April 18, 2006

The other night there was a segment on the national news about brains or memory or something else that makes it ironic that I only partially remember the subject, and part of the story focused on babies; specifically, teaching babies to sign. The program seemed to suggest that people do this in order to stimulate their children’s intellect and ready them for an educational fast-track straight to Harvard.

Now, to me the super-cool thing about baby signing is that in theory you get to figure out what the HELL their problem is. Let the other parents worry about whether or not Junior will be eligible for the Montessori Gifted Snowflake Program, I just want to find out the exact shape of the stick that’s rammed up my son’s ass so I can remove it and we can all get back to American Idol.

Yesterday I was convinced Riley had a cold. All the signs were there: slight fever, snotty nose, coughing, unbelievably horrific disposition. Then halfway through the day I started wondering if his problem had less to do with a virus and more to do with the second incipient tusk emerging from his gums. After all, there were the familiar tsunami-sized drool levels, anger towards solid food, and general nihilistic outlook on life. But who can say for sure?

I’ve wished in the past for a device that interprets babies’ cries and displays the appropriate message: “I’M COLD”, for instance, or “I FEAR FOR THE SAFETY OF BRITNEY SPEARS’ CHILD”, but these days I feel pretty competent when it comes to understanding Riley. I know when he’s tired (rubs eyes), hungry (bleats like goat, furiously sucks arm hickey), and in need of a change (erodes nasal mucociliary lining of all within twenty yards).

However, there are definitely times like yesterday when I’m at a loss, and my only recourse is to give him a mother’s comfort by holding him, kissing him, and staring deeply into his eyes while murmuring these soothing words: “What in the blue fuck is wrong with you, anyway?”

If he were signing, maybe he could make some elaborate hand gesture that means “Ah, mother dear, my second bottom tooth seems to be at a particularly uncomfortable point with regards to the surrounding gum area, and my schedule for this evening shall include at least three anger-fueled awakenings. Let’s see…are 1 AM, 3:35, and 5:48 good for you?”

On the other hand, it probably doesn’t really matter whether he’s teething or fighting off a cold, the end result is similar enough: a slug of Motrin, a visit to the trusty old rocking chair, and a fervent desire for morning to come so we can fob him off on hapless daycare workers.

(P.S. “My 5-week old baby made the sign for milk and I photographed it!” Yeah, right. And afterwards I bet he created the likeness of the Virgin Mary in his diaper.)



The Baby Thousand-Yard-Stare that precedes a nice healthy screamfest. If there was a gesture for this mood it would definitely involve one finger in particular.


32 Responses to “Reading between the lines”

  1. scott on April 18th, 2006 3:58 pm

    this sounds suspiciously like your little man is teething. and seething! time to numb the gums!

  2. Cris on April 18th, 2006 4:48 pm

    That pic of Riley is so funny and so real.. can relate!

    More pics of the dude.. smiling and happy pls!

  3. honeybecke on April 18th, 2006 5:21 pm

    Oy vay, I am so with you. Elliot went through three days (and NIGHTS) of hell, which in turn, means mama and daddy also went through three days (and NIGHTS) of hell. End result? One shiny little ping of a tooth popping up on the bottom. Thank GAWD. We also stared at him and then at each other and asked Where oh Where has our little boy gone? He.was.so.pissed! He was also sick too- snotfest and cough-o-rama. So, it sounds like you’re on the same boat we were on. The only thing that worked well was frozen celery. I think I read that over at tallnlucky’s and holy hell, it worked!! I was so desperate at one point I tossed an frozen ice pack (non-toxic gel kind) at him. Okay, not really *tossed* as much as I placed it lovingly in his screaming gob.
    I am not, repeat NOT looking forward to the other little pingers popping up.
    Good luck with your cranky monkey and may the ping pop soon!

  4. Amy on April 18th, 2006 6:11 pm

    I do know a family that used sign language for their babies and the babies used the signs before they could talk, but they were still at the 10 month or older mark, so there is a wait nonetheless. Once they could talk, they forwent the signs altogether.

