week-day favorites). We generally do a family movie on Friday (as I mentioned before, Eli adores movies) and save favorite cartoons for Saturday morning or for after church Sunday. But I've found that cartoons in the evening tend to wind Eli up and overstimulate him (an occasional treat of 10 minutes of cartoons in the morning before school, though, is AWESOME when he's ready for school before me!).

That bring me to our other struggle: sleep. It's no secret that Eli struggled with sleep issues when we first got home from Korea. And it was really rough. It took several months to get him down to only one wake up in the middle of the night. However, around mid-April or early May of last year, he finally began to sleep through the night with few nightmares or wakings. While we did have bumps in the road after that (including a couple weeks of rough/no sleep when we lost a dear friend of our family), Eli's sleep has improved dramatically. He does go to bed fairly cheerfully most nights, but lately has been waking up with nightmares again (we'd been nightmare/night terror/sleep walking free for several months). For the last few nights, he's had nightmares at night and comes into our room afterward to go back to sleep. Hopefully, this will improve and get back on track soon; he is so much happier when he's well-rested, but nightmares are hard for us to predict and plan for.

All-in-all, we are moving in the right direction : ). I can't believe we've been home now for a year and a half!  Patrick and I feel extremely lucky and blessed to be Eli's parents.

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