As we shared our plans to move in across the hall from Kate and Marton and the kids, one of the frequent reactions went like this: Uh-oh, lots of baby-sitting in your future!
Fair enough. Mention grandparents living nearby and baby-sitting is a blessing or curse that comes naturally to mind.
But in the six months we’ve been living across the hall so far, I can count the instances of what I’d consider baby-sitting — supervising the kids while the parents head off for other pursuits — on a single hand.
Our alone time with the kids seems less like baby-sitting and more like hanging out. Mateo tends to hang out in the mornings, Leila after dinner.
Mornings work like this: As the early riser on our side of the hall, I decide when Apartment #4 is open for business with Apartment #3. When the time comes, I hang the OPEN side outside our door. If Mateo has also awakened early, Marton or Kate take occasional peeks across the hall to see if the sign is up.
If it is, Mateo makes his entrance. Coming up on ten months and 31 pounds, he’s a big guy whose mobility has not yet progressed to the stage of crawling that involves his belly leaving the floor.He’s a contented kid, usually as comfortable playing with toys on a blanket in the middle of the living room as he is twirling around in his exersaucer. But we like to start the mornings in my lap.
Maybe like most people, I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to communicating with babies. Baby talk feels too cute; normal talk seems inappropriate in its own way.
With Mateo, I let him take the lead. His lack of words doesn’t appear to concern him one bit. He’s got his moves: gaze, grab and bite, all supplemented with his repertoire of grunts, squeals and raspberries.
My conversations with Mateo, such as they are, got me thinking about conversations I have with people closer to my age. We rely mostly on words, but body language certainly adds a layer of understanding.
Mateo turns that on its head, with body language his only language, at least for now. You can almost imagine his sentence structure. He makes clear his subject or object with his gaze, and moves into verb forms when he grabs hold of whatever he’s been gazing at. It might be my glasses or his Hungarian-speaking stuffed animal — his vocabulary of grab is pretty extensive. Punctuation marks? His favorite is the exclamation point, a message he enjoys delivering with his raspberries and sometimes with those sharp little teeth of his.It’s not so much that Mateo can’t talk yet. It’s more a matter of his grandfather just beginning to learn his language. His body language.
Mornings with Mateo sometimes feel like reporting situations I’ve encountered now and then. The person I’m interviewing might be chattering away in, say, Arabic or Polish. Left to my own devices, I have no clue what’s being said. The difference, in those settings, was an interpreter who was being paid to make sense of it all.
Since Mateo invariably shows up with no interpreter, we do the best we can on our own. The women in our family would probably describe it as good training: A couple of guys just sitting there listening to each other, with no basis whatsoever to offer even a single word of advice.
How do you communicate with babies?