Lorelei learned how to say NO! this week. At sixteen months, my daughter has finally learned to say one of the simplest words, one that is usually among the first for a baby to learn. On the one hand, YAY! it has taken her this long to learn how to say that one word that has driven legions of parents before me completely insane. On the other hand, what am I doing wrong? Why did it take her so long?
I got into my head – and I might be wrong since I’m certainly not an expert – that I should be careful about saying “NO” to her. I saved it for special occasions when she was doing something especially bad or potentially harmful to her health and safety. It was easy during her first year, since she wasn’t very mobile and, although curious, I was careful about keeping her somewhere without a lot of temptation. Once she learned to crawl and later walk – which quickly morphed into a waddling run – it became harder. I couldn’t just move something out of her reach if I didn’t want her playing with it. I wasn’t able to always be within two feet of her to prevent catastrophe. I stopped being able to say, “Let’s not do that,” and moving her to a new location.
This last few months have seen a dramatic increase in NO! She wants to stick her head in the kitty litter box – frequently when it is occupied – or play with the sand that has trailed onto the floor around it. (Honestly, she used to pay zero attention to that box and now it is suddenly the most interesting thing ever.) She wants to pull on the oven door, slamming it open and closed. (We have yet to find a way to baby proof it that actually works.) There has been a lot of NO! going on lately.
Until now, she was an avid head shaker. If she didn’t like whatever meal I had cooked for her, she would shake her little head vigorously and turn away. If I tried to put her coat on her and she wasn’t in the mood, brain rattling. And then suddenly, she figured out that head shaking and stringing those two letters together N-O were the same thing.
I don’t remember why she first said it – I was still in a sleepy haze and Brian was tending to her – but I do remember the second time. I was on the phone with my mother and she was playing on the floor in the bedroom. She was happily peaking out between the curtains and chattering at the outside world. Then suddenly, she was in the bathroom – I neglected to close the door that separates it from our room – and was jiggling the lever on the toilet. I tried my usual attempts of distraction but was instead treated with, “NononononoNO!” Oh. Dear. Lord. She is really adorable in her nay-saying right now but I imagine it’s cuteness will not be lasting long.
I spend a lot of weeks overwhelmed by mommy guilt. I torture myself questioning my abilities. Is she learning fast enough? Shouldn’t she be sleeping better? Am I feeding her the right things? Enough? Endless questions and no good answers. I’m not much for parenting manuals* – I stopped reading Your Baby’s First Year after month three or four – and rely only on the occasional direction from the doctor and my own instincts. Oh fine, I also use the almighty Google. Highest on the list of my concerns is her speech.
It all started at her one-year check-up. We were being quizzed by our substitute pediatrician – our regular one was one maternity leave – about what words she was saying. At that point, she had really only mastered Mama and Dada and even those she didn’t always use correctly. The doctor wanted to know if she was using any sort of signs to indicate her wants. Things like up and more. For the most part, our answer was no. That wasn’t to say that Lorelei wasn’t interested or engaged in the world around her. She looked at things and pointed and gibbered. She seemed to understand a few things, cat and duck were two examples. We could ask her to point to something and frequently she would get it right. But no, she wasn’t doing a whole lot talking. At least, not understandable talking.
I tried really hard not to get too concerned. The occasional new word would emerge – we now have color, tree, car added to her repertoire – but there hasn’t been a big jump in her vocabulary. She understands more, too. She knows what bath means and your bedroom. Still not a lot of talking.
I have now reached CODE RED FREAKING OUT!
It does not help that I just finished reading NurtureShock** (really fascinating, I would highly recommend it) and there is an entire chapter entitled “Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t.” Oh, fuck. It was filled with all sorts of research studies that made me question whether I had really been doing it right.
One of the biggest ways to help language development, especially when babies are under a year old, is to respond to there babbles, either by repeating the “word” back to them or saying something like “Is that so?” I wonder if I spent enough time doing that. Or was I too wrapped up in my depression to fully engage and give her the tools to learn. It all comes back to mommy guilt.
Of course, the book also says that kids can catch up and early language development doesn’t guarantee anything. I don’t want her to have to play catch up, though. I want to hear and understand what she is saying to me. She babbles all the time and I know (sap alert!) that she is going to have lots of really important things to say in her life. From now on, I am going to be there and be better and help her find her voice.
*I’m talking about the week-by-week fare.
**This doesn’t count.