A few weeks ago, I wrote about Ellie, and now it's Stephanie's turn. I've found it hard not to oversimplify Stephanie's update. Words like "joy", "sunshine", "happy", and "imp" spring to mind immediately, because they describe her so well. I could leave it at that, and it would be honest and complete, but more detail is in order, especially since today is her second birthday.
Baby Stephanie Grace was born at home in The Hague two years ago. I always bring this up because her start could not have been more perfect (or more different from Ellie's). We had planned the home birth, and Markus and I labored together until it was time to call the midwife and the kraamzorg (the nurse who cares for mom and baby at home and also assists the midwife with homebirth). They turned up not long before it was time to push, and then Stephanie was there! The overhead light was off, candles and a small lamp were on for peaceful light, and the midwife just gave her to us to enjoy for a long while, saying she'd weigh the same in an hour or so and there was no need to rush it. No bright lights, no whisking baby away from mama to be rubbed down and weighed and poked and prodded and otherwise harassed by strange hands. Just baby on Mama's chest, snuggled close and warm and peaceful. She has been happy (and firmly attached to Mama) ever since. Early on, we dubbed her "Mama's koala", and she still lives up to that nickname. She now repeats it back, and I'm desperate to get a recording of her saying it in her little voice before she grows any more. Baby Stephanie has a variety of other nicknames too. For most of her first year, she was "Baby Stephanie Grace", and then "Baby Stephanie", which she still is no matter what people say about her turning two and not being a baby any more (she's MY baby!). Most recently, she's "stinkerschen" or "stinker" or "bubilein" or "bubzi" or some variation thereof. When she's tired, she is a hair twirler (has been since birth), so she is often a "twirly girly" too.
Stephanie recently transitioned from crib to mattress on floor, and then big bed. She's still in the extension because she is a light sleeper, so her room has a bit of an institutional feel. Sigh. She doesn't mind! She loves her newfound proximity to a light switch, and she often entertains herself turning it on and off for a long while before falling asleep (often with the light still on). You know when she's awake, not because she fusses or cries, but because she makes non-specific shouting noises, kind of like little loud announcements in short, intermittent bursts. It's pretty funny, actually.
While Ellie is a logic girl, Stephanie is all about feelings. She made her first joke at seven months (repeatedly spitting her drink into the air because the first time made Markus laugh so hard). She laughed out loud at something Ellie was doing around the same time most baby books say baby's smiles might be more than just gas. She is very in tune with people's feelings, and she loves to make people happy. She performs for those she loves. "Watch this everybody!" is her most frequent cry, usually before she does anything from jumping on the trampoline to running like a monkey down the hallway to spinning in a circle. She has an incredibly impish nature and loves good-natured mischief. She will usually ask before doing anything particularly impish, or she will cast a sneaky smile over her shoulder and make sure she has your attention first. Her bright blue eyes sparkle and then there's that smile, and it's just about impossible to get upset with her over anything.
It's not an exaggeration to say that she is typically happy from the moment she wakes up until she goes to bed again at night. We often wonder how much of it has to do with her good start. Markus and I often feel that we don't play with her enough, because we enjoy watching her so much. She is remarkably at ease playing on her own. Once she becomes engrossed with an activity, she can sit quite quietly for long periods, peacefully working away.
I recently put her crib mattress on the floor in a corner of Ellie's room, and if you haven't heard from her in a while, chances are she's sitting there, looking at books. Stephanie loves books and stories, though she doesn't have much patience for reading them start to finish; she has her own way and pace. She really enjoys her Duplo Lego and playing with water, and she is almost always accompanied by several "friends". These friends almost always include Zuzu and Heidi (dolls she received her first Christmas) and lately lots of Schleich animals. Oh, the animal obsession! In the past week, she's taken to carrying around several Schleich farm animals in one of my old purses. They go everywhere. She received four new ones (mouse, squirrel, dolphin and whale) for her birthday, and she was one happy cookie! Of course, she's pretty much happy anywhere doing anything. Case in point, our recent IKEA trip:
One of the first things most people comment on is her language. Stephanie is a big talker, and she has a marvelous vocabulary. She uses complete sentences and often talks at length about something on her mind. She also listens to other people converse and chimes in most unexpectedly, a good reminder for us always to be mindful of what we say. She picks up many habits from Ellie, including the tendency to continually repeat what she is saying until someone echoes it back. If she addresses you, you must respond, "Yes, Stephanie?" or she might just keep asking ("Mama? Mama? Mama?..."). If she wants you to watch her, you must affirm this verbally ("I'm watching") even if you are clearly doing so visually. Stephanie really seems to enjoy the give and take of conversation.
In stark contrast to all of this, Stephanie is incredibly wary of strangers...for which we are quite thankful. She does not want to be touched by strangers or approached without invitation. She hides behind me or (more usually) wants to be held close when she notices someone watching her. Her good nature attracts a lot of attention, but she turns it off like a switch and closes down when a stranger is near (you will see her go from laughing to no expression and averting her eyes or looking straight down to hide her face). She is such a joy all the time that we are happy for her to close down like that and send a clear message to strangers. As long as attention isn't too personal, she is very polite and has exceptional manners for a child her age. She almost always remembers to say "thank you" without prompting, and she even says "excuse me" before interrupting adult conversation. Once a person becomes very familiar to her, she is thrilled to see them and asks after them when absent. She absolutely adores our friends across the road. She asks about them individually almost every night at bedtime. She calls them on her play phone. No matter who she's calling, her phone calls almost invariably end with "Good-bye! I love you! Thanks!"
We don't have many photos of Stephanie from this summer that we can share online, because she was almost always sans clothing. She embraces nudism with wide open arms. Her dolls are never clothed. Even her crayons have been stripped of their papers. Ellie has tried in vain to restore order and dress Stephanie's dolls, but it never lasts once Stephanie finds them. The nickname I forgot in the list above is "Nackedei" [nak-uh-di], a diminutive German word for a naked person. In our house, a person's bottom is called a "po-po", so Stephanie is also the "Nackepopo." (If she catches one of us coming out of the shower, she will reach up and pat our bottoms, chanting "Nackepopo!") Watching Stephanie run around happy as a clam in her birthday suit, we are thankful we were able to move to Perth, where the sun usually shines and she can be as free as she likes to be in great weather for so much of the year.
Stephanie loves animals, especially doggies. Oh, if we could get her a dog! She would truly be the happiest baby around! She is gentle and careful with dogs, and she knows to offer them the back of her hand to sniff before trying to pet them. She is also very sweet and nurturing with her stuffed animals or even pictures of baby animals. She will cuddle them close and coo over them. Sometimes, her eyes will well up a little as she tells us how much she wants to hold them in her hands. She is such a tender, thoughtful little soul.