You can’t be around a baby for any length of time without wondering if the baby’s cries have a specific meaning. If there is a language of babyhood, it would be gold to parents to understand it.
At some point in every young life, a divide is crossed, between baby consciousness and the consciousness we carry for the rest of our lives. There is a strict no-reentry policy within the arena of baby consciousness. Once you leave, you’re out for good, so try not to leave anything you need inside the fence.
Our baby cries a lot when Daddy is in charge of him. Naturally, I am keen to know the cause of his displeasure. Since my wife, the cat, and I are all too old to still have a foot planted inside the baby consciousness compound, I pinned my hopes to my three-year-old son. Maybe he still remembers some of the lingo.
For a while, every time the baby cried, I pushed the three-year-old at him. “What’s he saying?” I asked, as if I were Lewis or Clark, the boy were Sacagawea, and the baby were some random Shoshone we ran across on the trail west.
My son couldn’t translate a single wail. This shouldn’t have surprised me; the boy can’t identify the problem half the time when he, himself, is crying. Besides that, he clearly no longer understands Babyish. And why should he? As he has often pointed out, there are no two things on earth more different than a baby and a big boy.
Having given into his prideful instinct to culturally distance himself from the baby, the boy has discovered that he has burned a bridge that might have been useful to him. Only too late did he realize the influence held over communication by the interpreter.
The boy has backtracked, now pretending that he does indeed understand the baby’s tearful messages. “He wants some milk,” the boy once explained of the baby’s cry. “And he wants you to get me some ice cream.”
This fraudulent translation would be transparent under any circumstances. Yet, I think the boy attributes my disbelief to the fact that he has already disavowed any knowledge of baby-speak. I can see him thinking that he would get away with it, if only he had pretended to understand the baby from the start.
Still, there’s no harm in trying. When the baby begins wailing, the boy will interpose himself and his useful services. “He says he wants to be with Mommy so you can build a track for my train on the floor.”
And if I have a good reason not to do what the baby asked: “It’s too late to get out the train set. It’s almost bed time.”
Well, the baby covered that, too. “He said he’d be so happy if you let me stay up late tonight.”
I can tell the boy is mentally kicking himself for giving me reason to doubt the faithfulness of his translations — he’s kicking himself all the way upstairs to bed.