18 Months: Toddling, Thinking, Talking, and Treatment

Today, Julia is 18 months old. Coincidentally, it is also Father’s Day—my second as a father, and a great time for me to appreciate that fact as Courtney and I enjoy our delightful and fascinating daughter.

Over the last five months, Julia has begun developing more confidence in movement, new cognitive abilities, and lots of new language skills. She’s got a bit more hair, although not quite enough for us to do typical girly things with yet. She engages in a variety of playtime activities, loves books and music, and has a memory that constantly amazes us. Her day-to-day changes have felt minor, but a side-by-side comparison is remarkable.

Toddling

She progressed from timid walking to the toddler’s clompy version of a run, and she wants to climb everything (which my parents frequently point out to be a genetic trait inherited from her dad). She climbs onto the couch, dining chairs, stools, the fence around the deck, the rocking chair in her room, her Bumbo, and her high chair. This can be a bit unnerving, but we try to let her do everything except what would be inherently unsafe no matter how old she is. I’d much rather let her learn while we’re watching and ready to catch.

She has begun carefully navigating low steps without help, which shows improved balance. Only a few days ago, she repeatedly sat down on a box and then stood again by shifting her center of gravity forward enough to stand—also forward enough to fall over without correctly standing, but she got it every time without help. It’s gratifying to watch her learn the little skills that adults take for granted.

Also, I’ve had the fatherly pleasure of getting to play a little rougher during the evenings, tossing her onto couch pillows or rolling around on the rug with less fear of breaking her tiny self. She giggles and laughs like crazy and says “Again!” until I eventually give up, so I know we’re in agreement about what constitutes “fun.” I will treasure that kind of play forever, and I hope she will, too.

Thinking

More than three months ago, I ran some errands that included getting a haircut and picking up a new pair of glasses. When I returned and walked into the kitchen, Julia popped her head up from where she sat on the couch 20 feet away and stared me quietly for five seconds or so. Then, she made her “surprised” face with a baby gasp, and said “Gwasses!” At 15 months old. (She didn’t say anything about the haircut, but I’m not complaining.)

It’s abundantly clear that Julia is making great progress in her brainy bits. She is intensely curious, studying every new thing or person that comes her way. She also remembers events and details to a surprising degree, and obviously recalls them regularly. She correctly identifies a few abstract thoughts and emotions like “sad,” “happy,” and “funny,” and uses those words (and ridiculously adorable facial expressions) to communicate those ideas to Courtney and me.

She remembers what we’ve told her not to do, and almost always refrains from doing it or stops with a quick word or motion from either Courtney or me. Or, she’ll start to do whatever we’ve told her not to (such as reach for an outlet or open a cabinet), then repeat our “No no!” command and pull back. It’s pretty entertaining.

I wonder sometimes whether she has started to dream coherently at night, too. When I wake her in the morning (or she wakes by herself), she usually starts jabbering about random things that she has no apparent reason to think of based on the objects visible from her crib. Who knows? It will probably be a while before she understands what a dream is well enough to tell us about hers.

Talking

Julia’s language skills have continued to grow. Her vocabulary is bigger, her pronunciation is great except for the “L” sound, and she will repeat almost any single word we ask. If she wants something, she can often tell us what it is, and she can always tell us what it isn’t. She’s good at saying “no” as the answer to a question, but she thankfully hasn’t got to the point of using it to defy a command (much, anyway).

One of the funniest aspects of her speech and developing personality is that almost everything she says comes out as an enthusiastic squeal, because she really is just that excited about telling people stuff. Also, she doesn’t only talk to people; she will literally tell anything to anything else if she’s excited about it. The examples below illustrate some of this. (You may notice that all of the words and phrases below end with exclamation points. This is entirely accurate.)

“Wift! Pet!” —Since I exposed her to my recently acquired Oculus Rift VR headset and the Ocean Rift experience, she frequently wants to get back into the environment and pet the manatees (which *cough* feel surprising like daddy’s arm and sometimes nibble her toes). Even though I have to hold the headset for her, she seems to love using it. Every time she enters that fascinating world, she lasts longer before pushing out from under it with a decisive “Ah done!”

