The Girl loves tiny people. Happyland, Playmobil, Duplo, Fischer Price – she’s not picky. She loves clutching them in her hand and wandering around with them, making them talk to each other, putting them in little cars.


The thing that really tickles me is that she calls them “Mannies”. I think this is her interpretation of the Dutch word mannetjes, which means “little men”.

She’ll walk a tiny Happyland pirate up the stairs, warning him: “Tareful, Mannie!”

Mannie climb

Mannies love climbing. They spend all day going up and down the bookcase, exploring the window sill or the back of the sofa and hopping up on kitchen counters.

mannie bookcase

Mannies are often sad, but thankfully the other Mannies are empathetic and supportive. “Waaa, waaaa. Oh, Mannie cry! What matter, Mannie?”


Mannies don’t always behave as the Girl would wish them to. This one did not want to have a suitcase attached to his head, much to her annoyance.

Mannies get chased by dinosaurs, then make friends with them and go for rides on their back. When asked if they feel like watching TV, a Mannie will always say yes.

Mannies are ubiquitous, male or female, and do not need to be made of plastic.

Oh!” says the Girl, pointing out of the car window at a window cleaner walking by. “Mannie ladder! Haha, funny Mannie.”


Mannie walking

Mannie walking

Mannies skating

Mannies skating

Mannies bicycle

Mannies cycling



Just a little bit more

A day later than normal, but this is the last of my Nininand Triptych. First I looked at the influence of Dutch culture visible in my children’s lives and then there was basically some pic spam of stuff we’d done. Now it is time for a language update.

Just as much as the photographs in my last post, the new words and phrases the Toddler has picked up during our visit tell the story of what we have done and what we have seen.

Meal times

Mag je van tafel, oma? [May you get down from the table, Oma?]

The Toddler has been practising being polite in Dutch, and prefacing his requests for things with “Can I have-” instead of “Want a-“. Unfortunately, his version has become victim to a little hypercorrection. He knows that I refer to myself as “I” and that if he wants to refer to me he should say “you”. So when I model the right phrase: “May I have some juice, please?”, the Toddler will dutifully morph it into “May you have some juice, please?” All his questions at the table have now become “May you” instead of “May I”.

He has learned new words for things-to-put-on-bread, as this is the Dutch staple for both breakfast and lunch. He can ask for leverworst [liverwurst] and hagelslag [chocolate sprinkles, yes we eat those on bread at ordinary mealtimes], in addition to ham and kaas [cheese], which he already knew about. He will also gleefully trot ahead of opa delivering me a kopje thee, mama! [cup of tea, Mummy!]. He knows little snacks come in a bakje [bowl] and that what he needs to do with his chair is schuiven [shunt/move] to get it closer to the table.

Daily life with Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma’s house is very tall and has three floors, so we are keeping quite fit climbing up and down many flights of stairs many times a day. The stairs are quite steep, so each trip involves a lot of Toddler-managing, persuading him to hold on to the handrail. Self-regulating chap that he is, he now does the pep talk himself and descends while keeping up a constant commentary: “Leuning, vasthouden leuning, dit leuning, dit balustrade” [Handrail, hold on to handrail, this hand rail, that bannister].

He loves having Opa and Oma around, and keeps constant tabs on them. Wat ben je aan het doen? [What are you doing?] is what he wants to know all the time. If one or the other disappears, he wants to know where they are. Telling him they are at work will produce a sage nod: Opa werk. Oma werk. However, five minutes later he will want to know where they are again, as he thinks that was quite enough work.

A bit more milk

A bit more milk

The Toddler’s English is full of little phrases he has borrowed from his Gran, such as “goodness me!” and “That’s a clever trick!” and “not again!”. It has been lovely to see the things my parents say creep into his Dutch over the past week or so. My parents made up a little song about my Dad (Opa, to the Toddler), which we have sung a lot while we were here, my Dad improvising new verses as the mood took him. This has led to the Toddler randomly coming out with “gekke vent!” [silly guy!], a phrase Opa uses to refer to himself in the song. The Toddler also seems to have noticed how Oma frequently nudging Opa for a little refill of tea or wine (depending on the time of day) and has started to do the same. He now holds out his milk beaker to me and asks me with a charming smile: “Beetje meer, mama?” [little bit more]

Little sisters are fun

The Toddler has been having great fun playing with his sister of late. We’ve been rolling a ball back and forth with the Baby. When she catches the ball, she lifts it up and starts gnawing on it, causing great hilarity and “Nee, niet om op te eten!” [No, not for eating!] Her brother has also been recreating her kinderstoel (high chair) for her out of cushions (one behind her back and one on her lap).

