Learning to talk is a pretty big milestone in the life of a baby. It’s not something that happens all at once; it’s months and months of emerging realisations and developmental leaps.
It’s a magical time. Squeak is picking up words all over the place at the moment, and I love it. It’s great to hear what her little voice sounds like, even if it is frequently far too loud. And it’s cute as hell when she runs around the house calling for her sisters.
It’s a long road to get to this bit, though. Babies don’t just come out asking for a biodegradable nappy and an organic kimono vest (It would be fucking awesome if they did though). Here’s a bit of a list of a few stages I’ve noticed as my kids were learning to talk.
When you’re a helpless newborn human animal, there’s only one way to get your point across: crying. And that is what tiny babies do a hell of a lot of the time.
Over the years, I have often read articles about understanding your baby’s cries. The cry for food, the cry for wind, the cry for a dirty nappy, the cry to call the other babies to arms and take over the world…
Ok, I may have made that last one up.
According to the writers of these articles, if you learn your baby’s cries you can work out exactly what they need and settle them much quicker.
An excellent theory, I’m sure you’ll agree.
And one which I think of as complete bollocks. I’ve done the small baby thing three times now. I’ve held them close and listened and attempted to meet their needs speedily. And the only sound that I can hear when they cry is, “WAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Baby crying is a clever little set-up, overall. In those hazy, hormonally driven early days of parenting, the sound of your baby crying makes you want to simultaneously want to throw up and pass out. Or at least sob uncontrollably until you can make them stop.
Just me? Well, that’s happened before.
You see, babies are all about needs. They don’t want to be picked up, or want to be fed. It is an intense and overwhelming need that they need to have fulfilled. Right NOW.
Babies are like an evolutionary throwback. If they were quiet, peaceful little creatures, nobody would know that a sabre-toothed tiger was imminently going to make the baby its next meal. And from a ‘staying alive long enough to grow up and procreate’ viewpoint, that kind of sucks.
I supposed that means it’s quite appropriate, really, that crying is so loud, shrill and stressful to listen to. Because essentially, it is a baby’s klaxon, an alarm that is completely impossible to ignore. If newborn babies could talk, I think this is what they would say:
“Don’t forget about me! Did you forget me? Did you? I’m freaking hungry over here! Am I invisible or something? Aaaaaargh!!!”
There’s no ignoring that.
Babbling arrives just as you start to feel that if you hear unending screaming any longer, you’re going to lose your mind. What you don’t know is that your battered and traumatised mind took flight and legged it out of your head a long time ago. Funnily enough, it was almost exactly the same day as your first baby was born.
And it ain’t coming back.
But that’s ok, because actually it turns out a mind is not all that necessary for survival. I mean, I’m doing fine!
Babbling is your reward for all those hours of gurgling and cooing at a baby’s whose usual response was a scrunched-up sceptical glare.
Stop fucking with me guys, I know that’s not just me.
Babies are inherently sociable things. Which means that even though they think your rendition of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ is mundane and borderline tuneless, they just can’t help but start to respond.
And so they start with the ‘dadas’ and the ‘babas.’ Not the ‘mamas.’ Oh no. Don’t be silly. They save those until the point where you’re convinced they’ll never call you anything. Seriously, Big Girl had mastered sentences before she bothered to figure out what the piece of furniture with arms and breasts was called.
Not that I took it personally. Obviously.
In my opinion, watching a baby learn to babble is one of the cutest things ever. I love to look on as they contort their faces and purse their lips, trying with all their might to recreate sounds that they’ve only heard before. And the deep frown as they focus all of their brainpower on the task just clinches it.
It gets a lot easier for them after a while. They practise and practise and practise and practise until they’ve got it down pat. It takes a lot of work. But it’s ok, because this is the stage where they also realise that there are a whole load more hours in the day that previously advertised.
In other words, they wake up all goddamn night. And as you snuggle them close, feed them and try to soothe them back to sleep in the darkness, you hear a tiny voice say, “Ba ba ba ba ba.”
That’s no sleeping noise.
I write this having absolutely no idea whether this stage is something every parent goes through, or whether it’s a custom level created by my children to keep me on my toes.
