While sitting down with a friend and her two-year-old, I felt like a fraud. She’d just had her second child and she asked me what I did for a living. Had I said I was a writer, I’d have answered, but I’d omitted the detail because it was embarrassing to admit I was employed by other than a family publication.
In all seriousness, I was really hoping my baby would be “boring” like her, so as not to be perceived as “tired of babies.” It’s a gift, I explained.
“But they’re so loud,” she insisted.
“How often do they make their lives more interesting?”
“How do they get so cute?” she persisted.
Finally, I blurted out, “They’re gummy!” I had finally summoned up the courage to look her in the eye and say what she wanted to hear, albeit inadvertently.
But our eyes did not reflect the fact that both of us were desperately shy, initially still trying to figure out if we could have a child at all and yet, furthermore, scared about what would become of her. Here was a friend clearly on her way to a wonderful, peaceful life, and yet we were both exhausted.
Indeed, I was worried that the more I tried to talk to my baby, the more I’d inadvertently be talking to her. I was hoping that each time I opened my mouth to exclaim about the wonder of a gummy in a cup, my daughter would tune out. But I learned that I had to speak not only “babies talk” to her, but “baby talk” as well.
I learned that without TV, YouTube, digital books and films on everything from school readiness to peristalsis training, it was very difficult to master the rare skill of making clear pleasant small talk with a child.
I got to a point where I simply figured out how to hold her and reply to her questions with low voice, rich tone and beautiful brevity. She wasn’t interested in my answers, of course, but she listened as closely as she could, and then moved on to the next question.
Here are some of the talking tricks that gave us time to crack each other up:
If she opened her eyes at the same time, I’d pick her up, gently putting her into my lap, and I’d say, “What’s a gap?” I looked up at the ceiling and down at her and replied, “It’s how tall you are.” This was too grandiose, however, and even she laughed.