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Tuesday
Sep292009

Thank you, Jane Brody

Dear Ms. Brody,

Thank you for your latest column in the NYTimes about the importance of talking to babies. What an extraordinary concept!

 

I recently stopped to congratulate a young mother pushing her toddler in a stroller. The woman had been talking to her barely verbal daughter all the way up the block, pointing out things they had passed, asking questions like "What color are those flowers?" and talking about what they would do when they got to the park.

This is a rare occurrence in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I told her. All too often, the mothers and nannies I see are tuned in to their cellphones, BlackBerrys and iPods, not their young children.

 


Wow. In my day (seven years ago, a.k.a the Early Aughts) we didn't know that "talking" helps your child get "words." We didn't even have the excuse of Blackberries or whatnot. We just never understood that words were the noises you used with your mouth to communicationate (that’s the word, right?) at your children. I do wish you had written this earlier.

 

Strangely enough, I did actually talk quite a bit with and around my son, but it was mainly for my own foolish, self-centered reasons. For instance: I wanted to keep from going insane. Also: it was fun to talk to him and hear him coo back at me. What a jerk I was. But I must admit: sometimes I did talk on the phone, Jane. To someone else. Because I wanted to hear the voice of a fellow adult, Jane. I did. And I would pretend I was talking to him, and he would laugh and chortle as if we were having a conversation when in fact that conversation was with someone else entirely. What kind of monster was I? I’m sure you would know.

Thank goodness for you, Ms. Brody! And I think it's just super that you congratulated a mom for talking to her kid. I bet that mom was wondering at that very moment, "Why has no one remarked on all this infernal speaking? My throat is raw from describing every damned thing I see. If I don't receive positive reinforcement this moment, I will never talk about another flower again.”

Did you then go on to cluck and shake your head at the mom who maybe was zoning out for a moment, allowing her child a peaceful interlude while she strolled him down the sidewalk? I certainly hope so. Moms like that deserve a taste of the Brody.

I have some follow-up questions:

-My son didn't like it this morning when I mimicked his noises, as you suggested, and kept telling him "You are communicating and I am listening and responding!" I should mention that he's seven. What am I doing wrong?

-Sometimes talking gets hard and when I talk my vision tunnels and the room goes dark and I wake up a few hours later and my boy is crying. Which am I forgetting: inhaling or exhaling?

-My son can't figure out how to work the Blackberry I gave him for Christmas. Or the iPod. His Facebook updates lack originality, and he has no interest in Twitter. Should I sell him and start over?

-If I had a baby and did everything you commanded and someone else accused me of overwhelming my newborn child with stimuli, how shall I kill them? I'm sure your instructions were in there somewhere, but I missed them.

-The Yellow Face in the sky, it burns. Should I present offerings to it, or merely hide, cringing, in the shadows?

Yours in endurance,
Alice

Reader Comments (121)

Admittedly, I am missing something here since I'm not a parent, but...

... I guess I kind of read the column with interest because, well, I see this all the time, predominantly with nannies. I see the same little ones on walks in my neighborhood all the time, and there are two caregivers that NEVER seem to engage w/the kids. And granted, I'm seeing these people for 40 minutes a week or something, but it seems like a cautionary tale for parents? Maybe?

I dunno. I'd love enlightenment by you all since, well, not all parents are so intelligent*.

*Yes, I do see the irony in this column being published in the NY Times, arguably a thinking-person's newspaper.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFatemeh
As if we needed proof that you earned that Redbook column. You are awesome.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMartini Mom
I don't keep track of Jane Brody's articles, so maybe she's annoying in general. However, I wanted to point out that this - parents not talking to children - is a really big problem in low-income families. By first grade, kids from higher income families generally have a vocabulary that is twice as large as that of children from low-income families. This can set children from lower income families behind for life. The Children's Zone in Harlem is doing wonderful work addressing this issue with its Baby College. Part of the program emphasizes parents talking to children. When parents are working two or three jobs and barely see their kids, sometimes this activity slips through the cracks.

Jane Brody's advice is definitely geared to a higher-income crowd who probably find it common sense, so some snark is warranted. But, addressed in a different context and manner, such advice can change children's lives.

