Hey, baby. What are you thinking?

They say before your baby talks, she understand tons of your words already. WELL, GOOD FOR HER.

Photo by: Eknath Gomphotherium

The time during babyhood and full toddlerhood is a murky, twilight time between total unawareness and happy babies willing to crawl right off the edge of the bed without a care. It’s a time for the blossoming understanding of things like “no” and “toes.” Every day, it seems like my daughter is showing us both how much she knows that we didn’t know she knew (ears! she knows what ears are!) and how much she has yet to know (pinecones are not for eating).

One area of contention is the upstairs bathroom. We live in a Cape Cod house with two bedrooms upstairs and a bathroom. I’m not a fan of toilet locks, because who knew those were even a thing? And despite liking the idea of free-range childhood, I apparently draw the line at the bathroom threshold. I don’t want her getting the idea that the room is for playing or hanging out. The bathtub isn’t a toy, and the toilet even less so.

You’d think this would be a surprisingly easy thing–“No, you can’t go in there.” But there are times when I waver. If it’s her bedtime and we’re getting ready to give her a bath, does it really matter if she crawls on in there ahead of me? My knee-jerk reaction is to say, “OK, sure, this is where we’re going anyway.” But then I think, does she understand the complexity of this being OK this one time but not OK to cross the bathroom threshold at other times? Am I breaking my baby’s brain with these nuances?

There are a million little things like this which are sources of second-guessing. Sometimes all I want in the world is for my kid to have some kind of headband that displays a running commentary of all the thoughts she’s unable to articulate in a way I understand. What is she thinking when she hurtles herself into my lap then wriggles away to go back to playing, then hurtles herself back into my lap, then shimmies away? Is she checking in to make sure I’m still there? Did she want to sit on my lap and then change her mind? Did I eat too much garlic?

People say kids are exhausting, and yet when I watch her for a day when I’m off, I find myself spending most of our time sitting on the nursery floor, either watching her play with her toys, or actively playing with her, and I’m going to be honest: both of those options get really super boring after a few hours. Sometimes sooner. But that’s not my point here: my point is that I can spend an entire day being semi-bored, reading the same books over and over again, and being a general layabout…and yet by the time she goes down for bedtime, I’m EXHAUSTED.

I think this is due to watching a creature all day very intensely with whom I cannot truly communicate. Most of the day I’m trying to figure out all these needs and wants that are articulated in varying degrees of understandability, trying to decipher the baby codes, and even if I’m just sitting there on the floor with her, I’m slowly being drained. Much like navigating in a foreign place and not speaking the language fluently, trying to Rosetta Stone a baby all day has GOT to have an impact on your physical energy. If constantly trying to decipher Czech directions is tiring, is it any wonder that hours of trying to tell the difference between a “Hngn?” from a “Gnow?” in baby-ese is equally exhausting?

I tried baby sign, of course. We own a whole book of baby signs and detailed pictograms showing exactly how to sign for all manner of things. But the thing about baby sign is that you have to use it, like, all the time–like a language. And that involves, apparently, more effort than I’m willing to make after a long day of work. If I remember to sign “all done” in addition to telling her “all done” it’s a freaking miracle, and I feel like I have leveled up in parenting and should probably be given a trophy.

For now, I’m trying to maintain consistency with rules even when they are, I know, not entirely necessary. Yes, everything WOULD be fine if my daughter crawled into the bathroom with us for her evening bath. But the rule is that the bathroom is a no-crawl zone, so even in the face of a logical exception, I’m holding steady. I have to hope that maintaining strict consistency will make my life easier later when I’m trying to broaden the yes/no boundaries of the house. It might not though. This could all be for naught! I don’t want to do any back-patting just yet.

As for the communication we share daily, I try to spend the day with periods of “conversation” and periods of silence. I narrate things for her sometimes, and she surprises me with the things she picks up. Apparently all those times I went “Those are your FEET, look at your cute little feet!” paid off. Other times though, I hold back. I figure, she’ll pick things up at her own speed too, and not everything needs to be narrated all at once.

Sometimes I let her just sit there doing her thing, whether it’s flipping her board book pages, or trying to put together her three-piece puzzle. I know I could be trying to read the board book pages to her each time she shows interest, or pointing out the dog, cat, and bird in her puzzle, but whether she gets it or not now, I’m pretty sure she’ll get it in time. If I read her a book three times and the fourth time I let her enjoy it silently, am I doing great harm? I hardly think so.

Sometimes, silence in the face of communication difficulties is golden. Until I can read my baby-toddler’s mind, it’s the best I can do. I hear tell teenagers are hard to read too, but that won’t be MY teenager, though. By that time, I’ll be able to read her like a board book.


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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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