He loves the fact that she is trying to crawl, and he will merrily demonstrate for her (or just for me) giggling: “probeert te kruipen” [trying to crawl]. When her efforts fail he lets me know: “viel om!” [fell over] and usually also “baby huilt” [baby is crying]. In general, he acts as her advocate and protector, warning me when she is crying, telling me when she is lying on her front “aaaaaah baby beetje moe, baby slapen” [baby bit tired, baby sleep] and insisting that she must also wear her hood (capuchon) when it is raining, just like him, even if they’re actually sitting safe and dry in the car.

When he is feeling a bit fragile, though, he will command Oma vasthouden Baby [Oma hold baby], so that I have my arms free to hug him and carry him down the stairs.


Feeding the 'little ducks' - who are half his size.

Feeding the ‘little ducks’ – who are half his size.

Most importantly, while we have been here, the Toddler has picked up a key feature of the Dutch language: the diminutive. It is mostly formed by adding the suffix -je to the end of a noun, pronounced ‘yuh’. It basically makes something ‘little’. You may have noticed some examples earlier on. The Toddler brings me a kopje thee [little cup of tea], goes to feed the eendjes [little ducks], looks for his sokjes [little socks] and tells me we have to wait for zes minuutjes [six little minutes] until it’s dinner time. Why do the Dutch make everything ‘little’? Mainly, it is our way of softening the things we say and making them sound less harsh, less threatening. Asking someone for a cup of tea might be a bit forward. Asking them for just a little cup is more acceptable. A six minute wait till dinner is a long time for a toddler. Six little minutes, however, can be done.

The Toddler seems to have instinctively grasped this while he has been here. I can see it in his face, holding out the milk beaker. A ‘bit more’ got Oliver Twist into a lot of trouble. But a little bit more, that he might just get away with.


As you have probably gathered by now, I am Dutch. As a child, I spent some time living in Australia, where I learned to speak English fluently. I was seven years old, the first time we went, and I arrived knowing only one phrase: “I’m sorry, I’m Dutch and I don’t understand.” My parents dunked me and my brother in the language pool, straight in at the deep end, and sent us to school. In class 2A they were just starting on Charlotte’s Web in story time. I had no clue what was going on in the book, or in class for that matter. I remember this time as one of pleasant bewilderment. It was always sunny, there was a lot of playing outside, my classmates were very friendly – happy memories. But wordless memories. I have always been very language-focused and I tend to remember conversations I have had verbatim, but those first few months in Brisbane I only remember as sights and sounds, almost as if someone had pressed the mute button.

Three months later, my brother and I were fluent. We spoke English to each other at home as well, and if my parents addressed us in Dutch, we answered in English. I had slowly started to enter into Charlotte’s Web and by the end of the book I was following the story like everyone else. I still don’t know how it starts, though. I never went back to read the beginning.

Back in The Netherlands I felt pretty special that I spoke another language fluently, and probably bored my school friends to tears with my cool new skill. In secondary school, I met the person who came to be my closest friend, a girl who had quite recently moved to The Netherlands from England. We started off speaking English to each other so I could show off, then later switched to Dutch so she could improve her skills, and eventually we settled on Dinglish.

Basically, we said whichever word occurred to us first in whatever language, resulting in bizarre Dutch-English mash-ups. A typical conversation in Dinglish might switch between the two languages three or four times per sentence, sometimes in the middle of a word.

Now my son speaks it like a native. Here some prime examples, English in blue and Dutch in red.

1. “Thank you well!” he says gratefully when given an apple. That’s a mash up of “thank you” and “dank je wel”.

2. On returning to our street from the playground he likes to spot familiar cars. “Oh!” he exclaims. “Where’s papa auto gone now?” [Where’s daddy’s car gone now?]