Sorry to be a stick in the mud! This issue is just of particular importance to me.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercarrie
we mostly communicate with our four using grunts and gestures, but the little buggers learned how to talk anyway.

I blame PBS.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterthatgirlblogs
I agree with the larger point, Carrie, and it's definitely a concern, but the way the issue was brought up was ridiculous.

She's acting as if she's identified a huge problem based on her own limited experience in her (I am assuming) high-income Brooklyn neighborhood.

As you said, it's the low-income families who are struggling who are more likely to have kids who suffer. More support for them, and light shed on their problem, would be a huge help. But she's pointing a finger at our Blackberry-and-iPod culture, making this a generational thing, and that's what I find ludicrous.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Fatemeh and Carrie, the science is sound, definitely. But she's so annoying in her delivery & self-righteous attitude that no one's going to pay attention. Also, do the men have no responsibility? I don't see them being criticized...
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErika
Perfect response to heap of steaming condescension. Love it!Congrats on Redbook!
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter@marymac
Damn you. My potato(e) chips came out my nose when I read the point about Twitter.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenn Steele
Yes, her column pissed me off, not so much even with the talking as with the horrible horrible concept of congratulating some mother on doing a good job! Good job, Mommmy! Which just reeks of condescension and rivalry and the idea of mothering as something you are being judged about all the time, no matter what. Which, of course it is, but still.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Diamond in the Window
Oh, Alice! A girl after my own snarky heart. "My throat is raw from describing every damned thing I see." One of the funniest things you've ever written.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicola Proctor
My love for you is growing exponentially. "The yellow face in the sky..."

Good lord, girl. You are FUNNY.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy --- Just A Titch
Ms. Brody,Talking to my child is nearly impossible to do with the crack pipe in my mouth. Sooooo....would it be ok if I just recorded other peoples conversations and laid the recorder next to her head. That way she can continue to hear voices all day, every day.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLorie
And this is why blogs are better than twitter.

I honestly can't talk that much to describe everything I see. It would bore the soul out of me. and if I heard another mother talking that much, I would slap her.

But the talking on the phone the whole time walking the stroller annoys me, too.

Many things annoy me. Which is why I should stay at home. In my house. With my twins by my side. While I check my email/twitter/blogs and say nothing. :-)
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnita Blanchard
Of course I read the column in its entirety to my six-year-old and boy, did we ever learn a lot! For instance, when he referred to Ms. Brody as a Doodoo Head, I knew just what to do! "No, honey, we don't say Doodoo Head; we say Assmunch."

I think I'm really getting this parenting thing down. Thanks, Jane!
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
Personally, I liked her exulting over how her twin grandsons' stroller was stolen. Best thing that ever happened to them! she exults. Now they'll get more exercise!

I'm wondering if the boys' mother agrees with her....
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersuburbancorrespondent
Holy shit, I'm supposed to be talking to them? AND listening when THEY talk? I know my 3-month old got my last tweet, and I read my 4-year-old's blog post last night, so, like...that's the same thing, right, Jane?

I read that article this morning and was thinking, God, who the hell does she think reads her stuff? And what did that Brooklyn mother think of being congratulated on talking to her kid?
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMolly Chase
She clearly doesn't understand that ignoring them while they are babies is what they deserve, because when they are teenagers, you get no more than a grunt out of them while they text their friends and listen to music.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
As a former English teacher, a hearing-impaired person, the daughter of an audiologist and the stepdaughter of a speech pathologist, I was nodding my head affirmatively as I read.

As she said, Jane Brody was not commenting on every single parent but on those who seem to disengage from their kids on a regular basis in favor of the phone, the PDAs, etc. The thrust of the article is about language development, and as someone who taught in the inner city for seven years, I have seen the difference in the language development of kids whose parents engage them in regular conversation and those who don't-- some of it was cultural (kids should be seen, not heard, etc) but a lot of it had to with a lack of education and awareness.

I used to work for Jumpstart (jstart.org), a literacy enrichment program that works with Head Start children. Part of my job included giving parents suggestions for building literacy, like reading signs out loud as you walk down the street. In fact, there is a mother in my building, whose young children get therapy for speech and language delays, and she says that it's because "she didn't talk to them."

