Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I think it was Penelope Leach I was reading -- anyway, the author of a parenting book was exhorting parents to talk to their babies, and to overcome feelings of embarrassment or weirdness if talking to an infant didn't come naturally to them, and for a moment I couldn't figure out what she was talking about. Embarrassment? About talking to another human? Does not compute.

But it was only a moment, and then I remembered: oh, yeah, I am a compulsive talker. I talk to my dogs. I talk to myself. A solo trip to the grocery is likely to provoke half a dozen comments to no one in particular along the lines of, "What kind of crap outfit runs out of organic yellow mustard?" Not muttered under my breath, but spoken aloud, with gusto, as if talking to an imaginary friend who might be ten or fifteen feet away. Occasionally actual humans are nearby, and assume I'm talking to them, and respond, which always takes me aback a little. I wasn't talking to you, buddy -- what am I, a crazy person, to talk to random strangers? That's not strictly true, either: I'm running a monologue, but in fact I'm delighted if strangers bust in.

So I'm happy to know that this borderline-creepy mania of mine is positively encouraged by experts in child development. Apparently language acquisition has a lot to do with general capability, and the more different words a kid hears before age three, the more likely he is to be good at things like algebra and holding down a job. In fact, this is why experts want people to read to their kids; it's not so much about books or reading per se, so much as it's about exposing the kid to words that may not be in the parents' vocabularies.

My "conversations" with Ben these days are maybe one part thinking aloud slash grocery list, one part description of what's going on (recommended by parenting experts as the sort of talk babies develop an interest in soonest), one part babble, and one part conscious use of multisyllabic, big-vocabulary words. Viz: "We're at Ikea, Ben. Mom loves Ikea. Mom misses Ikea since we moved to the damnable hinterlands. We're walking past glasses, Ben: wine glasses and juice glasses and beer glasses and I don't know what those glasses are for. Those glasses are preposterous, Ben. Those glasses are absurd and improbable. Mom needs to find table lamps, Ben. Yes Mom does. Yes Mom does. Yes Mom does."

One of these days, a tiny person -- not a stranger -- is going to bust into this monologue and turn it into a conversation, and I'm going to be so delighted I might just be speechless. For a second.

1 comment:

Phantom Scribbler said...

I do NOT generally talk to myself, but, in the aftermath of parenting young children, I've found myself alone at the grocery store suddenly realizing that I'm telling an empty shopping cart about the crap outfit that's out of organic ketchup. (Ketchup, not mustard. The boy, he is all. about. the. ketchup.)

I hope you will keep a sharp ear out for the first time Ben uses the word "preposterous" back at you.