My son Roger is a studious sort. He has a contemplative manner about him, which is pretty impressive when you realize he’s just over a month old. Looking into his eyes is like looking into the eyes of a wise, pudgy genius who drools just a little bit — which is actually pretty normal in the genius community. Take, for instance, Stephen Hawking, or the dog who played Eddie on “Frasier.”
It may be that his attention span only appears to be long because he is unable to speak for himself, move on his own, get up and change the channel, feed himself, etc., much like it is with Larry King. But I don’t care. When I talk to him, he listens. Or, at least, he looks up at this giant, goofy-looking, pink, floaty thing hovering over his face and half-smiles at the meaningless, incessant grunting wafting out of that black, holey thing in the middle.
If you’ve ever had a baby, you know what this is like. Baby doctors (which are not, in fact, babies wearing little doctor coats and stethoscopes, which would be unarguably adorable, and probably also an excellent idea for a screenplay) encourage new parents to narrate everything they do to their newborns. As you go about your daily tasks, you ideally would be saying aloud everything you do and think. Things like “And now, I’m warming up your bottle!” or “Good heavens. If North Korea were to get their hands on this poopy diaper, we’d all be at their mercy.” And, by so doing, the baby hears his own language being spoken, acquires it more quickly, and starts writing his own memoirs before he can even tie his shoes.
My wife, Jill, is much better at this adult-to-baby dialogue than I am, probably because she’s just a much better talker in general. Women, as you all know from watching sitcoms in the ’90s, love to talk. Even though I typically spend my entire work day in a classroom, surrounded by people and the stimulating world of high school academia, and even though she stays home with one illiterate baby and a Wii full of “West Wing” episodes to watch, Jill still manages to speak more than me. My brilliant wife’s day is not complete unless she has spent an hour on the phone describing (’90s sitcom alert!) her feelings to her mom or sister, or debriefing about “The Bachelor.”
I’m trying to be better about talking to Roger. I’ll set him down somewhere and sort of lean over him on one elbow, trying to think of stimulating conversational topics, while he looks up at me and thinks about eating. Here’s what some of our conversations sound like:
“Hey, Roger! Boy, you sure have chubby cheeks! Yes, you do! I wish I could say that’s because you’re a baby, and not because of genetics.”
“What’s this? Is it a onesie? Huh? Huh, mister? Are these your pajamas? Are there soccer balls on your pajamas? Yes, there are! Yes. Don’t play soccer! You’d have to change your name to Ethan or Tanner and start wearing puka shells and a faux-hawk. Yes, you would! Yes, you would! Cootchie-cootchie-coo! Play basketball instead, and make Daddy some retirement money!”
“You sure made Mommy mad when you blew out your diaper three times this morning, huh? Yes! Mommy is sitting over there, sucking Diet Coke and trying not to rethink her life! Yes, she is! Let’s go stand over here and let her watch ‘The Bachelor’ for a few minutes, OK? Make sure and warn me if she throws anything! Oh, who’s the cutest baby?”
And so on. Sometimes, my talk starts to stray into golden retriever territory (“Who’s a sweet boy?! Who’s a sweet boy!? Yes! Yes him is! Yes him is! Him’s a sweet boy!”). But I’m working on that.
My hopes are that, by so narrating our lives to Roger while he develops his language abilities, my son’s vocabulary will be well honed by the time he starts kindergarten. This should really give him a head start on getting beat up before any of the other kids.