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Friday, February 03, 2006

sign o' the times?

the baby is nearly nine months old now and increasingly communicative. she waves, she shrieks, the babbles, she caterwauls, she grunts.

most bizarrely, she clicks and clucks her tongue like a chatty chicken. it's weird. but she's very proud of her clucking prowess. it's how she says "hi" and "hey, having a good time over here!" cuteness. her other salutation is to elaborately stick her tongue out at you. you go to get her in the morning and she's all "blllaggggguuuughhhhh," impudently sticking her tongue in your face. and you're all, "cute, but that doesn't make scrubbing your shit-encrusted ass any more fun."

so yeah, she obviously has many, many things on her impossibly keen and brilliant mind. last week at the tot lot i met a mother of a 20-month old who was doing little baby sign language hand gestures with her kidlet. i saw them communicating wordlessly, and i must say it was pretty awesome. i wondered what incredible things are on my baby's mind that she'd share with me if only she had the means. words may be a ways off, but surely through sign language she could communicate. just imagine: i'm thirsty, i like the pretty flower, i am tired, i am solving linear Diophantine equations. whatever.

so, this being the neighborhood it is, i went to a crunchy used book store. actually, there are two crunchy used book stores right next to each other ... four blocks down from a behemoth of a barnes & noble. i walked into crunchy used book store #1 and said "do you have a book on baby sign language?" the guy said: "just sold it."

damn you crunchy park slope parents! i will not be driven into barnes & noble so easily! on to used book store #2.

me: do you have a book on baby sign language?
used book store clerk #2: i'unno.
me: hmm. do you have a section on babies?
used book store clerk #2: back. left.
me: you are exceptionally helpful.

i go to the back of the store and not only is there a baby section, but this being the neighborhood it is, there is an entire baby ROOM. books on fertility, books on pregnancy, books on childbirth, books on babies, books on infants, books on toddlers, books on teens, books books books!

it occurred to me that the books i was staring at can be broken down into fairly reliable types. there are exceedingly touchy-feely books on feeling good and making your baby feel good through hugging and acceptance and feeling good. there are incredibly scary books on how everything your child is wearing and playing with WILL KILL THEM INSTANTLY IF YOU DON'T STOP THEM. there are very niche books on how to raise your baby on an all-soy and carob diet, or what to do when your triplets have two mommies and four granddads. there are reprimanding books on behavior that explain why the way you are raising your child will result in her being a jobless sociopath puppy rapist. there are books that guilt you into red hot shame for reading while you should be parenting.

finally, i find the book i need. baby signs. they have three copies. $4 each. i return to the clerk.

me: you had three of them! man, if that doesn't speak volumes about this neighborhood!
used book store clerk #2: yeah, we have a bunch of volumes about this neighborhood. on that rack there.
me: you are going to go far in life.

so i brought the book home and i began reading it. my capsule review: a full two-thirds of the book is about convincing you why you should try baby signs. but you know what? I ALREADY OWN THE BOOK, ERGO I AM GAME TO GIVE IT A TRY. so finally -- after all the introductions, the essplaining what baby signing is, the real-world case studies proving that it's worthwhile -- we get to the meat of things: actual signs to teach your baby.

some of them are very useful. take, for example, the sign for "more," tapping your palm. or, the sign for eat (fingers to mouth, as if to say "here is where the food goes"). or, the sign for drink/bottle (thumb to lips while you tip your head back, as if to say "daddy's drunk. again.") and so on. for us, the most useful signs are the signs for sleep, book, water, noise, little, for the love of all that is good and holy in the world please stop screaming at 4 am or i shall be compelled to to do something violent and terrible to you child, in, out, up, bird, cat, big, all gone, scared, etc.

with apologies to my daughter, here are some signs the book suggests that are simply not useful to us whatsoever:

barney. sorry, kid. barney doesn't live here here anymore. nor did he ever, actually.
fire. we burned all of our satanic jesus-hating records before you were born. also, no fireplace. or candles. so, if there's a fire 'round these parts, we'll probably all be goners before you can make the sign.
elephant: just not really too many elephants in brooklyn.

cookie monster. do we really need to devote 1/9th of your brain to the sign for "cookie monster?"
kangaroo: ok, come on. when the fuck was the last time any adults out there have actually said "kangaroo?"
hippo: ibid.

and they use crude drawings to illustrate ugly legless children doing possibly obscene gestures. here's a particular favorite of mine. i think it means "i have jock itch":

anyway. for what it's worth, progress has been slow. so far our daughter only understands one sign: the opening of the refrigerator. she pretty much has the meaning of that one down solid.


Blogger Dee said...

ay sweet jesus...delurking to thank you for that laugh--jock itch!

Seriously, you should consider putting together a book of your posts 'cause you are muy talented. I don't think I've read a post yet that hasn't had me shaking my head in agreement, laughing MAO, or bemoaning what the future may hold for my own nina (now almost 8 months old).

