There is something hardwired into parents that make our voices go up three octaves when we’re talking to babies. My theory is that baby talk will disguise the actual disgust you're feeling thanks to whatever ridiculously gross thing your kid just did. I mean, sure, science proves there are real reasons, many beneficial, as to why parents decide to speak like children around their, you know, children, but I think my hypothesis is a solid one. Either way, whether I was enchanted by my child or shocked at whatever gross thing the kid just got herself into, I couldn’t stop with the baby talk.
As my kids have gotten older, my use of baby talk has diminished. But I am still constantly calibrating my tone with them. It’s so easy to lapse into frustration when they don’t listen, or squabble with each other, and I have to be careful to mitigate that feeling. I’ve learned my kids don’t respond well when my tone reflects my exasperation or my anger. While it might have worked for my mom to occasionally yell — since it galvanized my fear, which motivated me not to mess up — I find that when I'm yelling a lot my kids just tune it out. Speaking calmly, though firmly, is a better approach. And I’m sure if I adopted the baby talk I used to use when they were tiny, it might work even better. But they are 7 and 9 now and that would just be weird. Talking to them in somewhat adult tones helps them keep some dignity when I remind them — for the umpteenth time — to brush their teeth.
But back when they were babies, through their time in preschool, I would disguise the horror I faced with baby talk. They might have grossed me out with their bodily functions and attraction to the gross corners of our world (living in New York City doesn’t help), but they would never have known it by the sound of my voice when I would say these things, poorly mimicking Mariah Carey at the highest pitch I was capable of achieving:
“Aren’t You The Most Disgusting Eater On The Planet?”
I reached a point when I was wiping up more dribbled baby food than what my child decided to keep in her mouth. In those moments I could either go ballistic, or find the humor in the situation. I chose the latter, because I could be pretty scary when I’m angry. “It’s just gross puddles of liquid peas,” I’d tell myself, as I knelt down for the 100th time during that feeding session.
“Just When I Thought You Couldn’t Be Any Stinkier… “
Turning my disgust at the putrid contents of my baby’s diaper into sweetly sardonic charm was an act of self-preservation. If I actually allowed myself to be knocked out by the smell, and sight, of her waste when she started on solids, I might not have ever recovered. Funneling my disdain through the teasingly facetious filter, and knowing that my child was not sophisticated enough to recognize it as sarcasm, got me through a lot of diaper changes.
“Who’s The Loudest Baby On The Block?”
We live in an apartment building, and if I can hear my neighbor talk on the phone, she can definitely hear my baby wail as we sleep train her. But you can’t exactly tell an 8-month-old to keep it down and expect it will go well. So I just leaned into it.
“Oh Are You Up After Just A 20-Minute Nap?”
If I didn’t force myself to be delighted that my child rarely slept, thus offering me no time to either catch up on sleep myself or just, you know, eat a damn thing, I might have recognized the severity of the situation. Showering my baby with affection was a coping mechanism. Or, more likely, sleep deprivation was causing me to act loopy.
“I Know You Just Can’t Get Enough Of That Dirt But It’s Not Snack Time”
I swear people at the playground must have thought I never fed my son, based on his penchant for shoving dirt in his mouth. But you can’t yell at the child in public, so I had to resort to pretending it was adorable that he was seeking protein in the pile of soil where some dogs had likely peed.
“Thank You For Not Letting Me Shower Today, Sweetie”
The way I would say this would be in complete opposition to how I felt about the fact that my child would just not let me put her down all day. While maternity leave was a special time, and a way too-short time, it was also a very filthy time.
“I Love Changing Your Clothes Four Times A Day, I Do, I Do, I Do”
I do not understand the point of putting clothes on an infant. All I was doing was keeping our building's coin operated laundry company in business. Between the diaper blow-outs, the spitting up, and the crusty facial orifices, the clothes were basically cute diaper rags with leg holes. But it wasn’t my kid’s fault. I didn’t want her to feel it was actually a chore to change her so frequently, since it was sort of my job as her parent. I just smiled and squeaked through the annoyance. And it was worth it, because she smiled back and that beats any amount of laundry when you’re postpartum.
“Wow, How Did All Of These Cheerios Get In The Bathtub?”
This was a question I genuinely wanted an answer to, but I knew if I asked it in harsh tone my toddler would get defensive. “You get more bees with honey than vinegar,” was what my grandmother told me. You also get a whole lot of Honey Nut Cheerios all over the place if you have have an 18-month-old.
“Flushing Keys Is So Fun, Right?”
I know this is a true statement for my kid. For me? Yeah, not so much. Yes, it’s great that my child is taking matters into her own hands to experiment with the “cause and effect” process. And I wanted to encourage STEM-based play. But not at the expense of me having to fish precious objects out of the toilet bowl. Saying this in baby talk is my way of communicating to my daughter that I support her curiosity, while not losing my sh*t about it.
“Do You Feel Better Now That You Vomited On Mommy?”
I hate when my kids are sick, especially if they’re sick on me. So I am sincere when I lapse into baby talk to help soothe my child with the tummy trouble. Then I go to the bathroom to clean up and curse a lot under my breath.
“I Just Love That You Only Have Smiles For Daddy”
Nothing defines motherhood like your child behaving better for everyone else but you. While I love that my baby would light up at the sight of her father when he came home from work, after being home with me all day during maternity leave it kind of killed me. But I killed that feeling with kindness, while also subtly (sort of) indicating to my husband, by my saccharine tone, that this child showed me no love all day and he better come to my rescue by taking care of her for the rest of the evening while I collapse into a bag of snack mix.
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