3. We are playing a simple card game. The Toddler provides the running commentary: “Mixing. Make a stapel? I can’t go. Pakken. Mama, your beurt. Mama gewonnen!” [Mixing. Make a pile. I can’t go. Pick up. Mummy, your turn. Mummy has won!]

4. We have pulled up outside Gran’s house. “Goed gedrived, Mama,” he compliments me. [Good driving, Mummy.] This one is real top level Dinglish, as he is using Dutch grammar on an English verb.

5. I come into the Toddler’s bedroom in the morning, not wearing my glasses (‘bril’ in Dutch). “Oh no! Where’s bril? I find it bril!” he exclaims with great concern, and runs off to find my glasses.

When I wrote about his language soup before, I thought he might have sorted the two languages out by now. He is getting more and more fluent, making longer sentences and learning more phrases. I have also noticed that he increasingly distinguishes between who speaks which language: he will start a conversation with Daddy in English, but in Dutch with Opa and Oma on Skype. If he is not sure about someone he will try one of the two and switch if he gets an unsatisfactory response.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised.

We hebben gisteren met de advisor gepraat over onze mortgage,” I say to Opa and Oma on Skype. “All being well gaat hij vrijdag completen.” [We spoke to the advisor about our mortgage yesterday. All being well it should complete on Friday.]

I may have to face facts: his first language is Dinglish.

Too big, Mummy

The Toddler, although a mathematical genius, is a bit confused about opposites.

We are about to leave the house.
“Hat off, Mummy?”
“You mean you want your hat on?”
“Yes, Mummy.”

He is playing downstairs and wonders where Teddy is. He remembers he left Teddy in bed.
“Teddy beneden [downstairs], mama,” he says. “Get-it Teddy?”
“Do you mean Teddy is upstairs?
“Yes, Mummy.”

His latest confusing opposite is “too big, Mummy”.

He is playing in our new sandpit and filling his bucket with sand, tipping it over to make sandcastles. Then he wants to write numbers in the sand. We have some other moulds, and I ask him if he would like to make a crab out of sand perhaps? “No, too big Mummy,” is his reply.

What he means is: I am too little for that. What he actually means is: I’d prefer not to do that. I don’t think I can do it so I’d rather not try.

We come in from an outing and I suggest that maybe he could take his own shoes and socks off. “No, too big Mummy.”

At dinner time: “S, why don’t you have some cauliflower as well, instead of just picking out all the carrots?”
“No, too big, Mummy.”

Since his little sister arrived, he has become aware of the possibility that you might be too little to do certain things. We’d explain that the baby was too little to eat bananas, or grab things, or sing songs. Soon, he started telling us she was too little – but ironically, too little to do things that by then she was actually capable of.

Now he has started to apply this concept to himself. It seems to have given him a way of expressing insecurity, a lack of confidence – or sometimes just stubborn unwillingness to try something new. He can be a bit of a cautious boy. For about six months after a little mishap with a slide, he would climb up the steps to slides of any height with great excitement, only to peer down and decide: “No. Not.” and turn around to climb back down the steps again. He seems to have forgotten that reluctance now. But he does seem aware of his limitations, he is not one of these fearless boys who will throw themselves into new adventures regardless of the dangers and risks. He wants to try the more difficult climbing frame but insists I stay right next to him as he climbs up the first bit, then squeaks “Carry!” as he can see he is “too big” yet for the monkey bar section that comes next. I lift him over to the other side, where with great joy he zooms down the slide – something he has mastered and feels confident with. The monkey bars don’t put him off wanting to get to the slide. The difficult ladder section at the beginning doesn’t put him off, he wants to give it a go, but he wants me to stay close and coach him, help him decide where to put his hands and feet next. And I look on in amazement, because the last time I looked he had no hope of even attempting that climbing frame.

He is growing up and getting bigger all the time.

Special bed

Special bed

This week, he moved into a real bed from his cot. We were quite nervous about how he would take it. We talked about leaving the cot up in the room for a while, in case he was really upset and wanted his old bed back. There was no room, though, so we had to take it down and go cold turkey. My husband and I were both very cautious as children and very resistant to change, so our assumption is usually that our son will be the same. We prepared him that he would have a new bed that evening and billed it as a wonderful surprise. Once it was built, made up and all his toys had moved in, my husband got out his camera to record this moment – hoping that the Toddler’s reaction wouldn’t be: “No, too big, Daddy.”

