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Babies, Santa, and Neurolinguistic Development

Cute TowelBaby Picture!Theron has entered his sixth month of life. The major new development is that he has acquired his first teeth – a slow, painful process that constitutes a major argument against Intelligent Design all by itself. The first two, the two front lower teeth, came in on Thanksgiving. Now, a couple of weeks after that, the top two have come in. Theron has been fairly even-tempered for someone with bits of bones trying to cut their way out through his skin.

This has added another skill to his repertoire. Not only can he slobber, spit up, and put things in his mouth; now he can bite. This has not endeared him to the Beautiful Woman, who remains one of his main sources of food.

His other developments are still unfinished. He hasn’t quite figured out how to crawl yet, though he can hold his entire body off the ground using only hands and toes. He can twist around, reach out, and grab things with the sort of precision and efficiency that would put a striking snake to shame. He can pull himself up so that his knees are under him and his hands are holding him up.... It looks like a crawling position, but whenever he tries to move he goes backwards.

Babies and Santa
Santa & Baby PictureI tend to regard the approach of the holidays with a certain… ‘ambivalence’ might be the mildest way to describe it. ‘Wariness’ is another good word. ‘Dread’ and ‘disgust’ have been known to make an appearance, too.

This will be completely understandable to anyone who has worked in retail.

Let me be perfectly clear that I don’t actually dislike Christmas. I like my family (and my wife’s family, if you want to count them separately), and I enjoy getting together with them. And heaven knows, I have nothing against receiving presents. I don’t even mind giving presents, though I sometimes think it would be simpler if everyone would just save their money and buy themselves something that they actually want.

It’s not the holiday itself: it’s the holiday season. Every year I watch the average IQ drop by thirty points, with a corresponding reduction in people’s driving skills. Patience and courtesy? Forget it, we have to get things done before the family arrives! Every year the advertising turns into a disgusting mixture of guilt and promise. (“Have you gotten alllllll the presents you need this year?” “If you really want to win her heart, you have to buy our product for her for Christmas. You don’t want to risk spoiling the holidays for her, do you?”) Radio stations start playing Christmas carols as early as November, and never mind that there are maybe four dozen actual Christmas carols in existence. I don’t care how many different bands, singers, and arrangements they have: they’re still using the same fifty songs over and over for two solid months. Television shows aren’t quite as bad, but the holiday theme is still inescapable – and it doesn’t take me very long to get tired of it.

This will be Theron’s First Christmas. He is, to quote Trout Fishing In America, “zero years old this year.” Naturally, he has no idea that the holiday is coming, or what it means. Mainly, it means that I can’t just sit the season out this year.

Despite being too young to retain any conscious memory of the experience, Theron has been to visit Santa’s Village. He has had his picture taken with both Santa and Mrs. Claus. He has braved the crowds and had Christmas music played at him. In a few days, I expect to watch him ignore his presents in favor of the numinous joy of eating wrapping paper.

Also, given his propensity for gaining new abilities during holiday gatherings, I fully expect him to learn to crawl when we have a house full of people ready to step on him.

Babies and Neurolinguistic Development
As an English major, I am of course fascinated by language. I look for skillful ways to use words; I enjoy seeing new usages and arrangements develop. Now that we have a baby, I also have the opportunity to watch language acquisition in action. Admittedly, my conclusions are wholly unscientific, but if I’d wanted to make a formal study I’d have gone into Psychology.

So, from a Liberal Arts perspective, here are my observations. First, at six months (and a week), Theron doesn’t appear to recognize or differentiate individual words. On the other hand, he is quite capable of interacting; but he does so by reading expressions* and by proximity. Second, he can’t really form words yet. He can make sounds, but he can only occasionally make them short enough to qualify as syllables – and even that seems to be mostly accidental. He still hasn’t developed any volume control.

I’m forced to conclude that learning to speak is pain in the [expletive deleted].

Perhaps more interesting are the effects on my own use of language. First of all, I’m losing the ability to speak Adult. One of my standard greetings to the baby is “Who’s a boobelly baby?” At first, such phrases were exclusively used with the Podling. (These things always start out so innocently…)

Then, a week ago, I found myself asking, “Who’s a boobelly… cat?” Because one of the cats had wandered by and made eye contact. Apparently I’ve developed a Pavolovian association between that phrase and, well, anything even remotely cute. I have, so far, managed to stop myself – twice – before asking a similar question of my wife. I can feel my willpower crumbling; I won’t be able to hold out forever. Soon I’ll be making baby-talk noises at complete strangers.

* Funny story here: Two nights ago we managed to watch Monster House. It was a fun movie, and I highly recommend it. I was sitting on the couch, and my wife was sitting in the Ugly Pink Chair with the baby in her lap, having just fed him. She had been home most of the day, so all the remotes were over by her, on the far side of the chair from me.

Unbeknownst to me, Theron has reached out to grab the Beautiful Woman’s cup while she’s attempting to drink from it. This results in ice water being spilled on both of them. In order to clean this up, the Beautiful Woman sets the baby on the floor in front of the chair.

About five minutes into the movie, there is a point where the Creepy Old Man who owns the Obviously Haunted House grabs the twelve year old kid who is the main protagonist. Bear in mind that this is an animated movie. So, Creepy Old Man grabs the kid and picks him up.

This is the point at which I become aware that Theron is sitting on the floor, staring at the TV with rapt attention. I notice because Theron has just made a noise, a little “a’ahh” sound indicative of concern bordering on panic.

Just as I’m about to ask why the baby is actually facing the television, the Creepy Old Man suffers something that looks like a mild heart attack. His face sort of freezes up, and then he falls towards the screen.

Theron freaks. He screeches and immediately starts crying. While I’m busy staring in disbelief (Why is he sitting down there? Why hasn’t my wife paused the movie? Oh my G-d, did he really just figure out that something bad had happened to the Man In The Box?) my wife drops the towel and starts scrambling for the remote. It took us several minutes and some walking around to get him calmed down again; the baby was really upset.

I’m guessing he won’t be watching any horror films until High School, at the very earliest.