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Shhh! He’ll hear you and learn language!

November 25, 2009

So why didn’t anyone tell me that these babies actually can kind-of-sort-of-maybe, like, understand you? This morning I told Henry to go get his Baby Faces book and. he. did.

As in, he looked around, spotted it in a pile of other books (amongst the exploded unicorn of bright-baby-shit that is our living room now that he’s discovered how to up-end, unpack, or otherwise dismantle any and all of our storage solutions), crawled over to the pile speedily and picked out, amongst the choices, the book I was talking about.

I didn’t point at it. I barely even enunciated (see earlier posts and tweets about the nightmare that was last night’s attempt at slumber). We hadn’t even read the book yet that day. Indeed, it is Hank’s favorite thing in the entire world (seriously, get thee to a bookstore and buy Baby Faces*) so it gets talked about a lot/read a lot; it’s not exactly a huge surprise.

EXCEPT IT WAS. Not because I don’t talk to him, which I do, all day, even to the point of people giving me weird looks (partially because while I do employ the “exaggerated -baby-voice,” I sometimes just use my normal tone, so you might find me addressing the baby with a matter-of-fact “Well I guess we’ll head home, then” or “Check out that regrettably decal-ed PT Cruiser, bud!” and it’s assumed I’m talking to myself, or perhaps, you, the on-listener). And I read to him loads, and his childcare situation is Waldorfian and excellent.** But it still absolutely, positively SHOCKED me that he (presumably) understood me.

Based on my reputable, uber-scientific, double-blind, mixed-methods, fully replicable study (asking him to do it again a bunch of times but waiting, like, 10 minutes and doing many activities in between) he seems to understand me. At least, he understood that one command/object name.

He’s almost 9 months old, so maybe this is entirely appropriate, maybe it’s even late. Maybe it’s not at all developmentally appropriate and I’m seeing things where they are not (again, I barely did something resembling sleeping last night). The point of this post is not to say Hank is a genius, or to brag, or even to mark a milestone. Rather, I think I should take a moment and own up to a few things:

1. I really don’t know anything about babies. Except what I have learned so far, by observing and taking basic care of Hank.

2. Yes, I am a google scholar, thankyouverymuch, but I’m usually googling rashes and such. Things after they happen. It didn’t really occur to me to, you know, read ahead.

3. I actually think that’s best, mostly, as it really chaps my hide when people obsessively ask about whether Hank does this or this or that yet, as if he should be following some kind of script. Crawling, eating solid food, sure, that’s fine to ask about, but just STOP it already with the waving bye-bye thing. I guarantee you, grocery store clerk/bank teller/kindly vagrant, that by the time he’s five years old, he will wave bye-bye. Right now, I’m not particularly concerned with his rude lack of valedictions when I drop him off at childcare, as I’m usually trying to sneak out before he realizes I’m gone.

4. Which isn’t to say I haven’t read any books about babies. I just have spent all of my time alloted baby-related reading time reading every book on the subject of How to Ever Get a Child to Sleep, Ever, and have not had any time for the Your Baby Month to Month (sounds like a payment plan) set. Oh, and you know, sundry blogs but we all know Mommy Blogs are about drinking, not infant development.

5. I tend to underestimate Hank’s abilities due to my lack of knowledge about infants and general bad-mother-ness.

But seriously–it was shocking. While I am aware that I am fostering a mini-human with a spongey brain who is learning every day, I was not prepared for how weird it would be when I detected a moment of true, somewhat complex, communication. He’s been communicating with me all this time–crying, vocalizing, reaching, indicating, etc. But the communication has been focused on his needs. He communicates, I respond. Of course I’ve been “communicating” back by seeing to his needs, demonstrating to him that his needs will be met, that this particular giant can be trusted, building routines, etc. He’s learned plenty of things like drinking from a straw, tipping a cup to drink, using the potty, a combination of the two, getting down from a chair, couch or bed by going backwards, various eating-related skills, etc. But these are all entirely different from my saying “do this” and him ohmygodactually.DOING.IT.

/shocked rant.

* Yes, a bookstore, though I provide you with a link to Amazon for illustration, please do your Christmas shopping locally this year. Are you the problem, or ARE YOU THE SOLUTION?

**While its focus on being out of doors and learning/playing with nature isn’t particularly language-learny, he’s not sitting in a bouncer in room full of other infants watching Baby Einsteins. Instead he kicks it in the woods with a bunch of toddlers, so lots of opportunities for sponging up some language skills.

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