It wasn’t. He rushed into his room to see his surprise and said: “Special bed!” He got straight in and wanted us to stroke his hair so he could go to sleep. Every morning now when I come up to get him, I find him sitting on the floor reading books and he greets me with: “Lekker slapen nieuw bed!” [Nice sleep new bed!]

He wasn’t too little or too big for the new bed, but just the right size.


Maybe I think you’re getting a bit too big. Don’t grow up too fast, little man.

Swearing for Toddlers

I’d like to start this post with a disclaimer. I am not usually a swear-er. I tried to get into it when I was about 10, as all the cool kids seemed to be doing it, but I could never get the words to roll off the tongue naturally, and I was quickly spotted for the fake-swearer that I was and didn’t get in with the cool kids. So I stopped, and stuck to the occasional “s***”, which in The Netherlands is a much milder swear word than it is in Britain.

Motherhood, I have found, brings out sides to you that you never knew were there. Rage, for me. I never knew I could get so angry, particularly about very minor things that, on reflection, usually turn out to be my own stupid fault rather than the Toddler’s. So it may be that, very occasionally, I may have used the F-word. To myself, or the world at large, in the kitchen. Not to my poor son, I promise.

However, I think he must have heard.

The other day he was playing with his play dough numbers and number 3 got squished. I came into the room and found him frowning at the shapeless lump in his hand that used to be his beloved number 3 and heard him say to himself: “Fik – fak – ff…” He was clearly searching for the right word for the situation, trying to remember what he had overheard.

“Fok – fox!” That was it. His face cleared up. It must have been “fox”, that made sense. Then he added his favourite expletive for good measure: “Oh bovver!”

I was killing myself laughing – and of course also very ashamed that my son had heard me use a word I thought I’d never use.

“Fox” as a swear word for toddlers really appeals to me. In fact, I propose the introduction of a whole range of animal-swear words to cover all occasions. “Sheep” can replace sh**, and “beetles” b****cks. We have been trialling the system in our house and the results are very pleasing.

“The internet is foxed again,” I grumble at my husband.

“Yup, it’s because [our internet provider] is a bit sheep,” he replies.

Now this is swearing even I can cope with. Although I think the cool kids probably still wouldn’t let me in their gang.



Whenever the Toddler picks up a new phrase, he starts experimenting with it to determine its appropriate context. A sad one we had recently – which I mentioned here – was “Goway”. He used it to get me to move aside, or to stop interfering with his projects. I tried to introduce more appropriate language for each of these situations with some success, only to be blindsided by a new use for the offending phrase. I had told the Toddler off for something – drawing on the table, pulling Fat Cat’s tail, ripping the pages of a favourite book, something like that – and made it clear that if this happened again he would go onto the Time Out chair. He sat hunched up on his toy aeroplane and summed up my speech for me: “Goway S.”

“No!” I exclaimed, “Not go away S! I love you, I don’t want you to go away. I just want you to stop [using DVDs as shoes]. That’s all.”

His latest new phrase is much more fun. It’s “Phlew!” [phew, but I’m sure you spotted that]. His use of it is original but generally accurate enough. Here are two recent examples:

1. The Baby is screaming in her bouncy chair while I run around trying to find socks, coats, shoes, snowsuits and bags to go out for the afternoon. The Toddler is keeping himself busy rearranging Story Corner with mixed results. There are books everywhere and all the cushions are scattered around the room. I come back in with his outdoor wear and announce, just barely managing to keep my cool, that it is time to go to the Children’s Centre.

“Oh phlew!” the Toddler says, abandoning his interior decorating project.

2. I am baking pancakes for lunch. In good Dutch tradition I start with savoury toppings, so I serve the Toddler a cheese pancake. Not my best effort ever, it is slightly too crisp and not cheesy enough. He picks at it half heartedly and as soon as I go back into the kitchen to bake more, he abandons his plate and gets back to playing. I come in with the second pancake and a squeezy bottle of Dutch syrup.