  5. Nikki on April 18th, 2006 7:02 pm

    My son Trevor had such a horrid time with ear infections and didn’t actually verbally speak until he was nearly two. Before that, the Early Intervention team we worked with taught him how to sign. Until the time he got tubes put into his ears (3 yrs old), that was our primary source of communication and you’d be surprised how much even those little signals can mean.
    Sounds like your little guy is teething up a storm. I always hated seeing them so uncomfortable :(

  6. Michael on April 18th, 2006 7:52 pm

    In the very excellent book “Seeing Voices“, Oliver Sacks wrote that deaf babies can sign for milk at age 6 months. So, yeah, 5 weeks my ass.

    We taught our son sign language and it was awesome. I think we started around 7 months and he actually started using them around 9 months. By the time he was 18 months old, he knew about a dozen different signs and a dozen different words. Some of the signs he learned were milk, diaper change (so awesome!!), more, up, please, sleep, and “no no no” (shaking his finger in a perfect imitation of his mom). Some of these weren’t the “correct” signs, but who cares? It was good enough for him to communicate with us months before he could talk.

    Now that he’s 2.5 years old, he doesn’t really sign anymore (unless we don’t give him something he wanted even after he said “please” over and over for fifteen minutes, and then he’ll sign “please” just in case we’ve forgotten English). As far as we can tell, learning sign language did not delay his speech at all.

    Speaking of which, here are some really useful phrases to teach your growing baby boy: “I’m stuck” or “help me” (which can avoid many meltdowns), “excuse me dada” (as in, move out of my way dada), and “hot mama” (guaranteed to crack up any room full of adults).

  7. Shannon on April 18th, 2006 8:31 pm

    If nothing else, you should teach Riley to do the British “middle finger” equivalent, which is the “V” sign given in front of the opposite forearm. Not only would it be totally punk rock, but the other kids (and workers) at the daycare would not know what it was! Yessss!

  8. Jenn on April 18th, 2006 8:37 pm

    I love Riley’s socks, they are too damn cute.

  9. Kristin on April 18th, 2006 10:01 pm

    I think Nolan fears for the safety of Britney Spear’s child also. Either that or he is terrified for the TomKitten.

    (Every time you post a new picture of Riley I think, cutest picture EVER! And then the next one trumps the last. Awesome.)

  10. Pete on April 18th, 2006 11:39 pm

    Damn, I am so glad my children are older! I remember those day like you are having, don’t miss them at all. I do miss the good times when they were younger. Those days are now replaced new good times. Good luck, you will miss these times.

  11. Ulli on April 19th, 2006 4:12 am

    LOL that was funny – again. As usual. However, I have seen the signing thing with my friends and it’s kind of cool. Granted, junior doesn’t start communicating at an early age, but the other day I spent the night at her house and she was still asleep while I was tending to the kids. All three knew basic signs, but two are talking now, PHEW, good for me. I digress. The 14 month old came up to me and signed that he was thirsty. THAT was pretty damn cool. I knew the sign from the other two and god knows, otherwise he would have probably started fussing and crying and moi, Ms. ” I don’t know the hell what’s going on” would have probably taken a moment to figure it out. This was it was totally non-frustrating for him and for me. They know some basic signs, not many….food, drink, sleep, stuff like that.

  12. thejunebug on April 19th, 2006 4:44 am

    Signing, yes. Signing at five weeks? Hell no!

  13. ang on April 19th, 2006 7:43 am

    I taught my daughter to sign (in so far as she knows the alphabet and how to ask for french fries, please) and we practice while learning to verbally spell new words. Spell C-A-T and sign at the same time. I have deaf family members and it’s important for her to learn to communicate with her cousins. (Also, sign language interpreters start out earning about $37 per hour, she’s my only child, and my retirement Sucks!)

  14. Sundry on April 19th, 2006 7:56 am

    I do think baby signing is very cool, just in case it sounded like maybe I didn’t (although, signing at 5 weeks? cough*BULLSHIT*cough). I have a couple books on the subject, but if anyone knows of a good instructive DVD or something along those lines, let me know.

