Spidacheos and Fuuuuks

When Niko was first born, a tiny, sleepy bundle, I remember Aaron saying, “This is the best stage, isn’t it? We can just hold him all the time. I love holding him when he’s sleeping.” And I agreed. It was definitely the best stage.

Sleeping in Daddy's arms
Sleeping in Daddy’s arms

Then Niko started holding his head up, making eye contact, smiling. And one of us said, “This is definitely the best stage. Look at that smile!” And so on. Each stage was the best stage ever. Each time he changed, had a developmental leap, learned a new thing, it was the best thing ever. Every time. But to me, there was one stage that really, really was the best: learning to talk. I loved hearing his tiny voice saying new words, completely unaware and uncaring that his pronunciation was imperfect. It was absolutely amazing.

Niko, three months old
Niko, three months old

With Sofie, it was a little different. She hit her developmental milestones appropriately, no concerns. But it wasn’t until she was about four months, nearly five months, old that she really became enjoyable. The one thing that united all her stages up to that point was the constant crying, the nightly screaming, the continual need to be held. So we didn’t talk as much about how each stage was better than the last. Until, as I said, around four and a half months. Suddenly, she was smiling, making happy noises, trying to sit.

That smile: pure miracle.
That smile: pure miracle.

Now she’s a month past one year old, and she’s walking, running, climbing… and working so hard on talking. She’s evolved in her attempts at Niko’s name, from “O” to “Ko” to, today, “Geeko.” Cody, the puppy, was first called “Co” and now is “CoCo.” When we give her something, she says “Tah toooo!” for thank you, and she greets us with “Hey youuuuu!” Today, her newest word came trilling out when we went into her room to get her when she woke up this morning: “Wake!”

Such a big girl.
Such a big girl.

Yes, without a doubt, Sofia is in her best stage yet.

I just love the learning-to-talk stage. I remember when Niko was about 15 months old and was learning to say “fork.” He couldn’t say the “r” sound — still has trouble with that one — so it came out, in a loud, excited voice, “Fuuuuck!” We had to explain to servers and fellow diners at restaurants: “He sees a fork. A FORK. He’s very excited about that FORK!” It was pretty funny. We have a lovely video of him saying this, getting more and more intense in tone, until the fork he’s holding suddenly pokes him in the eye. The video cuts out as we rush to comfort him, but there’s a subsequent one from a few minutes later, in which he eyes it soberly: “Fuuuck.” The tone fits the situation so perfectly that I can’t help but laugh till I cry, every time I see it, despite the pain I know he experienced.

But the best part about the learning-to-talk stage? It doesn’t really end, not for years. Niko, at age four, loves words and is constantly trying new ones and asking for word meanings. He actively explores the language with joy and pleasure. He loves the feel of a new word in his mouth. He’ll say it repeatedly, in different settings, trying it until it feels right. Most recently, he attempted to say the name of the delicious new nuts he was trying: “Spidacheos!” It made us laugh, but it fills me with a sort of pre-nostalgia, too. I know that one day we’ll look back at this time of exploration and learning and say, “This was the best stage ever.” And it will be true.

(You can see videos of Niko saying “Spidacheos” and “Fuuuuuuck!” on my Facebook page; apparently my blog doesn’t have video enabled right now.)

Sparkle

A few days ago, I was driving home from dropping off Niko at preschool, and I drove into a fog bank that was shot through with rays from the rising sun. And suddenly, out of the blue, I was swamped with nostalgia.

Here’s the truth: I hate most of the things about Alaskan winter and don’t regret abandoning them all for the mild, really-more-like-prolonged-spring Oregon winter. Some of the key elements I’ve always disliked: Walking through snow. Slipping on ice. Driving on icy, badly-plowed or not-yet-plowed roads. Waiting all morning for my cold, damp pant legs to dry after dragging them through a snowy parking lot. Shoveling driveways. Driving through a blizzard. Brushing snow off windshields, scraping ice off windshields, dealing with ice buildup on windshield wipers. The terrifying, unstoppably glide as your vehicle fails to stop on a patch of ice. And that’s only the snow and ice problems. Don’t even get me started on the darkness and short days and the cold….

But there’s one thing that Alaskan winters do better than anywhere else, and for it to happen, there has to be fog and sunshine. That one amazing thing is hoarfrost. We call the fog that comes before the frost an ice fog, for the obvious reason that it causes the frost, but also because the fog is actually filled with tiny, suspended ice crystals. When the sun finds a way through and lights up the fog, the air is filled with glitter and sparkle. It’s breathtaking in its beauty. You can’t help but stop to stare around you.

The morning after an ice fog, everything is coated in thick, intricately patterned frost crystals. Trees are as white and sparkly as an artificial Christmas tree. The frost turns the world into a magical land of beautiful possibilities. On mornings like that, you suddenly realize that Alaska actually is as incredible as tourists think it is.

A frosty Anchorage afternoon.
A frosty Anchorage afternoon.

Driving through that fog the other day, I remembered. And, believe it or not, driving on the ice-free road in a car that hadn’t had to have its engine run for ten minutes to be drivable, looking through a windshield with full visibility instead of semi-clear streaks scraped through ice, I discovered that I missed Alaska. Just for a minute. It didn’t last long. But for that minute, it occurred to me that I might like just one day of waking up to a fresh snowfall. Just one day to see the world covered in white. One day to see everything shining with jagged-edged, lacy, fragile frost crystals. Just once.

That night, the fog thickened and hung low over our home as the temperature dropped. I’d already forgotten the nostalgia, but Oregon must have heard my wish, because the next morning I awoke to a magical world of white. Not snow, but frost. Everywhere I looked, there was a thick coating of crystals. The grass, the trees, everything was shimmering white.

As I started to get breakfast ready, Niko ran to the window. “Wow,” he breathed, and I agreed. The sun was just starting to shine through the trees, lighting up the frost. On impulse, I asked him, “Would you like to go run in the frost for a few minutes?” He was thrilled, and ran outside, stomping and jumping up and down as he discovered the crunch of the frost.

Exploring a frosty morning
Exploring a frosty morning

My nostalgia is gone now. I know that if we’d had the snowfall I wanted for that brief moment, we’d be shoveling a porch and a long, long driveway to make sure we could get out if necessary. We’d be cold, and wet, and probably lose our footing and fall a few times. Instead, what I got was the sparkle and glitter I’d been craving, without the added stress of dealing with snow.

Thanks, Oregon. You rock.