His face lights up. “Ah! Syrup! Phlew!”

He’d obviously been worried that the whole pancakes-for-lunch idea was going to be a wash out, but what a relief! Mummy has delivered the goods after all.

3. The kids and I have come home from a trip to the supermarket. It is 5pm – that infamous time of day when normally very charming children shatter glass with their screams and empty bookcases in disgust at dinner being tardy. My husband comes out to help get the kids and the shopping in. I gratefully leave him indoors with the children while I go out to get more bags. I come back in. The Baby is crying and the Toddler is jumping on the sofa. He jumps off and runs up to me.

“Oh phlew! Mummy back!” he says.

“He is expressing the sentiments of the entire family,” my Husband sighs.

“Phlew” now joins the ranks of the Toddler’s other favourite phrases, which include:
“Oh bovver!” – “Dear, dear” – “Goodness me!” – “I did it!” – “Come back here” – “Come and see” and “Oy!”

Occupational Hazard

Before my son was born I Entry 1 Aims Objectivestaught English to immigrants and asylum seekers at a college. I enjoyed teaching higher levels most, as it afforded me the best opportunities for language geekiness – really getting my teeth into the finer points of grammar and pronunciation, stretching the students’ vocabulary and exploring essay and story writing. My last tutor group, however, was a beginners’ group. I was very nervous at the start of the year, not sure if I would be able to do a good job or whether I’d enjoy it, but I loved it. The students were so lovely and grateful for anything you did for them and teaching-wise it was also extremely enjoyable. You see so much progress in a year with beginners. Also, absolutely anything you do with them will help improve their language and their confidence, so we went on outings to the cafe, the park, the British Museum and the local ecology centre.

What I found essential for communicating with my students and building a good rapport was what us English teachers like to call ‘grading your language’, which basically means choosing words like “trip” instead of “expedition” and trying not to use endlessly long sentences with subclauses and past perfect continuous tenses. It also helps to make eye contact and face your student when talking to them, and trying not to mumble or speak too fast. I can actually think of quite a few walks of life where we could benefit from people grading their language.

These essential skills for teaching I am now finding a bit of a hindrance in speaking to my Toddler. He is not a fifty-five year old Afghani woman who is leaving the house on her own for the first time and already has a native language interfering with the learning of English. He is at the peak of his language learning abilities. He is like a little sponge, soaking up everything he hears. He repeats anything you say to him, as if he is tasting the words. He picks things up when you weren’t even sure he was listening. He is absorbing two different languages at once and sorting them into their appropriate context without any need for formal instruction or homework. The things that will help him learn are not the things that will help a group of nervous, adult beginners.

I know this, yet out of habit I find myself grading my language. I use words that I know he has already mastered and use the same phrases in the same situations. In fact, I find myself worrying about other people ‘confusing him’ by using different expressions to me. When I want the Toddler to ask for something politely, I say: “Can you ask me nicely?” However, other people will say: “What’s the magic word?” or “What do you say?” The evidence suggests that he has absolutely no trouble recognising that all these questions require the same response, but instinctively, I feel I need to limit his language input.

The opposite is true. I need to radically re-wire myself. The Toddler needs more, not less, variety in his language input. Unlike an adult, who has already got all their concepts of the world sorted but needs to learn to map them to a new language, he is learning about life at the same time as learning to speak. Everything in the world is new to him and he wants to know how things work, what they are and how he can talk about them. He knows ‘good’, so now it’s time to learn ‘excellent’, ‘fantastic’, ‘amazing’ and ‘wonderful’. He knows you can ‘fly’ on a plane, so now he needs to know that you can ‘soar’ and ‘zoom’ and ‘lift off’ and ‘touch down’ and that birds and kites and Superman can do flying as well. Instead of limiting myself to conversational topics that can be expressed in the present tense, I should discuss the past and the future and conditionals and passives and mights and used tos.

Technically, this is still “grading your language”. I just need to grade it up, not down.

Further grammar

It has been a little while since I took stock of the Toddler’s language development and it has come on a lot since my last post. This is a snapshot of our bilingual toddler’s speech at two years and four months old.