  15. jen on April 19th, 2006 8:30 am

    I know a family that does this. Ever time I go over there I test her daughter – she’s two-ish and has a huge vocabulary both spoken and signed. “Jenna, what’s the sign for hungry?” and she does it. “Jenna, what’s the sign for meat?” and she does it. It’s totally awesome. I can’t wait to have kids just so that I have a little thing to take to family gatherings and show off and amaze and delight the attendees.

  16. Star Firstbaseman on April 19th, 2006 10:33 am

    Haha – thousand yard stare. So true.

  17. SalGal on April 19th, 2006 10:35 am

    We taught our daughter a handful of signs (More, eat, drink, milk, help, please and thank you primarily) as you stated because we were exhaused by playing 20 questions every day and trying to mind-read. She took to them pretty well at around 10 months and still uses them in conjunction with her verbalizations now at 16 months. I don’t know whether or not it made any difference but she knows a LOT of words for her age and now talks ALL THE TIME. She’s our only and is always in the care of her parents or grandmas who talk TO her constantly so the signing might not have made any difference but our take was – Can’t Hurt, Might Help, What’s To Lose By Trying?

    I know every website and doctor in the world says teething doesn’t cause fever, runny noses, etc. but those things certainly seemed to correlate to new teeth in my house . . .

  18. fellowmom on April 19th, 2006 11:25 am

    Signing at 5 weeks–no way. Delusional. Like the woman who told me her baby called her “mama” at 9 weeks. Sure he did, but he didn’t know it!

    Hope the tooth surfaces soon. Riley still looks cute despite all the angst.

  19. bethy on April 19th, 2006 11:46 am

    Good luck with the teething thing… I’m not a mom yet, but my nephew is going through it right now and oh boy… looks so scary! ; ) But I’m sure you’ll get through just fine… I hope…

    Love the blog. And the adorable pics. Keep it coming!

  20. MRW on April 19th, 2006 11:58 am

    We used this book/DVD set up to learn to sign with my son when he started bringing home signs from day-care. It was great – we could finally figure out when he was about 10 or so months old when he was hungry and thirsty and more importantly when he was “all done” eating – saved a LOT of fussing a freaking out in the highchair etc. We didn’t go overboard with the signing (link notwithstanding), but just did enough to cover the basic needs – more, please etc. This book and the DVD were pretty helpful.


  21. Monica Beyer on April 19th, 2006 12:47 pm

    Hi there! I was pointed towards your page by a friend of mine and I run the site to which you link the questionable photo. I agree that it’s impossible that a 5-week-old child can knowingly use sign language.

    Anyway, you asked for a good DVD recommendation. We’re a signing family and I’ve been signing with my children for 6 years and I run my own site/store so I’ve seen a LOT of videos. Some are truly terrible, and I don’t carry them. But the ones I carry are the ones I really like.


    For just starting out, I’d recommend Baby Signing Time! (which comes in only a 2 DVD/2 CD set) and is really amazing. It’s pricey, so I would also recommend the My Baby Can Talk series. All of these are really engaging for little ones and quite fun and catchy (the Baby Signing Time! in particular has a lot of original catchy tunes).

    These are geared towards small children. If you wanted a DVD that has a lot more vocabulary, I’d pick either one of the Baby See ‘n’ Sign DVD’s. They are too geared towards children but aren’t as flashy or engaging as the others I mentioned. They are long and don’t hold the attention of the children for the entire viewing. But they are terrific for vocabulary building.

  22. dani on April 19th, 2006 1:17 pm

    i actually have a friend who TEACHES signing for babies.
    email me. i will put you in touch.

  23. M.a. on April 19th, 2006 1:17 pm

    Why I love Sundry: (1) Her blog subject lines are nice and straightforward and I don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out why “Pickled Pretzel Poon Dog” is significant after reading the blog (what? I thought it was clever); and (2) she writes stuff like this “I just want to find out the exact shape of the stick that’s rammed up my son’s ass so I can remove it and we can all get back to American Idol.” which is literary perfection.