I'm just wondering why you (and other commenters) seem to be taking this so personally? It obviously doesn't apply to you, and I didn't think Brody's tone was any more condescending than any other columnist out there. I will be the first person to admit that I'm practically glued to my iPhone and I make a conscious effort to strike a balance between my own communication needs and that of my 14 month old (also named Alice, BTW!).
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
Oh, I see now that my comment is redundant. Somehow, I missed the comment from Carrie and your follow-up. My bad.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
The thing I love about the woman pushing the stroller is that unless the kid can see BOTH mom's face AND what she's pointing at, all that babble will do very, very little to help her verbal skills (that's what all the latest research says, anyway). I always felt silly trying to talk to my kid while pushing his stroller because HE CAN'T SEE ME so how's he even supposed to know what I'm saying or that I'm even talking to him?

My guess is, there ARE lots of kids who don't get talked to enough, but it's because mom and dad are working 3 jobs and not because of too much computer time.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy
Some of her article begs for translation:

Jane Brody says: One of my grandsons was a late-talker. When he wanted something to drink or eat, he went to the refrigerator or pantry and pointed. Our job was to ask, “Do you want water, milk or juice, cereal or raisins?” and wait for his response. When we guessed right, we reinforced the verbal message by saying, “Oh, you want cereal.”

Jane Brody means: If I don't do exactly what my daughter-in-law tells me to do, I will never see my grandchild. Why did my son have to marry that evil bitch?!

Jane Brody says: Count the steps as you go up or down. My twin grandsons’ math skills flourished long before they could speak in sentences because they live in a third-floor walk-up.

Jane Brody means: Why couldn't my daughter have married a doctor or lawyer who could afford an apartment in an elevator building?

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkaren
When I become a mom, I'm going to talk with my hand and I don't mean sign language.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid
How dare you challenge the mighty NYT with your snarkasm?
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterI, Rodius
Thanks for your comments, Nancy! There's clearly a real problem going on, but as I said before, it's her tone I couldn't stomach. And I just ran from there.

Also, it's the constant barrage of headlines about what moms are doing wrong really sticks in my craw. As @randomdeanna on Twitter observed, the next headline will be about the helicopter parents who talk too much to their kids. No matter what, we seem to be doing something wrong.



September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
I thought Brody very carefully used the word "parents" instead of moms -- even though her piece begins with a story of talking to a random mom and features a picture of a mother and child. What are you gonna do? There are a lot more women who are primary care givers and I'm fairly sure she didn't have editorial control over the picture.

Brody is also very careful to write:

"Not all parents, of course, are routinely tuning out their young children. Two of my female friends in their 30s who have toddlers talk to them, and with them, incessantly."

So, while I understand the snark -- and definitely expect the article about helicoptering parents to come in short haste -- I think Brody is largely correct. I live in her neighborhood and while it's tough to judge every person based on the snippets of time in which they walk past you on the phone, it does seem to add up to a lot of inane chatter. It seems the trick is to balance raising a child who knows that you're interested in his or her feelings with a sense, on the other hand, that they are not always the center of the world. Sometimes being ignored or left to let the mind wander can be a huge developmental tool, but I do believe we are headed in a direction where more and more parents spend more and more time on gadgets. That has to have some effect.

I agree that the lede seems pedantic. "I recently stopped to congratulate a young mother" for talking to her kid. It certainly comes across as "Oh thank, you great arbiter of parenting!"

But I would bet that she doesn't at all mean to imply that every parent use every technique she describes all of the time -- whew, that would be exhausting -- but if someone walked away from that piece and put down the phone for a few extra minutes a day, that might help. (The meta issue is that someone inclined to read an article such as this is probably already sensitive to the amount of time they spend on the phone versus the amount of time they spend engaging their kids. Hence, the offense taken by some here. A person who reads this probably doesn't need to be told what to do.)

I work in child development and I can't tell you the number of people who enter our center on their blue tooth headsets, still chatting as they strap a kid into a stroller or put them into a car seat. These are not low-income moms and dads. I just think the knee-jerk snark that picks away at the rest of her piece does a disservice to what is turning into a noticeable trend. Today's kid who watches his mom or dad chat away or scroll on the Blackberry becomes tomorrow's parent who does it even more.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEllen

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