Today we had a lovely visit from a friend and her little one-year-old cutie-pie. A couple of hours later, bubsy had entertained us with smiles, giggles, wobbly walking and even a few tears whenever the cat went anywhere near her. She (the baby, I should confirm) communicated with us purely through her facial expressions, body language and of course the little – or sometimes loud – noises that accompanied them. Children’s speech development obviously varies and can occur at different rates, and at different ages. Crying, pointing, rhythmical noises and gurgling are all part of the journey towards that magical first word. Secretive attempts to coerce a baby into uttering, “Mama” or “Dada” first seem to be in good spirits but I’m sure Mummy and Daddy are desperate to win that little battle, however much they might try to deny it. But what if babies could talk coherently from the moment they arrive in the world? What if we could understand their thoughts, feelings and view of the world from the start?
I should probably clarify at this point that much as I love kids, my experience is mostly limited to evenings of babysitting as a teenager and more recently, time spent with the children of my own friends. These are just a few musings from an inexperienced, thus far childless viewpoint and subsequently anyone who has kids may read this and disagree with everything. Maybe you’ll agree, or think of other ways life could change if babies could talk. Either way, leave any comments at the bottom and maybe at some point in the future I’ll realise how wrong (or how right!) I was.
I always imagine that one of the scariest things as a parent must be when your child is crying, and clearly ill or in pain, but you don’t know what is wrong. A baby can convey that he or she is unhappy or suffering, but sometimes it must be difficult to know why. If bubsy could just explain what is hurting rather than just screaming the house down, it could allow a parent to treat the problem or even just know it’s nothing major to worry about after all. I feel like it could help solve that awful trouble on plane journeys when a baby keeps crying and crying. I suffered from bad ears as a kid, especially 30,000 feet up in the sky, so I always try to stay sympathetic in this scenario, as it is often down to earache. However, you do sometimes wonder if the desperate, tired and often embarrassed parents have a clue what is actually wrong. If baby could tell them, maybe it would help point them in the right direction. Of course, maybe the infant would say, “I’ve got terrible earache” and then spend the next eight hours bawling anyway, so it might not help after all.
Then there’s the potential eye-openers that hearing baby’s viewpoint could create. Sometimes a new perspective is just what we need to refresh our own overcomplicated views of even the simplest things in life. If we go on the assumption that coherent baby speech was possible without being accompanied by an associated surge in brainpower, maybe the little ones could help us to appreciate the simple things in life through what they said. But then again, maybe they do that anyway, without needing to ‘make sense’. That happy little gurgle is the cutest noise ever. Playing with a toy, throwing a ball, or a game of peekaboo can create a smile and a giggle that would probably be ruined by hearing a running commentary.
Of course, we assume from the fact that a teddy bear or ‘talking’ toy can make babies giggle repeatedly for hours on end that they are less sophisticated, intelligent and generally ‘grown up’ than us. That they need help eating, cleaning themselves and moving seems to support this. But what if it’s all a big game? Maybe if babies could speak, the first thing that they’d tell us would be, “Stop speaking in that stupid voice! ‘Goo goo gaga?’ What are you talking about, you idiot?”. My Mum’s favourite character in the animated TV show “Family Guy” is Stewie, a one-year old talking prodigy. According to Wikipedia, the show’s creator has stated that, “Stewie is meant to represent the general helplessness of an infant through the eyes of an adult”. Maybe babies are smarter than we give them credit for and perhaps we do them a disservice through the rubbish we tend to babble at them. But I promise you that if you do try to speak to a small child in the same way you talk to an adult, you’ll be the one who feels stupid.
And what about when we’re all grown up and we get to watch home videos of ourselves as kids? The joy of seeing yourself totter about, fall over and believe in Father Christmas as a small toddler… all of that might be lost if you were recorded talking to the camera about these things at the time. The magic is in watching the smiles, the relief, the growing confidence embodied through action, not in hearing it spoken about. I’ll probably regret sharing this with the World Wide Web, but we have a great home video of me as a three-year-old exclaiming, “Goodness gracious me! It’s another book” as I tear open a Christmas present. If I had already spoken like a fully-fledged adult for my whole little life, I doubt this would seem so funny when we watch it back now. Good to know I was already a bookworm at that stage though.
As I’ve said, I don’t have any kids just yet. It seems to me that overall, it’s probably the most rewarding, enjoyable, challenging and tiring job in the world all rolled into one. And now I’ve thought about it, I’m not sure I’d want a baby chatting to me all day if I looked after one 24/7. Some people grow up to talk too much and so maybe a year or two of nonsensical gurgling from your little darling is a preferable start to parenthood. If I could change things, I think babies should try to develop their pointing skills a bit earlier. That way, although verbally expressing what hurts, or what object they want to shake and dribble on would be beyond them, at least we might have a bit more idea of what we could help with.
Follow me on Twitter @inkingfeeling