Editor learns how to talk to babies

As a senior journalism communications major, I’ve had four years of schoolin’ to teach me all kinds of ways to correspond with others.
I’ve given a 25-minute presentation while breezing through an accompanying PowerPoint embedded with multimedia – it was a delicious piece of communications-major-cake. I’ve written four 500-word articles per week while still squeezing in time for a two-hour radio show – plus writing and top-of-the-hour newscasts! – on 90.5 WERG, no sweat.
But the one communication skill I still haven’t ever been able to master? Talking to babies.

Abby Badach, editor-in-chief

Yep. I can talk in front of a classroom of peers with my nose plugged for my voice and diction course and sound like a total goon, but I can’t “goo goo” and “ga ga” my way through a pseudo-conversation with a 6-month-old.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. In fact, I rather adore holding babies. Nothing soothes a weary soul like an infant falling asleep in your arms, wrapped in one of those ultra-fuzzy blankets of a top-notch fuzziness quotient reserved only for blankets marketed to those under age 1.
I just don’t know what to say. Could someone just pass me a copy of “Pat the Bunny” or “Goodnight Moon?”
My typical baby small talk begins with, “Oh, look at what you’re wearing! Your mommy and daddy are raising quite the little fashion plate!”
And then everyone laughs. Aww.
After that, I just kind of bounce around and smile and pray to God the little rugrat keeps being cute and doesn’t cry or spit up on me.
I’ll drop the “fashion plate” line whether the baby at hand is in her Christmas dress or a bib reeking of strained peas. It’s my baby-talk version of, “How’s the weather out there?”
That’s the thing about babies – you’ve got to be real with them. They’ll pick up on your fake smile if you’d rather not be in their company. Babies aren’t fools. Toddlers are the same way.
I’m no textbook extrovert, but I can fake my way through a few hours of awkward small talk at a cocktail party. With a little kid, though, you can’t chitchat about the Oscar nominees or his latest promotion. You have no choice but to be totally present in that moment and go with the flow.
Over the weekend, I had the privilege of hanging out with a wide-eyed, spritely 3-year-old who wanted nothing else but to sit on the floor and do a barnyard animal puzzle together. At first, I was tense, but then we started pointing out the different farm animals, and I couldn’t help but laugh when she picked up a wooden puzzle piece by its handle to unveil a family of piglets nesting aside a bale of hay and squeaked with sheer delight: “Piggy!”
Beside me stood a kid with more zest for the world than I’ve felt in weeks. Months, even. All for a tiny picture of a hog painted on a hand-me-down puzzle.
I don’t think babies or toddlers need us to say much to them at all. Maybe we should do more listening.

ABBY BADACH
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