He has been interested in who things belong to for a little while now, especially whether things are his. When we leave the house to go on an adventure – or just to the supermarket – he will start to look out for “Mummy car” and once in the car, he will wave goodbye to “S house”. When Fat Cat comes prowling along the dining table, he gets told off: “No, Pike, not table. S food.”

Very recently, though, I was excited to hear that he has started adopting “my”. The other day he would not relinquish a story book when it was bedtime and said: “No. My book.”

Aside from “my”, we also get “you”. He is handing out plastic plates to eat plastic cake off: “You plate, you plate, you plate.” Or I am handed a Duplo brick: “You present, Mummy.”

“Everyone” is also new. “Hello, eddy-wan!” he says when faced with a room full of people.

Indicative pronouns have also appeared. My favourite is “zwis” [this], as in: “No, Mummy, not zwis way anymore.”

“I” appeared for the very first time recently, but only in a phrase that he had obviously heard someone say: “I did it! Yay!”

Verbs are now usually conjugated. He is my little spy on the backseat of the car, and will report: “Mama, A. slaapt!” [the baby is sleeping]. Previously, he would have used the infinitive only, but now he correctly uses the third person singular. The verb ‘to be’ is usually left out, though: “Mama, A. wakker.” [the baby awake]

He is also working on auxiliary verbs. In fact, he has invented his own to cover most eventualities: “a”. A little like the French verb ‘avoir’, in fact. Proudly, he displays the completed Maisie mouse puzzle: “S a maakt puzzel!” [S has made puzzle!]

His most complex sentence to date, including various verb phrases, was: “S a maakt zitten billen Teddy.” [S has made sit bottom Teddy]. There are many wonderful things about this sentence, for one that although it is in Dutch, the expression ‘to make someone do something’ is English, and he has translated it. Also, it shows that “zitten billen” is an expression to him, in the way that the two words always occur together and in that order, although in Dutch you would split them and put “zitten” at the end of the sentence in this case.

At bedtime, we read two stories. The Toddler can choose which.

“Which book would you like to read?”
“Zwis one.”

We read one story and he picks number two. He clearly knows the drill, because as he opens it, he says: “Last one.”

He has been using adjectives for a little while, but they are now modified as well.

We are reading Monkey Puzzle at bedtime. Is this the monkey’s mummy? “Nooooo, issa slake [snake]! Very long, Mummy.”

Mummy has romantic notions of entertaining the Toddler by playing some classical music on the piano. It is not popular: “Oh, too noisy, Mummy!”

He can do it in Dutch as well. If I suggest some kind of interaction with the baby that he considers her incapable of he will set me straight: “Heel klein, mama.” [very little, Mummy]

Colours are now used as adjectives too, usually the correct ones but not always. Colours and numbers can also be combined, as in “two black cats”.

The Toddler knows quite a few prepositions now, but often mixes up the opposites. He will ask “uit [off], Mummy?” when he wants the light on or “beneden?”[downstairs] and then set off up the stairs.

Sometimes he will improvise if he is not sure of the right word. He will point at a toy he wants that is on top of his bookcase and say: “High, Mummy. Top.”

Question words
He still only really uses ‘where’, although that has progressed from “wawa Teddy gone?” to “Where’s Teddy gone?”. ‘What’ is usually silent: “doing, Mummy?”, “Happened, Mummy?”. Same in Dutch: “Beurd, mama?”. ‘How’ only appears in the stock phrase: “Hello, Mummy, hawa you?”. ‘Why’ and ‘when’ I assume are not due until later, when he has developed concepts of cause/effect and time.

What I find both interesting and frustrating is that he also has trouble understanding question-word-questions, particularly if he is already feeling frustrated. When he is in a rage about something and I don’t know why, asking “What did you say?” or “What is it you want?” throws him into an even more hysterical fit of sobbing. The only way out at that point is yes/no questions: “Do you want milk?” will often cause the crying to subside and he will nod, his face still buried in a chair cushion.

Let’s talk about feelings

This is the second instalment of my observations of the Toddler’s emotional development through his speech. He has started using more adjectives of late, such as ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘high’, ‘heavy’, ‘lovely’, ‘nice’ and various colours. Most recently, this has extended to adjectives that describe feelings.

