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    I Hold It

    Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from children

    This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared the many lessons their children have taught them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.



    If you would've asked the pre-motherhood-me about how I'd communicate with my future children, I'd have almost certainly said that any kid of mine would be speaking in complete sentences by age one. Like I did. Like my mother loves to recount. There's a cassette tape of my first birthday that features a newly one year-old Stefanie saying things like, "I hold it!" (the microphone) and singing You Are My Sunshine, reciting the ABCs. That same me, pre-George, thought baby sign language was -- you know -- cute, but unnecessary if your hearing-capable child simply got the amount and type of attention required to teach said child to talk. HA HA. I know, I know!

    Fast forward to the first few months after giving birth, when I would've hacked my own arm off ala Aron Ralston just to extricate myself from the frustration of being unable to effectively communicate with the tiny new love of my life. Baby sign language? Hell yes, please. I opened and closed my hand during every hours-long nursing session, hoping that George would pick it up. Hoping that the next time he cried like his heart was broken, a lightbulb would appear over his little head that meant, "HEY WAIT! I can tell you what I need, and what I need is to nurse," and his fist would open and shut, the Halleluia chorus would sound and we would go out for a celebratory drink. Oh. Um, anyway.

    One day, it happened. Five months in, my screechy little grump learned how to talk. Sort of. He was nomming away and reached up to sign right under my nose: Nurse. Milk. Nom nom. In my face, as if to say, "Mama, you better not miss this." I didn't believe it. I took video and posted it on Facebook, hoping for confirmation, which came quickly from other parents, along with hearty congratulations, the likes of which only come from people who know the magic of that Baby-English Dictionary. And with that, the game changed. He told me when he was hungry, which was more often than I'd realized. More often than "they" say babies are "supposed" to eat. I could stop trying everything else before feeding; he just put that little fist to work and I complied. Happily. No -- ecstatically. A month or so later came 'all done,' then 'more.' Like Which way to the train?, Where is the bathroom? and excuse me, the all-purpose phrases of international travel, these three signs covered a multitude of situations (I am all done with this stupid diaper change; More of those sweet tunes! Get out of my face -- you aren't funny [which can be conveyed with surprising unambiguity with 'all done']). We had a different child. The ability to tell us what he wanted made him happy and proud, and our ability to understand him came as such a relief. That crabby, misunderstood little guy was replaced by the communicative George we have now, and my stock in baby sign language went through the roof.

    He began using a verbal vocabulary in what I like to consider a recreational way, because he wasn't forced to hurry up and learn to talk about his needs. Cat, dog and meow were his first words (besides Mama), and continue to be the ones he uses most frequently, almost always while pointing out an animal and grinning a grin that asks if you are getting a load of this(?!). At almost thirteen months, he is definitely nowhere near singing You Are My Sunshine or reciting his ABCs, but what I've learned from parenting my son is something that I've had to learn and relearn many times before this final (I hope) sinking in: everyone goes at their own pace, and intelligence means different things in different situations. If my six month old had been able to do what I (not so) lovingly call baby tricks -- the motions to Itsy Bitsy Spider, "SO big" (which is really freaking cute; don't get me wrong), etc., but didn't have the tools to express his most basic needs and wants, he might still have been considered "smarter" than other kids his age. But would he feel empowered, understood, validated? George won't be a Billy Collins-reading Youtube sensation anytime soon, but I know which is more important to me.  

    If you had asked that pre-kid Stefanie to prioritize feeling validated and the appearance of intelligence, I'm sorry to say that she would've had some difficulty deciding before arriving, in all likelihood, at looking smart being more important. I'm delighted to report, however, that a really, really clever baby has shown her the error of her ways.



    Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

    Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

    (This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 11 with all the carnival links.)

    Reader Comments (11)

    Ha! What a lovely post - and isn't is amazing just how effectively our babies can communicate - I learned that we communicate through words only 5% of the time. The rest of communication is through body language and it would seem from your post that this is totally true. Thanks for sharing such an informative post; I really enjoyed reading it :)

    Oh, my gosh, I love this post. For us, it was my niece. My mythical niece, who started talking at 9 months so that even though her parents had started doing baby sign with her, it wasn't even necessary. She just up and began talking, so forget the nonsense in between. I am SO GLAD I didn't believe my child would also be a prodigy (hoped, but didn't believe), because he didn't even start signing until 11 months, and no talking till around 18 months. I can't tell you what an exquisite relief it was when he did his first signs: kitty and fan. Wouldn't you know it, he found fans and kitties everywhere! It was delightful. I agree wholeheartedly that the communicating is more important than the looking smart.

    January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren @ Hobo Mama

    Great post! Looks like your baby is a natural signer. I hope to start baby sign language with the (hypothetical) second baby earlier.
    My blog is

    January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

    This is great! I did baby sign language with my son too and it was so amazing to see him communicate with us. We quickly dropped signing once he started talking a lot. And I mean a lot. But I wish I had kept it up. We had a lot of fun with it!

    January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia

    I remember the excitement of Kieran's first signs - heck, ANY signs. Every single sign he picked up was incredibly exciting. He communicated all kinds of stuff that we otherwise wouldn't have known! People who don't sign can say that they understand what their babes need, but you don't really understand how MUCH they can tell you until you've seen for yourself. Great post Stefanie!

    January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDionna @ Code Name: Mama

    A great lesson, indeed! We loved baby signing too -- it's just so rewarding to have those lightbulb moments about important needs (as well as just realizing the funny things they are interested in, sometimes!).

    Oh my, yes yes yes! Nolie's words all sound like she is swearing. . . but luckily her signs are clear to me! My excitement at 'nurse' and 'all done' was akin to when I finally hit on the right word in spanish for bathroom at a time when it was MUCH needed. Right now were working on the sign for hurt. .. I can't even imagine how much easier that would make things (teething or just a bad mood??)
    George is a signing king, I love it. Nothing clearer than his 'nom' sign. Way to be Mama.

    January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAutumn Baughn

    Ha! I love your blog. I can *so* identify with the pre and post-mama feelings about vocabulary and speech. Baby signing was a marvelous discovery for us as well! What a relief it was to see that little fist opend and close and know (for once) exactly what she wanted.

    January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

    Great post! My children are 20 and 25 now, and baby signing wasn't popular when they were little. It sounds like a wonderful way to help empower babies, though ... fascinating!

    My eldest was a relatively early talker - by 18mo she was talking clearly in three word sentences. My second is now 20 months and has a smattering of barely pronounced words and a handful of signs. Nevertheless, she manages to get her point across quite well and understands what we say, follows requests, etc. You're totally right - every kid develops at their own pace, and expressing needs is way more important than baby tricks. I'm still learning this for myself too - figuring out what my needs are vs. looking smart.

    So true! I have learned this same lesson about many developments. Then journey is what matters and they will do itin thier own time. I love the story about him signing milk, what an exciting time for a mom!

    January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBethy

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