what we have here is a failure to communicate


When your kid is a baby you have no expectation of being able to communicate. The only give and take is that you give and he takes. You can't ask him to wait, or hold still, or if he's hungry. The closest you come to a verbal interaction is when you say "shhhh!" and then he shushes. Sometimes.

And it's fine. You get that at this point your child is basically a sea sponge with a little button nose. 

You're not parenting yet. You're not teaching values and skills. All you're doing is lactating and wiping his ass, and maybe waving a colorful scarf in the air so he can learn to use his eyes, or tickling his toes so he realizes that yes, he has feet. That's the level of fucking sophistication we are dealing with here. You're helping your child figure out that it can see. You're helping your child have feet. Talk about a remedial lesson plan.

God: so for the child's first lesson, I want to go back to basics. 
Angel: right and wrong? Love and hate?
God: further back I think.
Angel: light and dark? Up and down? 
God: I was thinking more along the lines of "this is a hand. It is yours."

You live in this place for months, guessing, basically. You talk to your baby because you can't help yourself, because that's how you interact with the world even if it isn't how he does it yet. And you think, it'll be so nice when I can really talk with my kid.

And then something amazing happens. Your child starts to recognize things and people. You ask, "where's the doggy?" And he LOOKS AT the doggy! Holy shit! Then he POINTS TO the doggy! Oh my God! He can be taught! I can use words again! He understands!

And then something even more amazing happens. Your child starts speaking. 

You think, I can talk, he can talk, let the conversation begin! We can converse!

I'm sorry to say that nope, no you cannot. Absolutely not.

I hear all these poor schmucks getting so frustrated trying to have conversations with their 10-month-olds. 

Mom: Do you want to ride the swings? The swings? (makes a swing motion with her hands)
Baby: (blinks)
Mom: Do you want to play in the sand box? SAND BOX? (makes digging motion)
Baby: (inhales, exhales)
Mom: I need you to tell me what you want to do.
Baby: (looks at dog)
Mom: Fine, we'll just sit here until you decide what you want to play with.

OR

Mom: Oh, no! Your friend Talia was playing with that block! Do you want to give that block back to Talia? Reece, look at Mommy. You need to share because it's nice to share with your friend Talia, and you can't just take something out of someone else's hand just because you'd like to play with it. How would you like it if Talia took a toy out of your hand without asking first? You wouldn't like that at all, would you? WOULD YOU? Please give the block back to Talia now, Reece. REECE... do you want a time-out?

I just want to laugh and laugh and cry a little and fart because we had enchiladas for dinner.

Just because he can say mama and dada doesn't mean he gets abstract concepts like altruism and empathy, which are required when considering the notion of sharing.

That's like assuming because I can say Shalom, I'm a scholar of the Talmud.

That's like after I order a bowl of spaghetti, handing me a violin and asking me to play a Vivaldi solo. 

They're just dabbling in verbal communication, guys. They've dipped a half a pinkie toe in this pool. Imagine if you went to France and said "bonjour" to a taxi driver, and he responded with a stream of rapid French accompanied by exaggerated hand gestures, and then he only got frustrated and more intense and rapid and exaggerated when you had no idea what he was asking of you.

That would suck.

Some of the best parenting advice I ever got was this:

Actions. Not words.

And if you do talk, talk Tarzan-style.

When you go to the park, make an executive decision. "Let's do swings!"

When your barely-verbal or pre-verbal kid takes Talia's block, you have a couple of great options:

1. Take the block away from your kid and give it back to Talia. Problem solved. If you feel like you need to say something, keep it under 3 words. "Talia's block." Then give your kid something else. "Reece's rattle."

2. If Talia isn't upset about losing the block and if (more importantly) Talia's mom isn't upset either, just let your kid play with the block. You have many, many, many more years to teach sharing. If the kids don't care, I think we can let this one slide.



But of course, that's easier said than done. Especially as your kid gets older and starts to string more words together, starts to make you think he understands those more complex concepts, it's so easy to fall back into the trap of "having a conversation."

Even now I catch myself trying to explain shit to Chicken. 

Me: It's Duckie's turn to play with the Spiderman car, Chicken. Chicken had a turn and now Duckie gets a turn. Do you see how sad Duckie is because she wants to play with the Spiderman car? Yeah, we can help make Duckie feel better by sharing the Spiderman car with her. It would make your friend so happy, and wouldn't that make you happy too? Chicken?

(long pause as he waits to see if I'm going to continue to chatter like a chipmunk)

Me: Okay, so we're going to give the Spiderman car to Duckie now.

Chicken: NO! (runs away with Spiderman car)

It's never less than a calamitous waste of time. Most of the time I am mid-moral-of-the-story and he's looking over my shoulder at the iPad on a high shelf, working out how he can climb that warlock and be reunited with that majestic digital wonderland.

Or he's latched on to like one word I said in my soliloquy about why we don't run in the street, and it's the wrong fucking word

But he's two years old.

Sure, now he can tell me when he has a yucky yucky poop. But I'm still the one doing the cleaning. He's a baby. He doesn't get "you could die in a car accident." He doesn't get "that belongs to someone else." All he sees is a big red truck, or the greatest Spiderman car ever mass-produced in China.

Actions. Not words.

So I hold his hand in the street and say "hold hands please."

So I gently pry the Spiderman car from his hands and say "Duckie's car. Chicken's magnets."

We are dealing with beginners.

We need to be kind, simple, and firm.

And we need to stop having the expectation that if we were smarter, or simply better parents, we could come up with the magic words to make our children understand why sometimes they have to do things they don't want to do. There are no magic words. We're all doing just fine. And nobody's going to remember this shit anyway.

2 comments:

  1. This is so helpful. I talk like I write, in long, complicated sentences. To my 16-month-old. You might have just changed the name of the game. THANK YOU.

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  2. Man, I do the same thing with Chicken... I feel like having exposure to those long sentences is important too, so that these kiddos can start to hear how people actually talk. But yeah, when shit needs to get done, I feel like we have to just grunt and point.

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