Sunday, August 31, 2008

Signs of the time: Now where did my baby go?

All of a sudden my baby disappeared.

Yesterday he was comfortably nestled in my arms, happy to see the world from the safety of my embrace, cooing and chortling and staring at his hands, and today … well? I’m not sure where he’ll be.

He’s on the move.

I might find him playing in the dog’s water bowl or trying to climb up to the sink or trying to drop any number of small items that he shouldn’t have anyway down the heating vent in the floor. It’s not out of the ordinary that as I try and put dishes in the dishwasher or clear the table for dinner, he might be emptying the lower kitchen shelves of their contents. I’ll catch up with him when I follow the trail of granola bars and macaroni and cheese boxes into his sister’s room, where she will undoubtedly be screaming for his eviction.

“He’s just a baby,” I say, trying to defuse the situation.

“Well, he’s wrecking everything.”

I’ll drag him away. I’ll put him down near a basket of toys that should keep him busy. Yet, like a mechanized toy that’s been fully wound, without missing a beat he’ll be heading off in whatever direction he’s least welcome to go.

If his father is trying to work at his desk in peace, the baby will go and empty a box of receipts or unravel a roll of stamps or have a three-way conference call with a client.

If the dog is trying to eat her meager bowl of kibble, the baby will be there to dole it out, piece by torturous piece.

If his sister is trying to color in her coloring book, he will be there to take sample tastes of crayons or to spirit them away altogether, never to be seen again.

It’s highly probable that when I try to fold laundry in the living room, he’ll make his way into the bathroom with a few choice pieces of clothing and shove them in the toilet. I can’t believe we still forget to put the seat down. I also can’t believe that one day I’ll be glad when he learns how to flush.

He’s not interested in correction. He’s still a baby. “Uh-oh!” and “No!” have come to mean “This is a fun game” when he sees the big people heading his way. The couch isn’t a place he’s forbidden to climb on so much as it’s a receptacle large enough to hide books or boxer shorts or the television’s remote control.

He’s not interested in learning sign language, either.

He’s got no use for clapping hands together to ask for “more,” or gesture with a two-handed wiping motion to tell us he’s all done. He’s not going to rub his open hand over his chest to say “please,” or put his hand in front of his mouth and lower it to say “thank you.”

Who’s got time for that? Especially when you can point at exactly what you want and yell “DAT” at the highest volume your tiny vocal chords will allow.

He knows that the people trying to get him to communicate with sign language will eventually give it up and just hand over whatever “DAT” is.

Many a time he’s been able to finagle the exact contraband he’s after:

“Uhm … Who gave the baby the cookie?”
“I did.”
“Well, because he was SCREAMING.”
“And that worked?”
“Like a charm.”
“Good to know.”

Of course, occasionally there is something he wants that will elude us big people. In those instances it’s entirely likely he’ll break down and use one of the signs we’ve been trying to teach him.

Just the other day, as we stood in line at the crowded coffee shop, he was no longer satisfied with chocolate chip cookies he was holding tightly in his hand. He didn’t want to let them go but he didn’t want to eat them, and all the screaming in the world wasn’t making me understand his plight. But I could see his eyes light up when he realized he had the power to make his desires known. He stopped wriggling and thrust out his hand, opening and closing his fist like he was milking a cow.

“What does he want,” asked the woman handing me my change and my cup of hazelnut decaf (black).

I thought for a second about pretending not to know, but didn’t get a chance.

“He wants to nurse,” said his sister. “He’s a baby, even though he’s kind of a big kid, too.”

No comments: