Lady Baby uses two kinds of talking. She says individual and practical words like “shoes” and “cheese,” but also whole sentences and paragraphs of explanation in something that is closer to Dothraki (the fictional “Game of Thrones” language) than to English.
In spite of our inability to decipher the specific words – the attempt to communicate is clear. She puts all her faculties into the expression – opening her eyes wide and using her hands to gesture, as though saying: “It’s complicated you know.” Her parents can often capture the sounds and use them in responsive sentences, but we all pay attention and try to answer appropriately: “Oh yes, how many, and then what happened?” Then her story continues.
Lady Baby loves to mimic the “aahh” sound you make after swallowing and savoring a beverage. We do it back and forth with her – sip of water, sip of tea – “Aaah!” she says.
She sits in a little hooked seat attached to the table in the kitchen nook where she faces two big windows. She stared as the wind shook tree branches and blew snow puffs off the neighbor’s fence and garage, but most noticed the redpolls and chickadees gleaning the last of the crabapples from the tree outside the window.
She points – as she points to all things of interest and says “that?” A quizzical lift of her eyebrows accompanies that when it’s a question. In a call and response, you automatically identify the object: sky, trees, birds. I’ve never been so aware of how often we use the word that – sometimes an interrogatory, other times a complete statement: “That.” We often say it right back to her “That’s an avocado, that’s a baby.”
She points to animals in a book and labels each with that until she encounters one she knows by sound: woof woof (dog) or ewowee (cat). If you start to sing “The Wheels of the Bus” and ask her what the parents on the bus say, she answers, “sssh, sssh, sssh!”
She has photo books in plastic folders (pretty grubby by now) and often reads them while eating. The photos are family or friends, and she points with thats until encountering Dad! Or Mmmmmum! She identifies her mother no matter what, can recognize the tiniest part of her (boots, jeans and a sweater suffice), even the back of her head, or her teenage iteration. Lady Baby’s “Mmmmmum” sounds close to yum, the mmmm of pleasure for something treasured.
And she loves a good story. I am so impressed by Mo Willems’s “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale” – and amazed by Lady Baby’s grasp of the narrative. It’s a book of line drawn people superimposed on real photos, the story of Trixie and her dad who walk through their neighborhood to the Laundromat.
The dramatic tension arises because Trixie’s Knuffle Bunny gets accidentally included in the washing machine. Trixie struggles to communicate to her father about the left behind stuffed animal (her language is much like Lady Baby’s). Trixie grows increasingly upset and loud, and the words fall on her increasingly upset dad’s non-comprehending ears.
I won’t give away the exact resolution (you’d love the book), but Lady Baby is so happy to read this story. She grows silent and observant till the denouement when she says “aaaw“ with a smile, and we clap our hands for Trixie.
How can you understand a narrative, a plot line, when you are only a little more than a year old? A joy to last a lifetime.