Hannah has learnt how to point.
So what? I hear you say. Most babies learn how to point a lot earlier than 13 months old.
Well, Hannah did too. She’s been pointing effectively at objects, pictures and wildlife in the garden for several months now. But recently, she really learnt how to point. She learnt how to point for the purpose of food acquisition.
Our dining table sits just outside the kitchen. And the kitchen is a mystical land of drawers, dishwashers, buttons on ovens, dinging microwaves and most importantly, the source of all food. All of which Hannah is denied access to by a strategically placed baby gate.
Occasionally Hannah finds her way in, usually when a careless parent has left the gate open while rushing around trying to organise dinner. On those occasions she explores the usually out-of-bounds area as if it’s the promised land. She rummages through drawers and presses buttons on the oven, with a face of pure joy. But she never finds the food.
Food in our kitchen is well and truly out of reach of tiny hands. If she ever manages to open the pantry, the only thing she’s likely to find at her level is an old onion or a few cloves of garlic. Nothing that is in any way palatable. Yet she knows. She knows with surprising clarity that the kitchen is the source of all goodness in the house. Even more surprising, she knows the potential that the kitchen beholds.
Hannah used to be an excellent eater. She would pretty well demolish any bowl of food that was presented to her (once she figured out how eating worked). Often it was a messy affair, but mostly, whatever the food was, it was consumed by her. Bowl of blended kale? Sure thing! Three different types of steamed vegetable? Sounds delicious!
Of course, over time her sense of taste has matured, and she has developed a liking for certain flavours and textures more than others. This is natural and to be expected. She has backed away from cooked vegetables in particular, and has developed a penchant for bread, yogurt and cheese.
So now we often find ourselves at a standoff at dinner time. A clash between our parental desire to feed Hannah a well-rounded diet with a substantial vegetable component, and Hannah’s desire to consume nothing but bread and dairy products.
This is where the pointing comes in.
Lately, Hannah has taken to looking in her bowl, deciding she doesn’t like what she sees, pushing away the bowl, then emphatically pointing at the kitchen. This is usually joined by a string of sound that, although completely lacking actual words, is somehow completely clear in meaning (think opposite to most politicians). Beyond a shadow of a doubt, she is saying “the good stuff is in there, Dad”.
I explain to Hannah, with all my parental calmness, that while there may be other food in the kitchen, she needs to eat what I have given her. She looks at me intently as I talk, a level of comprehension that continues to surprise me apparent on her face. She carefully considers what I have said, then, with great gusto, she turns in her chair and points once again to the kitchen. A furious string of syllables escapes her mouth as she no doubt explains why I am completely wrong.
Eventually I manage to coax Hannah into eating some or all of the healthy meal that I have provided. Often she realises after a few mouthfuls that It’s not so bad after all. At that point she happily prizes the spoon from my hand and feeds herself with surprising speed.
The pointing has its uses. I can now easily tell if Hannah is still hungry after a bowl of food. The second she is finished, she turns around and points to the kitchen if she is still hungry. If it’s a particularly tasty dinner, such as a spaghetti bolognaise, she will continue pointing to the kitchen until there is nothing left. Hannah has been known to eat the second helpings that were supposed to be for Emma and me during such meals.
Even though Hannah’s pointing with purpose is just a small development, it’s one of those that fills me with joy and wonder as her father. It adds another level to our ability to communicate with each other and it shows that Hannah is developing opinions and preferences. She is learning to express herself and she is learning to negotiate. She is learning that she can’t always get what she wants, but that she can also sometimes get what she wants by speaking up about it.