However, it makes me feel better if I think that I’m not alone. So if this doesn’t apply to you, just nod and smile and pat this poor woman on the head, why don’tcha?
That’s the way.
Right, where was I? Oh yes, shrieking. At some point, when babies have mastered a touch of babbling, they realise that there is a whole load of unlocked potential there to be experimented with.
There are so many ways to experiment with your voice. Whispering, using funny voices, growling… so why begin at the loudest bloody option?
All of my kids, at a similar age, have gone from gurgling and cooing (and squeaking, naturally) to developing an ear-splitting screech which must be employed at least 68.5 times a day.
What is the purpose of this? Even in our loud and chaotic house, it’s rare that it is necessary to go above a Yell on the Loudness Scale. I can only assume that this stage occurs to prepare me for that fearful, on edge feeling I get when a just-walking baby learns how to climb on the couch.
I’m not even going to think of the emotional effects of having these two stages coincide.
4. First Words
It’s an amazing moment when your child says their first word. So amazing, in fact, that I have managed to forget two of them.
This would be more shameful if it wasn’t for the fact that one of the one’s I’ve forgotten is Squeak’s. I mean, it was only a few months ago, for God’s sake! Little Girl’s has disappeared into the ether as well. Although in my defence, I was averaging about two hours sleep a night in total when she started talking. I was impressed that I managed to keep on breathing at that point.
I know Big Girl’s was ‘ball.’ And I have a crystal clear memory of the first time she said it.
The one thing I do know for sure is that Squeak’s third word was ‘poo.’ Unsurprising, really, in a house where toilet humour reigns supreme. In fact, when you asks her if she needs a nappy change now, she looks down, sniffs herself and says, “Ehhh, poo poo.”
It frequently isn’t, but hey, it’s a start.
It’s a wonderful time in a baby’s life. It keeps me going through the separation anxiety, the sleepless nights and the frequent meltdowns (Squeak’s, not mine). Suddenly she is turning into a ‘proper’ person, rather than a baby who is motivated by instincts and reflexes. She can ask for food, and makes a passable attempt at singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’
And, of course, she can also yell, “No! No! No!”
Because it would all be unreasonably blissful, otherwise.
With first words comes understanding. You can say, “Go and get your shoes!” and your baby (ok, toddler. I’m in denial) will run and fetch their shoes for you to put on.
And then they will undo the straps and run around precariously before falling flat on their faces.
But let’s forget that bit.
You can also say, “Look, there’s some food for you,” and they will turn and walk straight to the snack you have left out for them. You will marvel at how much easier it is when they understand you.
Then, they will tip every single morsel of food onto the floor and grind it into the carpet. Even if they’re starving.
Hmm, let’s forget that bit, too.
Even with this magical leap in your baby’s brain, there are still three things that your baby does not understand:
- Don’t touch that! (Especially if the object is murderously lethal.)
- All gone! (Particularly in the case of food sneaked off your plate.
- Time to go to sleep.
It’s at that point that you realise that they understand a lot more than you thought. The thing is, they don’t give a fuck. They get that you want something to happen, but they happen to disagree. Vehemently.
Ah well, it’d suck if it was always easy, right?
No. No, it would not suck. It would be freaking awesome.
I love the mistakes that occur when kids are learning to talk. Those misspoken words and odd turns of phrase provide me with considerable amounts of mirth.
It must be hard, learning a whole language just from listening to other people. Particularly because, when you really think about it, English makes no sense at all.
For instance, I often tell Big Girl and Little Girl to put things ‘on the side’ in the kitchen. On the side of what?? It makes no fucking sense. I only say it because it was always said to me when I was a kid. Which is a fairly crappy reason for doing just about anything.
The kids would agree with me, as well. Even though I’ve been saying it for years now, they still look at me in baffled confusion every single time.
Really must stop saying that, actually.
Here are some of my favourite mis-sayings from the smalls:
- Punky – monkey
- Pog – pig
- Blenna – umbrella
- Liddle-Liddle – drink
- Pak – cucumber
- Baggies – yup, still milkies
Most of those are from Little Girl. She really did talk a fantastic amount of shit when she was small.
