Friday, August 05, 2005

Baby Talk II

So I promised a post in which I would discuss those folks who Idly Chat with our Babies. My main beef, I guess, is that I have noticed that people think they can say ANYTHING to you through your baby! I know I’ve mentioned the way adults communicate through children before, but I’ve started to see the uglier side of it. Like my friend said her mother-in-law told her child Jack, “tell your mommy you want something good to eat,” because I guess M-I-L doesn’t like breastfeeding and wanted to start the kid on solids. Oh sure, nothing makes me want to start my baby on rice cereal more than passive-aggressive communication tactics!

And of course I’ve mentioned that Davis gets “oh, you’re just HUGE” or “you’re such a chunker!” all the time. I can only imagine what I’d do if someone came up to me and squeaked “My GOODness, chubbikins, what do you weigh now??” And people feel the need to remind you and your child of his very few, very minute flaws: “oh, your face is all scratched, poor baby.” As if I either didn’t notice from being around him all day or better yet, as if I did notice and am actually sanctioning his condition, like I’ve given him my old disposable razors to use as chew toys.

But my absolute favorite is “Ooooh, somebody’s stinky! Did you go poo-poo?” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to yell THAT upon walking into a Wal-Mart bathroom. Actually, maybe that would help ease some of the new-mom anxiety: simply start saying to adults all the things you really think, but do it in a squeaky, cutesy voice so they either think you’re nuts or that you don’t really mean it.

But of course, I am guilty of this very same proclivity. I use Davis to talk to other people, usually my husband. In my defense, it’s usually to compliment my husband on something: “Bug, you better thank daddy for washing your diapers—he’s our hero!” or “Don’t you want to start sleeping through the night? Mommy and daddy haven’t had any special mommy and daddy alone-time in weeks!”

And of course there is the related activity of narrating for your child, which is a special thrill. We actually had a lot of practice at this before the arrival of the Bugzilla (one of Davis’s many nicknames—any manifestation of “bug” will do); we have cats for whom we ventriloquated quite frequently. May I confess? We still do this; our tabby, M, is particularly disdainful of the Small Screechy Human and she usually brings this fact up about 78 times a day: “WHAT is it doing now? Did it seriously just slob on my fur? I just washed that, for Cripe’s sake!” and “Oh, ow, kid, not the ears! Those are attached!”

Narrating for Davis, however, is even funnier since his short-term memory is considerably worse: “Hey, it’s the Belly Button Book! Have you read this? It looks great.” At this point, the child chews on said book for a few minutes before tossing it away (everything in his world is both taste-able and disposable), only to register sheer joy and surprise when it is re-introduced five minutes later. “The Belly Button Book? No, it doesn’t sound familiar. Give it here. And don’t tell me how it ends—it looks interesting!”

The narration can also be a coping mechanism for us. Sometimes, for example, it will happen that he’s gritching or crying and we take too long to figure out what he wants, and we narrate for him as he deals with the Bumbling Big-heads. Like we’ll change his diaper, and he’s still crying, as if he’s saying (we think), “Nope, not it. You’re not even warm, kids.” Then we’ll try to put him down for a nap—still crying. By now he’s frustrated, so his response is more like “No, no, NO! Sheesh! I am surrounded by idiots!” Eventually it dawns on us that oh yeah, he might be hungry, and by the time we finally feed him, he’ll have this totally injured look on his face that says something like “I wish they had given me to people who actually like babies.”

I guess all this talking-through-baby stuff is just another attempt of the insecure to be heard. Maybe it’s a subconscious way of reminding ourselves that soon enough, Davis will be able to speak for himself and have all the perspectives and opinions that are part and parcel of being one of the primates blessed with a voice. I mean, presumably the hope is that he’ll be able to do all his own narration, and while I look forward to that day, I also still want to savor his current reliance on us (however misguided that might be) to speak for him. Because from what I hear, it’s too soon that kids either don’t want you to speak for them or worse, don’t want to talk to you at all.

Oh well, at least we'll always have the cats. We can make them say whatever we want.