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Baby Talk

by Stephen Lautens


October 31, 2003

There were many things I swore I would never do when I became a parent. One by one they have fallen by the wayside. There's something about the real life experience of having a one year old of your own that quickly makes you eat your words.

My latest capitulation involves the telephone. In our house the telephone is looked upon as more of an annoyance than anything else. Eighty percent of the calls we get are from strangers trying to sell us something we don't need. The other twenty percent are from friends and family calling early weekend mornings or the second dinner hits the table.

In the spirit of Alexander Graham Bell’s hateful device, the only thing worse than telemarketers are people who insist on putting their pre-verbal children on the phone. For years I have been subjected to friends and family calling up and immediately saying: "Just a second, little Montague wants to say hello." Those conversations inevitably go something like this:

Me: "Hello Montague."

Little Montague: "Blah, blah, blah."

Me: "How are you Montague?"

Little Montague: "Barney."

Me: "Do you like Barney?"

Little Montague: "Barney."

Me: "Can you get your daddy for me?"

Little Montague: "Barney."

Me: "Is your daddy there?"

Little Montague: "Barney."

Me: "For the love of God, is there an adult there?"

Little Montague: "Apple."

And then the phone goes dead for fifteen minutes.

Instead of standing by to rescue you once you've exhausted the conversational possibilities of a toddler, the parents have apparently gone off to get some much needed sleep or therapy. You are at that point at the mercy of the child to hand you back once they get bored. Of course children have a high tolerance for boredom, especially when it comes to wasting an adult’s time. That leaves you with two options. Either you hang up on the tyke and pretend later you were cut off, or you spend the next fifteen minutes carefully crafting your questions so they can all be answered with either of the words "Barney" or "apple".

I of course swore that if I ever had children, I would never let them near the phone until they were old enough to figure out the complexities of my long distance plan. So it was with horror the other day that I heard myself telling my mother over the phone: "Just a second, your grandson wants to say hi."

At twenty months my son’s vocabulary made the conversation a little one sided. I'll grant you he occasionally makes interested noises into the phone, but the novelty wears off for everyone but him after about twelve seconds. It was then that I realized I had become what I had despised the most - a parent who thinks everyone wants to talk on the phone to a toddler who can't talk.

Since then we have decided to limit our son’s telephone time and only let him talk on the phone to two types of people - relatives who specifically ask to talk to him, and any telemarketers who might call during dinner. That way he can at least practice the word "no".

© Stephen Lautens 2003

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