Shifra likes to talk. She’s nearly 18 months old and we long ago had to start being careful with swear words. (not that it isn’t a little amusing to hear your little one repeat “shit!” right after you drop something)
When she speaks with us, she uses words, or portions of words, so she can communicate what she wants. “Cah” for colouring, book, cup, chair, “woof-woof” for dog, “moo” for cow, “stra” for stroller, walk, park, slide, swing, apple, “padda” for pasta, up, down, “Bird” so she can listen to Andrew Bird on our google assistant, nap, sleep, and so on. We’ve lost count.
She also likes to talk to herself. But she doesn’t use words, at least not words we recognize. Sometimes she’ll push her toy stroller around the room, and just stop for a moment, arm extended, gesticulating off to the side, and inexplicably let loose a stream of pointed babbles. Lectures we call them. And then, just as suddenly, she’ll continue on her merry way.
In the morning, we give her books to “read.” Flipping pages, she mimics the intonations of reading, but using her own gibberish language – “patu teeka wuu pista lah.”
It’s not for our benefit, as far as I can tell; she does it whether we’re paying attention or not. She’s off in her own world. So, we often take advantage: time to rest or get other stuff done, occasionally looking over to admire how cute the whole show is.
Last night she was sitting on my stomach, happily bouncing up and down, looking off to the side, and talking gibberish to herself.
And I thought, self-consciously, maybe I should engage for once. She’s not asking anything of me, but I could be connecting with her. You know, when you suddenly question whether you’re doing the right thing as a parent.
So I looked into her eyes, as she babbled on. I nodded along seriously, no idea what the hell she was talking about. But within a few seconds, I suddenly felt self-conscious. Like I had accidentally stepped into something private.
And to my surprise, she also looked embarrassed. With a silly little grin on her face.
We both started giggling, and she buried her face in my chest.
The transition from baby to toddler to little girl is both slow and fast. Skills come into place one at a time, like pieces of a jigsaw coming together to make a recognizable image. And with each piece, you gain a fuller understanding of who she is. But occasionally, there are moments where you can see a bit deeper, past the surface-level stuff. I’d accidentally stumbled into something that should have been blindingly obvious, but never occurred to me.
You get used to the idea of being able to direct your little one’s attention, away from a tantrum, toward something interesting.
But of course she has her own inner world, her own private monologue that she drifts off to. Not just one with abstract images and words we taught her. But a stream of conscious thought. Imagination. Stories she tells herself. A world she knows is independent of us. Enough to be ever so slightly embarrassed that I was listening in.