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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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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,

Reader Comments (121)

Yes, you should definitely consider trading in your child for one that can come up with witty Facebook status updates!If I saw a woman describing every little thing she saw to her baby, I think I might be tempted to congratulate her on having no life outside her child.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBelle
Right, but you still can't say that because you see something _in your neighborhood_, it's an epidemic. Brooklyn is not the world. Also, I would say that what you see when parents are out and about is not what goes on 24/7.

Maybe the parents you see on headsets are taking that time to multitask because they've engaged with their kids so much, they need a moment to get things done. For instance.

On Sep 29, 2009, at 5:14 PM, wrote:
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley
When I read this, I thought, How do I get my child to shut up?

I talked to him all the time when he was a baby, just as Brody suggests (but yeah, mostly so I wouldn't be bored). Now he's highly verbal and offers running narration on everything. Including chewing his dinner.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNell
While the people who need Brody's advice probably don't read the NYT, have you ever actually noticed people who aren't educated, upper middle class with kids? They don't always talk to their children the way you and your readers do, as Nancy and Carrie point out, and you bat away.

I wish you and other mommiebloggers would do some outreach to women and their kids who aren't quite as knowledgeable as you all seem to be.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda Gomez
You said "chortle". That right there is enough for me to follow you anywhere and beat up on anybody you say.

Plus its good training when my 20 month identical twin girls grow up in 12 or so years!
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
AHAHAHA! I'm afraid my three month old will suffer debilitating setbacks because I let him play on the floor (!) with his toys while I watching the 2! hour! season premiere of House. Or will he grow up to be a sarcastic doctor? I could live with that...
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
And just in case I win a Bad Mommy award, I picked him up every time he fussed and hit the pause button copiously.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
OMG ther iz a hole genR8ion of kidz who Rnt lrning 2 spk b/c thr momz R texting!!!!!!!!

All I can say is thank GOD for Sesame Street or nobody would be literate
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate @ Savour Fare
another gem, alice! reminds me of one of the baby books i had the first time around that announced the importance of speaking to babies and then proceeded to give sample one-way dialogues that a mother could use in case she was too unimaginative or insecure to come up with her own "words". i, for one, have been talking to myself for years, so the baby just legitimized my loony ramblings. anyway-- loved it.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersara
Wait, what! Now NANNIES are expected to talk to their charges? That was never in my contract! What's next, am I going to be required to actually look at the children? This is not what I signed up for. Where's my lawyer...
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Becky
Hi Alice! I've been watching you be wry and hilarious on momversation for a couple months, and then yesterday I found your blog and I am ohsoglad I did.I'm not a mother, but to this article I say DUH. And this pisses me off: 'Teach your child the correct words and names for people, things, places and body parts, including “breast,” “penis” and “vagina.”' Vulva anyone? How often does a little girl's vagina -- her future possible birth canal -- come into the conversation? Mislabeling girljunk helps keep it mysterious and scary even for girls. It's a vulva. Vulva!
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHilary
Where did I "bat away" Nancy or Carrie, Belinda Gomez? That's a huge leap to make. I thanked them for their comments and responded to them.

Making fun of a columnist and her ridiculously patronizing tone does not mean I am poking fun at the *problem*. As for outreach, are you referring to my blog? My blog is for entertainment. I do plenty of things on my own time that are not addressed on my blog. I'm confused. Or is this just another blanket condemnation of parenting bloggers?

Bottom line: anyone who congratulates herself for giving feedback to a stranger's parenting should really be mocked. Mothers should not be evaluated by passersby.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Hilary, if I ever have a girl, I'm calling her parts "girljunk." Don't try to tell me otherwise, Brody!
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
You are wicked funny, woman!
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandee
Don't worry, Alice! I didn't feel "batted away."

Also, I would argue that plenty of us who are not inner-city teachers have interacted plenty with "people who aren't educated, upper middle class with kids." In NYC, it's kind of hard not to! Not to mention, it's not a problem limited to educated, upper middle class parents.
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
Man, if my daughter's stroller had been stolen when she was 19 months old, I would have gone out and bought a new one. No time to dawdle when Mommy's gotta be places (preferably getting to those places while talking on my cell phone and ignoring my daughter).

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterClaire Mayeda
Man, I am torn. On one hand, yeah, her tone was pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, almost all of these things are suggestions I give to parents every single day as a speech language pathologist (except the using the correct term for everything. Pretty sure a kid can figure out what his "wee-wee" is, if that's what you call it all the time). So I guess I can only hope that publishing this in the NY Times just means it might get a wider audience and actually get reprinted/copied/emailed to the people who actually need it. And then pray that the tone doesn't put everyone off immediately?

Not really adding anything to the dialogue that hasn't been said, but just felt the need to comment :-)
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon
Oh man, I read this article today and furiously looked for the comment board and couldn't find it. So maybe the joke is on me... BUT the thing that really annoyed me was the part where, talking about her 3-yr-old buddy, she said something like "So much for the theory that kids learning two languages at the same time have language delays!" ohhhh and we all heartily laughed and dismissed that theory. Except that, WAIT, it's totally true! ...It's just that kids catch up by 3 years old. It is quite old in kid years... you would think she would have noticed this in stopping to congratulate so many mothers. Rrrgh. As someone who knows the research I was tempted to smack her. Not that it was an important point, but the gaily waved hand and the laughing off of research-based evidence in favor of anecdotal crap do not sit well with me.

(I thought the NYT catered to an educated population... so much for THAT theory... haha)
September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermfk
Our son has autism. He doesn't really have that many words. Before his diagnosis 18 months ago, random people ON THE STREET would ask if we had thought about "talking to him more" when we would try to explain why he doesn't say "bye bye" or whatever to strangers.

Our response? "No, we decided when we realized he was speech-delayed that we would just become a family of mimes."

Thank you Alice for all your snark!
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMary
Thank you, Alice Bradley!

Totally hilarious. I'm still snorting with laughter. Your reply is perfect. Exactly what such pedantic, condescending articles deserve.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKristine
I went back to read this article after you post to see what all the fuss was about. I laughed through the whole thing. As a young, 20-something mom, I guess I am the demographic that she is the most "concerned" about. Maybe I should put down my Blackberry, quit my job, drag my kid out of daycare, put on my frilly apron, bake a pie, and talk to my 4 mo. old son all day.

Because, clearly, THAT is the only thing that makes you a good mother.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
Every week I get the feeling that Jane Brody comes up with her column ideas by just reviewing what happened to her that week. Grandson sprained an ankle? Presto, column about ankle safety in children. Is her eyesight giving her problems? Column about eyesight and aging! So this week she just happened to stumble on that woman talking to her baby and there you have it.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelectriclady
I don't think this article can be correct - in Ms. Brody's day one wasn't supposed to talk to one's baby at all in the first year, in case his breath was stolen by a cat or he was hexed by a witch. Also a follow up question from me: am I supposed to still talk to my baby if I only had her to acquire free farm labor? It seems unimportant.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrobin
can't. stop. laughing... hurts.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteranne nahm
I love you.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMitzi

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