Thursday, February 02, 2006

Connor Speak


First, a related tangent. Before Connor was born, Bryan and I joked that if I could understand guinea pigs, then I can understand my baby. On the surface, guinea pigs seem like dumb animals with only three thoughts in their pretty little heads: Is this edible, am I in danger, and I'm tired. They are actually very communicative creatures with complex relationships, and I could discern many sounds and body postures, such as I'm hungry, I'm out of water, I just heard the refrigerator door open, I don't feel good, I'm in pain, you are getting on my nerves, I love you, Hello, that feels wonderful, I'm quite content, I need to rest, I want to run around, and I'm in the mood and want to breed with something.

I'm equally skilled with understanding my cat, a frequently misunderstood animal. Jolie is highly affectionate, comes when I call her, and speaks to us with a vast repertoire of distinct sounds.

Dama, our dog, is the easiest. She has eyebrows, so she has many easily discerned facial expressions. She also understands many words (dogs are capable of learning up to 150 different words), and we communicate this way: she sits in front of me with a very specific look on her face. I then run through a small list of words, and she stands up and wags her tail when I get to the right word. It's usually potty, dinner, toy, or kisses (which means she gives us kisses and we pet her).

So then comes our Connorpillar. The reason I understand my pets is because I spend a great deal of time observing them and interacting with them, and Connor has been no different. One of the hallmarks of Attachment Parenting is that babies should spend more time with people then with things. Studies show that attached babies tend to learn to speak sooner because they have more opportunities to see and hear people in conversation. Babies watch very intently to see how it is done, and Connor (who turns 3 months tomorrow) has figured out that when people speak, they take turns. So, he likes to look me in the eye, babble out a few sounds, and then wait. It is then my turn to say a few words and wait, and then when he thinks I am done, he makes a few more baby words and then waits again. After 4 or 5 rounds like this, he grins from ear to ear. Voila, we have just conversed, and he is pleased.

Since babies (and toddlers) like to copy their parents, Dr. Sears recommended parents stick their tongue out at their babies around 1 month or so, and eventually the babies would attempt to do it back. Since we did this frequently, Connor decided that sticking your tongue out is how you say hi to someone, and will stick is tongue out at everyone he meets, and if they don't do it back, he actually gets frustrated.

Then, there is the Baby Cry. Babies have two needs: to be loved, and to be comfortable. In the beginning, they have one cry that means I am hungry, I have a dirty diaper, I'm too hot, I'm too cold, I hate wearing my hat, I don't like the music I'm hearing, I have an eyelash in my eye, my leg is out of my pant leg and in with the other leg, I'm hungry again, my diaper is on too tight, I don't want another bilirubin blood test, etc.Over time, Connor has learned that different sounds can bring different results. Dr. Sears calls this learning to "cry better". His "I'm in pain somewhere" cry is still the same, and it takes some experimenting before we can find the problem and fix it, but he also has other cries that have specific tones and emotions attached, so we can tell if he is telling us that he is hungry, he needs a new diaper, he is bored and wants to do something else, he is scared, he is tired, he does not want to go in the Car Seat of Doom no No NO, or simply that he has had a long day and needs to just cry about it in the arms of someone who will listen.

Of course, my reason for living is Connor's current development: the Giggle. When he learned to smile, it became our constant quest to illicit a Connor Smile as often as possible. It was the key indicator between "Meh, that's OK" and "Woo hoo, do it again!" With the recent addition of the Giggle, our purpose is to not only keep Connor content, but to in fact make him deliriously happy. A Baby Giggle is like the Holy Grail of parenthood, the Olympic Gold Medal that negates all colicky nights and reverses the lingering emotional trauma of a cold and unfeeling hospital birth experience. When Connor giggles, angels sing and sunshine breaks through the clouds. It is utter euphoria.