I bow at your feet...senora nice guy is one lucky gal in that she gets to spend the rest of her life with you at her side. Bet you keep her laughing (best way to our girly hearts) and on her toes.

2/03/2006 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Miller said...

We've been doing baby sign with our now one-year old, and I can confirm that it is indeed teh awesome. She's a little slow on Hilbert's 10th problem, but otherwise pretty good. The first one she did was "more", but she uses it for things she hasn't even been near yet, so it's basically her version of "want".

And oh boy does she do that a lot.

But it's basically a good thing, 'cause she does it in cases where otherwise she'd clearly be yelling. And now she also does a half a dozen others -- "eat" and "bath", and she runs away crying when we sign "change" (re: the diaper).

Anyway, the point of this post is not to brag on my daughter (although I could go on... you know how it is) but to mention that we did the signs for about four months and were despairing of her ever doing it, and then all of the sudden one day she was signing "more" like crazy. It was honestly like magic.

So, I do really recommend this, because it's as fun as it seems like it might be, but you really have to keep at it past the point where a sane person would. (Luckily, we're new parents, so that's not always a big issue.)

Oh, and also -- just this week, she started doing the tongue click thing you describe! We use that as a "here-kitty-kitty" for our cat, who is the one thing she loves most of all in all the universe. (Way so much more than, say, her daddy. Oh well.) And other than the signing, the one word she says is "itty!". But now, instead of that, she does the tongue-clicks. It is so, so cute to see her chasing the poor cat around (this is an unrequited love) going tchuk-tchuk-tchuk!

2/03/2006 10:12 PM  
Blogger honey said...

I'm delurking too, to agree that you're a hilarious dude. Thanks for all the hearty laughs over the past few months.

We're teaching our baby ASL signs too, because I speak to him in Spanish & hubby speaks to him in English. We feel that signs are a good way to help him bridge the gap and compensate for the inevitable delay in verbal skills that comes from learning two languages in infancy. I highly recommend that you bookmark some of the following sites and learn from their video clips, it's so much easier when you *see* the movements. El Ni?o loves watching them too and it helps reinforce what I'm teaching him when he sees someone else do it.

Like Matthew said, you'll have to be patient because sometimes they pick up a sign immediately, others it takes forever. And then they'll stop making a common sign (like milk) for a while, out of the blue. If you're consistent and persistent, you'll both have a lot of fun with it and it'll show you how your child's mind is associating things: we taught him the sign for fire (we had a fireplace), then when we went to Costco he looked up at their big lamps and excitedly made the sign for fire over & over. Great association! And we came home and taught him the sign for light...

2/04/2006 1:31 AM  
Anonymous MIL nice guy said...

You had us(both pilng and I) in tears again, kangaroo, hippo, jock itch! Thanks so much.

2/04/2006 9:58 AM  
Blogger Stacy said...

Teaching your baby "more," "want," "drink," "eat," "poop," and "i love you" would probably be beneficial. Barney and fire? yeah, not so much...

2/04/2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger semaphoria said...

the tongue clucking started for us when the teeth started to arrive. i find it infinitely preferable to the fake cough.

2/04/2006 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Wood said...

we have that book.

our baby doesn't care about any of the practical signs (eat, more, diaper) but is all about the animals. frog, dog, duck, crab. Given that all she cares about are animals, thank god there are signs for kangaroos and elephants. It's all the fault of the board books. they put those exotic animals into our lives, and lest our daughter call everything with fur or four legs a "dog" -- something my husband encourages -- we need those zoo animal signs.

2/05/2006 11:30 PM  
Blogger KC said...

Quite the story, dude. Legless children doing sign language... much to ponder as I sleep tonight :)

Good job avoiding B&N too! Used bookstores are fun. But, wow, a whole ROOM of the baby stuff? HalfPriceBooks in Houston can gather enough to fill a few sets of shelves, but I'd cringe to enter a BabyBookRoom to browse.

2/06/2006 1:13 AM  
Anonymous dear wife said...

delurking finally. Just like to say love your blog, shows me all the fun things to look foward to when we finally get our little one. On the ASL note friends of ours have started teaching their twins by going to group classes. They are sort of like mommy and me only more educational. I am sure if we have those in butt f*ck Iowa you should have them where you are. I cannot remember what they are called but might be something to look into.

2/06/2006 2:52 AM  
Blogger bernalgirl said...

Yeah, I really don't get some of those. Also, cookie, ice cream, stuff she wouldn't recognize at the age your supposed to start teaching this. Plus I have an overall problem with the animal signs, since my urban baby has about as much context for a cow as for a hippo. She currently thinks anything with four legs and fur is a cat. And given her lifestyle, that's not really a problem. The signs for siren and bus stop and car alarm would be way more useful.

2/08/2006 3:22 AM  

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