It saddens me when they stop using these words, and replace them with the correct pronunciation. It’s just a blatant message to me that my babies are growing up. Sob.
In protest, I will continue to call a pig a ‘pog’ and a drink a ‘liddle-liddle’ forever. Yes, forever. Because they are just too fucking cute to throw into that forgotten place called ‘the past.’
Once you reach the stage where your kids start talking in sentences, you think you’ve got it covered. Finally they will be able to express their wants and needs clearly enough so that each request does not result in a floor-hitting tantrum of epic proportions.
Silly, silly, silly.
Obviously that’s never going to happen. Instead, being able to talk in sentences just gives children the opportunity to ask for things that they can’t have with even more words.
“Can I have a snack? Can I play with [incredibly messy toy]?” Sound familiar? This is what my house sounds like all the damn time.
Then there’s the arguing. It’s hard to argue with a parent if all you can say is, “No! Doggie! Argh!” Not much scope for reasonable debate there. But if you can talk in sentences, then you can say, “Mother, I disagree with your proposed actions.” Or something like that.
I wouldn’t be telling you a lie if I said Little Girl’s first proper sentence was, “I don’t like dis.” I waited fucking forever for her to talk. She refused to say a word for ages, until she was about two I think. I worried and angsted and signed. And after all that, all I got was a short, crushing review of the dinner I had prepared.
Sounds about right.
Having done this whole talking thing a couple of times, I have come to a conclusion. It doesn’t matter how much they can talk. It doesn’t get any easier for one simple reason:
Kids make no fucking sense.
Don’t buy it? Ok, fine. My kids make no fucking sense.
I really thought it would be easier once they were able to chat and discuss things. I would know what they wanted, I would understand why they were upset, and I could reason with them if they were annoyed.
Here’s an example. The other day, Little Girl was playing in the living room after school. She turned to me, and said, “Muuum, can I play on your bum?”
W. T. F?
Obviously, my reaction was to stop and stare, open-mouthed. She giggled and said, “Oops, I mean iPad!”
Ha ha, yes that didn’t freak me out or anything. Just a daft mistake. Funny.
So there’s the replacing words thing. How am I supposed to know what they’re asking for if they won’t even use the right word?
I’m fighting a losing battle here.
And the whole ‘knowing why they’re upset’ thing? It’s not really working out for me. Big Girl came out of school sobbing this week. This is a rare occurrence, she’s normally bouncing and screeching and other such enthusiastic things. I gave her a hug, and asked her what was wrong.
“[Friend 1] is cross at me because I hugged [Friend 2]!” she wailed. Which makes no sense whatsoever. So I dug a little deeper. She stuck with that story for at least five minutes. It got to the point where I was starting to think I wasn’t going to get it out of her. And then, she told me that her friend is changing schools. It wasn’t about hugs at all. Poor Big Girl.
But tell me, how can they tell you what’s the matter if they don’t even know? They can’t. Life is just too complicated for children to fully understand, and even harder for them to explain.
Every conversation’s a mystery. Luckily I always carry around my trusty magnifying glass!
(N.B. I don’t actually carry a magnifying glass.)
For me, one of the crappiest things about having talking children, is hear my own words repeated back to me. Sometimes it makes me realise that I didn’t sound that nice, or that a phrase I use is a bit confusing.
Sometimes it just makes me look stupid.
But every so often, it’s extremely amusing. One day, when Little Girl was being particularly trying, I said, “If you don’t stop spreading that yogurt on the table, I’m going to take it off you.”
Perfectly reasonable, in my opinion. Yoghurt-spreading is bloody infuriating, right?
But another little person didn’t agree with me. Big Girl gave me a look I would interpret as a touch judgemental, and said, “That’s a bit harsh!”
Yup, there’s my words.
Despite the shortcomings of being able to communicate with the kids, it’s still pretty awesome. Little Girl’s new favourite catchphrase is, “You’re the best mummy in da world!” which I will never tire of hearing. I love the whispered “I love you”s, and the singing. And most of all, I love this joke:
Why did the stars cross the road?
Because they were going to poo in the bin.
Thanks, Big Girl.