By: Julie Gamberg
I am not a nonverbal person. I love words and language. I’m a writer! So this first year of mommydom, this year of nonverbal communication, has been tough. I hear folks say that once little ones start talking they never stop, so I should enjoy the wordlessness while I can. But I say bring on the gabfest! A loquacious little is absolutely fine with me. I’ve been thrilled these last few months when my baby has started to identify objects and actions with words –“book”, “laluz”, “nose”, “agua”, “moon”, “dog”,
“abrir”, “uppy”, and so on. However, until this week, my baby had never used a word to clearly communicate a desire that she was not also communicating by nonverbal expression – such as pointing and doing the “eh, eh, eh” little cry. In other words, words had not yet been a primary form of communication.
This week, my little was trying to get into a closed-off area stuffed with all manner of hazard. I led her away again and again but she would not be thwarted. What we needed was a juicy distraction. I brought out her big, fluffy stuffed cat and danced it in front of me, hoping she would come get it. No go. Back to the danger area.
I thought for a second and it occurred to me that maybe, at nearly 12 months, she was somehow ready for a game of catch. I swayed her cat back and forth while counting … “one … two …” and I threw the stuffed animal at her “… three!”
It hit her right in the face and fell to the ground. She looked at me with the oddest expression. Busted, I thought. I just threw something at my baby, and she can’t believe her own mama would do that! I was waiting for the tears to start – the bawling that happens after a hard fall. But no, no tears, just this mysterious expression. And no further interest in the off limits area either.
I was intrigued, but nervous. Did she feel betrayed by my throwing an object at her head? Did she realize we were playing catch and was she trying to figure out what her part was – how she might throw the cat back? Was she dazed from the “blow?” If only she could tell me with words.
I crouched down next to her and maintained eye contact, hoping to unravel the meaning behind her look. Her expression did not change; I still had no idea how she felt about what happened and what she wanted. Did she want me to do the kissy-kissy thing with the cat where I kiss it a bunch of times fast and then have it kiss her a bunch of times? Did she want me to pick her up?
Her expression focused, as if thinking of what to do next, and then it happened. The moment of linguistic communication. She very clearly said, and signed, “More!” Wonder! Words! She liked it! She wanted me to do it again! Could it be true?
I picked up the cat, backed up, and looked at my baby while beginning, “One …”. Her face was delighted. For perhaps the first time in our entire relationship she had communicated a fairly abstract concept – do that weird and unusual thing you just did all over again – and I got it! Oh, what joy. “Two…” She beamed! I had not done the kissy-kissy thing. I had not picked her up. I had done the exact right thing. “Three!” I threw the stuffed cat at her head for all I was worth. The animal “bounced” off of her head and onto the floor, as much as a super plush stuffed cat can bounce. No sooner had it landed on the floor than I heard again that melodious little command: “Mowww!”
And so it began. Of course she could not get enough of this fun new game. My throwing a stuffed animal at her head and her standing passively while it hit her and slid or bounced to the ground. Who wouldn’t want to do that over and over?
Of all the meals where I’ve tried to figure out if she wanted more, or was “all done, of all the bewildered, puzzled times where I could not figure out what she wanted and she was trying desperately to tell me, of all the months that I have been saying, and signing, “more,” hoping she would use that word, it took her being bopped in the head to inspire her to actually say it. As predicted, she did not grow tired of the game, or of commanding me. Eventually I had to say and sign, “All done!” and hope that wouldn’t discourage her from asking for what she wants more often. Somehow I don’t think it will.
Ah, language. Ah, jabbermouth. Yackety-yack. Blah, blah blah. Not one minute of quiet. Bring it on, little one. I love it.