He knows “happy”. At least, most of the time. “Baby happy, Mummy,” he will say, when she is screaming at the top of her lungs. I am not sure if this shows a lack of understanding of the word, or whether he is sketching the situation we need to arrive at. At other times he uses happy in the right context so this one always baffles me.

“Grumpy” is very amusing. When his will is thwarted, occasionally the offending parent will be rewarded by the Toddler theatrically stomping off into the next room, folding his arms – Teddy still clutched under one of them -, pulling a textbook cross-face and saying: “Grumpy!”

He can do angry as well, but in Dutch: ‘boos’, pronounced like ‘boast’ but without the ‘t’. On his Maisy Mouse floor puzzle there are many images of his favourite mouse, all of them smiling apart from one. In one corner, Maisy is wearing a pirate costume and a scowl (perhaps we should imagine her saying “Arrrrr matey”?). The Toddler points at this picture every time he makes the puzzle and explains: “Maisy boos”.

He also knows that Mummy gets cross. It is a little confronting to see how this defines for him when you should get angry and what that looks like. He has clearly been studying me, as any outbursts of anger from me at his misdemeanours are observed with keen but detached interest at the time and greeted with: “Mama boos.” Clearly, he does not feel this has anything much to do with him, nor does he see it as a reason to change his behaviour. More about that some other time… The other day I witnessed the outcome of his observations when he knocked over his little shopping basket with toy food. In a voice full of exasperation he said: “Mantit lond. Boos! Lond! Boos!” [Basket floor. Cross! Floor! Cross!]

Clearly, I get cross a lot about him throwing/dropping things on the floor.

I thought that was it for his current range of emotions, but this morning there was one more. The Toddler was making his sister’s toy giraffe (or “waf” as he calls it) dance rather vigorously on Mummy’s laptop.

“Gently, giraffe,” I said, “Careful with the laptop.”

The giraffe drooped. “Waf sad,” the Toddler said softly.

Come back!

I have been logging my son’s language development and studying it with great interest ever since he started speaking. However, it occurred to me recently that his speech is more than just an amusing reflection of how we, his parents and grandparents, talk: what he chooses to talk about reflects his social and emotional development as well. This is the first of two posts in which I study his language to find out what is occupying the Toddler’s brain at the moment.

One of his current preoccupations is with the location of people and things. He spends half the day trying to establish where things are. In the morning I am greeted with: “Ahhh Mummy! Back!” I was gone, but I have returned, and he is pleased. Once out of bed he starts suggesting toys that might come with us (“mee”, in Dutch).

“Mama, Teddy mee? Mickey mee? Cars mee?”

As I am usually half asleep still, I agree to whatever he suggests, and he heads for the stairs with his arms full of cuddly toys. The cars go in the pockets of my dressing gown. On the landing, he will start to establish where everyone else is: is Daddy downstairs? Is the baby awake? Is the baby coming downstairs with us?

These questions are obviously based on what he considers to be reasonable expectations, as they are slightly different after his nap. When he exits his room after his lunch time sleep, he will want to know whether Gran is downstairs, and perhaps Opa and Oma. When I explain that they are all in their own houses, he hopefully suggests that maybe Teddy can come to Gran’s with him and Daddy. Again, I have to burst his bubble: he is not going to Gran’s with Daddy, but to the supermarket with me and the baby.

“Teddy mee supermarket?” Yes, okay, Teddy can come to the supermarket.

While he plays, location is also all important. “Oh no! Where grapes gone? Ah, anotis [=there it is].” Or: “Ofant [elephant] hiding! Hide-n-seek!”

The location of his favourite people is also a matter of constant concern. If one of us leaves the room for even just a few moments, to go to the toilet for instance, the Toddler will say a formal goodbye. When you return, you are greeted with a joyful “hello [insert name]! Back!” If he does not agree to you leaving the room, he will follow you and say: “Come back here!” Today he was getting fed up with me trying to leave the Duplo to go and wash up, so he grabbed my legs and said very decidedly: “Mummy not zis way anymore.”

So what do I think I can tell from this about his emotional development? He seems to be coming to terms with the fact that the people and toys he loves are not always with him. I get the feeling that he disapproves of this situation in general, but that he is willing to put up with it for short periods of time, as long as you come back.