Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Critical Mom and Baby Talk

On the tram today my friend was bouncing her thirteen-month-old daughter on her knee; the little girl produced such a sociable string of babble that I wished I could have understood her.  She untied her shoelaces for me and seemed very pleased with herself.  I started remembering when my ten-year-old first started talking:  he uttered long strings of sounds earnestly and I tried to transcribe them:  "Bah, bawa wuppah bu muh nuhbubbbaa . .  ." complete with serious nods and sweeping gestures, or he pointed energetically at his red truck and grunted appreciatively.  I knew that meant "Bring it here now!"  But I said, "Oh, you'd like the red truck, wouldn't you?"  since language specialists think that conversing with the child increases his urge to use language.  He responded with increasingly urgent grunts, jabbing his finger insistently at the truck, his eyes bulging.  Even though I knew perfectly well that meant, "Give me that truck instantly or I will scream, scream, scream," I said, with a smile that I believed at the time was encouraging, "Can you say truck?"  I was afraid he'd never speak.   He did reply, on his own terms, naturally:  Grunt, grunt, with a few growls thrown in.  I handed over the truck and he gave me the look you'd give to a waiter who hands you burned food with a smile.  I was telling the ten-year-old about his infant communications about his truck, and he said, "Aw, Mommy.  I was trying to say 'fire truck'--just without the f, the i, the t, the u, the c, or the k.  Got it, Mommy?"  Yes, I did.  And I do.

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