It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Babytalk

Mother and son sit on my front hall floor, engrossed in the business of putting on his shoes, curly blond head nestled against graying blond head. It’s a cute tableau, and I smile even as I look down on inch-long gray roots. Time for a touch-up, mom.

“Push little foot!” Mommy’s voice is sing-song and cheerful. My smile becomes a teeny bit fixed. I am not a huge fan of babytalk, but they’ll be gone soon. I can gag in private in a few minutes.

The child grunts a bit, but makes no discernable pushing motion of his foot into his shoe. Mom’s being had here. This child can put his own shoes on. Takes him two minutes, tops. Oddly, I know mom knows this. Some days she has him do it. But today is a gooey day.

“Push! Push little foot!”
More push-less grunting.
“No? Can’t? Okay, I will help little boy. Oh, look! Little shoe!” She’s so happy.
Mommy slides the shoe on.
“There! All done! Shoe on little foot!”

He hops off her lap, and, happy child that he is, hops around the front hall. Bounce, bounce, bounce.
The mother smiles. “Oh, happy boi-oy!”

He laughs. He is a happy boy. He is also three years old. It has been close to a year and a half since he’s spoken the way his mother has been speaking to him for the past five minutes. Interestingly, this normally chatterbox boy hasn’t yet spoken a word in response. Perhaps he doesn’t understand Baby?

“Okay, now. Say ‘bye-bye’ to Wee-wee.”

Ugh.

“Wee-wee?” It’s been close to two years since he’s used that annoying diminuitive of my name. It lasted about three weeks. I mean, does anyone really want their nick-name to be a bodily fluid? I haven’t heard it in two years (less three weeks). I had no idea it was ongoing at home. It’s a bit of a start to hear it at all, much less from the lips of someone pretty nearly my age. Isn’t forty-mrhph old enough to know better?

Thank goodness this verbal retrogression is only an occasional thing. On a daily basis, it would leave my fingers itching for a muzzle. Or the ever-handy duct tape. The return to ooey-gooey babytalk always has me scratching my head. Once you’ve left it behind, why go back? What need of her is it filling? What mood does it express? Or is she just privately assured that there too little Inane in the world?

“Wee-wee.” Yeesh.

July 21, 2008 - Posted by | parents, quirks and quirkiness, the dark side |

10 Comments »

  1. Wee-wee?! I mean, I understand that such nicknames can arise when r’s or l’s are tough to pronounce so you get a /w/ sound instead, but that’s one nickname I’d be trying to hussle out the door ASAP!

    I have to say I was a teeny bit sad when our eldest moved from calling herself “Sunny” to a closer version of her own name, because it was so cute… but then, it wasn’t a bodily fluid, either!

    I did hustle it out, but for some strange reason, the parents — well, mother — seems not to have noticed that he has been pronouncing my name just fine for months now. My youngest called socks “gookums” for ages. We have no idea where that came from, and I was truly sorry to see it go.

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | July 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. My parents were always horrified by baby talk when my sister and I were still small enough to inspire that sort of thing in adults. Dad used to glare at the offending adult and say “They aren’t mentally deficient you know.”

    Your father sounds like my grandfather. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, and that’s just exactly the turn of phrase he’d have chosen. Hee.

    Comment by rambleicious | July 21, 2008 | Reply

  3. Oh Heaven’s, “Wee-wee”? Ma-wee is one thing…it’s at least half-way there.

    Speaking of “wee-wee” and baby talk, I remember when my son was potting training and my mother referred to my son’s penis as a “wee-wee” while he was present.

    Indignant, he remarked, “Grandma, it’s not a wee-wee, it’s a PeeeNNNiiisss!”

    I think I might have gone overboard with annunciation…but you should have seen the look on her face. 🙂

    I had a commenter here, long ago, who was marvelling that the tots in my care all call it a penis. “Around here, all the boys call it their ‘pee-pee’.” (Which, around here, is what comes out of it, of course.) “Wherever did they learn that?”

    Same place your kids learned pee-pee, probably — from their parents…

    I am, as you know, a strong proponent of accurate language. Even if it does sometimes raise grandmas’ eyebrows!