  24. sundry on April 19th, 2006 1:22 pm

    Thanks Monica! Most of the photos on your site are really interesting, I just had to call BS on the fetus-signing-on-purpose pic. : )

  25. M.a. on April 19th, 2006 1:27 pm

    Wait. The pic of the kid signing for milk… I think it’s the Italian sign for “Up Your Mostacolli, Luigi”, isn’t it? Jeez. And she gave him MILK? I bet he was even more pissed.

  26. stephanie brown on April 19th, 2006 1:31 pm

    my mom is a nanny for twins right now. their grandmother teaches sign language and has taught these less than 2 year olds how to do a few signs. it’s pretty cool and most definately adorable.
    i dunno about harvard but i’m pretty sure most babies are capable of learning.
    and then you can show us cute little videos of the boy saying he’s all done, or that he wants more and all that other cute stuff :)

  27. warcrygirl on April 19th, 2006 1:34 pm

    My oldest didn’t start talking until he was 4 so yeah, being able to understand is a plus. Now that my kids are older I can tell when they’re screaming because they’re pissed at each other, when they’re playing or when it’s time to call 911. And remember what I told you about how to ease teething pain…

  28. Karina on April 19th, 2006 1:58 pm

    Hey, I think Jen was talking about us earlier! :) Jenna is 2 1/2 with a huge vocabulary– we now use signs more as a baby trick than to communicate– altho, we do use it on the playground and in groups of kids to communicate on the sly– “one more slide, then finished, let’s go” or “are you having fun playing?” or “do you want something to eat? diaper change?”
    She seems to know that if we sign it, we mean it. “nurse LATER!”
    We bought an actual ASL dictionary, if we want to know the sign for something we can look it up. Didn’t make sense to us to teach her baby signs– it is like baby talk! So, some signs were ‘modified’ simply because she didn’t have the finger dexterity yet, but we do the ‘right’ signs and she is improving.
    We started with the basics– mostly FOOD related — nurse/milk, eat, More, Finished. Went on to Change diaper, Play, cat, dog etc.
    It really helps with frustration levels, especially between one and two years when she could formulate the want or need BUT couldn’t verbalize it yet.

  29. JennB on April 19th, 2006 2:01 pm

    My husband was initially against the sign-language thing until I told him: “Imagine yourself in a world full of people that you understand, but you can’t make your needs or wants understood”. He got it. P knows up, please, more, and thank you. She’s kind of hybridizing thank you, though – she puts her hand in front of her mouth and then says her version of thank you. It’s very cute, and very effective, I think. But don’t bother with animals and ball and that crap. Do the helpful ones – hungry, tired, thirsty, more, please, thank you, etc. I’m working on drink, cracker and milk right now. P also signs more please, in succession. Look out, Advanced Montessouri Yale-track! My kid’s an f-ing genius!

  30. TB on April 19th, 2006 2:05 pm

    I bought the Baby Signs book used for a dollar at our local library. I know, I don’t have kids yet so that’s kind of weird, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I also bought a book about Breast Feeding. I should really blog about this because it IS a little kooky, but it was only a dollar. It’s not like I’m out buying maternity clothes and one of those fake stomachs.
    I want to try the signing thing when we do eventually have a kid, but I can’t get the Meet The Fockers image out of my mind.
    I hope the boy is feeling better soon.

  31. Gillian on April 19th, 2006 4:58 pm

    Dude, I did an extensive interview with the owner of signingbaby.com for BMEzine.com. It doesn’t talk very much about the site, but it does touch on it. You should read it; this girl knows what she’s talking about.
    Read it here.

  32. Mel on April 20th, 2006 8:27 am

    I haven’t given much thought to teaching my seven-and-a-half month old son, Ian, to sign because I’m blind and he doesn’t really like me touching his hands, except for lotion time. However, he has done some modified communication. When he wants me to pick him up, he will wave his arms in the air and make this sound so I can hear him bouncing, if that makes sense. That’s his way of telling me to pick him up. When he wants to eat, he makes this sound like he drank lemonade that was too sour. It’s pretty ingenious, I think, but then I’m his mother so I can think that. *grin*