“Biwd a wight!” —one of my proudest shared accomplishments so far: she likes to sit on my desk and help as only an 18-month-old can as we build a light. First, we put an RGB LED, resistor, and two jumper wires on a small solderless breadboard. Then, we connect two alligator clips (complete with “Om nom nom!” motions) to the wires and turn on the power supply. Ah, young engineers! We inevitably follow this process with making our hands glow different colors by cupping them around the lit LED.

“Daddy! Happened!” —the precursor to an explanation about something that happened, usually followed by “Bonk!” or “Pinched!” or “Tripped!” or “Ouchie! Head!” She loves to recall and relate things that happened to her.

“Bayah button!” —finding her belly button, or that of a stuffed animal or doll. For some reason, she’s fascinated with belly buttons.

“Daddy do it!” —asking me to do something either for her (helping) or instead of her (copying or demonstrating). Corollary: “By sewf!”

“Outside!” —her oft-repeated request to leave the house, whether to swing, get the mail, climb on the patio table, or mow the lawn. Her love for the outdoors continues to confound her mosquito-hating programmer of a father.

“Back seat!” or “Panjer seat!” —asking for us to let her climb into the back seat or the passenger seat. She’s also learning to include “Civic” or “Fusion” in her request.

“Moon! Airpwane! Cwouds!” —telling the moon about the airplane and the clouds, or telling the airplane about the moon and the clouds, depending on context. She really needs to decide on prefix, infix, or postfix notation when it comes to sentence structure.

“Rock! Airpwane, uhver one!” —telling the rock in her hand about the second (or third or fourth) airplane she’s seen flying overhead.

Courtney suspects that many babies have this type of excited interest in everything, but most just haven’t developed the means to relate it to anyone yet. That seems plausible to me, though I have no real idea. Regardless, her enthusiasm is entertaining and infectious.

Just today, on the way to a Father’s Day family gathering, I had a Tom Woods Show episode playing in the car, and the Constitution came up. Julia caught this and said “Constitution! Wead it!” Now, lest you think she’s been indoctrinated with Tea Party talking points: she had recently pulled the pocket Constitution off the shelf in our bedroom, after which Courtney told her what it was, and she asked to read it because that’s her default reaction to any book or book-like thing. (They got through the Preamble before she got distracted.) Her statement in the car was due to recalling that event with Courtney, not urging people to read the Constitution. Even so—wow! Moments later, we got her to say “nullification,” which is perhaps a more important political tool to become familiar with early in life…

Treatment

We’re nine months into Julia’s treatment for LCH, with a little less than three months to go if all goes well. Her last check-up MRI at the beginning of March brought very good news: all of the (few) lesions in her skull have continued to shrink, and the radiologists noted that many of the lesions in her spine, some of which looked like fractures, appear to be healed. By all accounts, she is responding very well. She has another check-up MRI scheduled for the 27th of June, a little over a week from now.

As Julia has grown, the doses of Vinblastine and Prednisone have increased slightly to match her age and size. During her more recent tri-weekly chemo appointments, we’ve noticed more pronounced side-effects from the drugs: less desire to eat normal food, more difficulty sleeping through the night, more attachment to mommy, and heightened sensitivity during the “on” weeks. On the other hand, some of these symptoms also reportedly occur in most babies around this time as a result of brain development and new teeth, among other things. Julia’s behavior is close enough to the norm that we can still gratefully call her reaction to the LCH treatments “minor.” She’s doing remarkably well.

At the same time, we have had some medical challenges. Due to the heightened consequences of an infection with an internal port, doctor’s orders are that she absolutely must have a blood test (counts and cultures) anytime she has a persistent fever over a certain threshold. With a teething baby, fevers are relatively common. Since January, we’ve had to go to her regular clinic once and the ER three times as a result, most recently this past Friday. Two of the ER visits happened to be during a brief trip to California in February for the Gallifrey One Doctor Who convention. Go figure. Fortunately, she passed every test with flying colors, never showing any signs of infection or other risky symptoms beyond being too hot for her own good.

For now, we are continuing to enjoy every moment with Julia, and hopeful about what the next few months of treatment will bring. We’ll keep looking for new ways to pique her curiosity, and maybe I’ll find some time to finally go through the last nine months’ worth of baby pictures and get them online.