    Comment by Zayna | July 21, 2008 | Reply

  4. It can be hard to say goodbye to the babyhood of your youngest. Wee-wee would certainly piss me off though…

    You’re right, it can be. I didn’t correct and improve my youngest’s language with nearly the diligence I did my eldest, since I knew it was inevitable that she outgrow them (even without my training), and that those babyish turns of speech and sweet mispronounciations would be sorely missed once gone — never to return!

    Since I never used babytalk with them, however, (‘babytalk’ as opposed to language simplified to an age-appropriate level; and that not always), it wasn’t something I was tempted to prolong as her babyhood slipped away.

    Comment by Z | July 21, 2008 | Reply

  5. I’m not a fan of that, either – how’s a kid going to learn proper language without a proper model to follow? And would she like to be talked to like that by him one day? Not to mention it would out me off my cheerios, too. But the worst thing is the name – how did you hold back from correcting that? I think I would have drawn a line there just because I couldn’t take it. Yech.

    When I’m surprised by something I find unpleasant, I very often simply don’t gather my wits quickly enough to have a reaction. Since she was on her way out the door, I just said good-bye. As she only does this sporadically, and since this was the first I’d heard that variant in months and months, I can only hope it won’t reappear for months and months more. Maybe that was its very last appearance!

    Comment by kittenpie | July 21, 2008 | Reply

  6. Ugh, we never used baby talk with our two kids, right from the very beginning. We’ve always talked to them as though they were intelligent people (which they happen to be).

    Now BB is 7 and has a great vocabulary, and LS is 2.5 and her preschool teacher says she’s never had a kid that age who enunciated as well as LS does. (Have you ever heard a toddler who actually SAYS “l-m-n-o-p” when singing her ABCs, instead of lemon-o-p or something similar?)

    Coincidence? Maybe. Who knows. But I don’t think that our “no baby talk” policy hurt, that’s for sure.

    (OK, I will admit that we love it when LS says “key-buzz” instead of “because.” Key-buzz it’s just so darn cute!)

    I never babytalked to mine, either, though I’m not beyond some cooing nonsense syllables to a babe-in-arms. The sweet baby mangling of the language will happen without the parent doing it for them! It’s cute coming from your baby’s lips; it’s not so cute from an adult…

    Is LS left-handed? “Key-buzz” reminds me of the verbal reversals I did as a young child, which my mother attributed to my left-handedness. Who knows? (I said “clip-tie” and “hanger-coat”, among others. And don’t they make sense?)

    Comment by BookMama | July 21, 2008 | Reply

  7. I was very firm about not using babytalk – as opposed to simplified age-appropriate language – with my son, and really haven’t used it with any other young children either. I found it as irritating as you do. But having said that…

    Once, when my dog was a puppy, my sister commented that while I wouldn’t use babytalk with my son, I didn’t have a problem using it with my dog. The difference, from my perspective: No matter how smart your dog is, she’s probably not going to learn to talk, so it’s not going to affect language development.

    Maybe that’s why I have been known to coo nonsense at a babe in arms. “Who’s a smart baby? Izzit you? Yes, it is!” I don’t expect them to launch into speech. But by the time they’re sitting up, I naturally move to more sophisticated language, keeping a step or two beyond their ability, (as psychologists routinely note that most mothers just do) modelling the next step.

    It’s not generally something you think about as you’re doing it, but most parents do it: your language with your child becomes steadily more complex, and always a little beyond their capabilities. You draw them into the language, one babystep at a time!

    Comment by Florinda | July 21, 2008 | Reply

  8. Ugg….I can’t stand the moments where the kids know they can get away w/ murder b/c their parents are still there, the second their parents leave they resume acting ‘normal’ again.

    LOL You must be a caregiver!

    Comment by Alicia | July 22, 2008 | Reply

  9. Maybe the babytalk does fill some sort of need for the mom. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that my husband and I babytalk a lot (only in private! Never in front of others!) and I think it’s because it makes us feel cozy and loved.

    Having said that, I agree that the goal when speaking to children should be age-appropriate language, not babytalk.

    Comment by Lucy | July 22, 2008 | Reply

  10. You asked “Is LS left-handed?” No, she’s not, but BB and I are both very left-handed. Interestingly, he never really switched words around much like that.

    Comment by BookMama | July 22, 2008 | Reply


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