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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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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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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)

Next thing you know she'll be expecting people to feed and cloth their offspring! When will this insanity stop???????
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered
I was actually pleased to see this in the NYT- as a former speech-language pathologist, I would often give these tips to parents of the kids that I saw. And the parents spanned all income levels. I was disappointed it wasn't written by someone with expertise in speech and language development, though.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate
I was actually pleased to see this in the NYT- as a former speech-language pathologist, I would often give these tips to parents of the kids that I saw. And the parents spanned all income levels. I was disappointed it wasn't written by someone with expertise in speech and language development, though.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate
Have you seen Away We Go? There is an awesome scene where a mom is encouraging her young child to speak/repeat/answer questions. You should see the movie. It is hilarious. I'm not going to give it away, but the child does not respond in the manner that the mom would like him to. I laughed so hard. (And no, this is not Maya or Maggie, :) )
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKelly
If you taught in a community like the one I do where parents pay little to no attention to their children and expect the school systems to do it all, you wouldn't have an issue with anything she wrote. Additionally, throughout my teaching career (and long before it), plenty of research has been done to show that children are better readers/learners/speakers when they are in constant communication with adults. That is key in vocabulary development. I applaud her article. I would like to send it home for my students' parents to read, but the amount of time they spend talking to their children is the amount of time they'd take to read an article. By the way, Back to School Night... 6 out of 25 parents.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
Wholly crapola that was funny.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelisa
Jane Brody ... figures. Sounds just like one of her cookbooks. Someone remove her hand from her back.
September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFranca Bollo

That article has been irritating me since I read it.

"I recently stopped to congratulate a young mother pushing her toddler in a stroller."

made me turn to my ten-month-old and say, "Let's hit Jane over the head with a blunt object. What do you think? Should we hit Jane over the head? Yes?"
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
this post makes me very, very happy. heh. thank you, madam.
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertraci
I love you, but I gotta say I'm not with you on this one.

My mom was fantastic at raising me in the appropriate way taught in books on the subject. My dad, not so much. I don't recall him ever having those kinds of interactions with me, and I have to say the effect of that lingers. He's not a bad guy, but he was a busy person. I think in all frankness he just couldn't be bothered.

The point here is: Verbally engaging with your kids is not, in fact, something that comes naturally to all people.

I think this tends to be a problem on both the low-income and high-income sides. The latter tend not to engage because they have other things to do that they consider more important (like the cellphone checking/chatting she mentions). The upper-uppers often pawn the kiddies off on someone else who doesn't necessarily care much about the actual development of the child. It's a job, and not all are good at it.

Maybe the way she handled the subject wasn't stellar, but I don't think it warrants a backlash. Zoning out is fine, but that's not what she's referring to. She's talking about *checking out*, which I've witnessed plenty of times in Brooklyn and elsewhere. The difference between the two is obvious.
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
alice, you might appreciate the sentiments in this fledgling blog:
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaria
Heather, I totally see your point, and thank you for sharing it. I have to say, I *hope* this isn't a backlash, per se. I was just really annoyed by her tone and the way she approached the topic. Plus, as a fellow resident of Brooklyn, I immediately cringed when she talked about approaching a stranger to "congratulate" her on her parenting. Do you know how much that happens around here? Everyone seems to think whatever they happen to witness at that moment is how you are as a parent, and they feel it's their job to comment.

That said, I was just trying to have some fun with this. That isn't meant to be a defense--feel free to tell me I'm wrong--but to say that I don't wish condemnation on Jane Brody. I bet she's a nice lady. I don't dislike everything she writes.

I think you've brought up an interesting point, but it complicates matters even more. I can point to similar things about my dad, and I agree those have emotional consequences. It's painful to feel like you're not important enough to bother with. Of course.

But I think Jane is talking about something much more basic and elemental, and I think she could have pointed this out in a far less alienating manner.

So: agreed that she's not WRONG about the problem--but her tone, and her making sweeping conclusions about society based on what she sees as she walks through her neighborhood? Come on. I get to laugh at that. Just a little? Maybe?

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Maria, what a great blog--thanks for the link!

We should all blame the mothers. It's all our fault. Obviously.
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
this made me laugh and i needed that today. thanks!
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSara
Horror of horrors, I taught my child to mimic words by having him talk, HIMSELF *on the cellphone* to relatives. Which, I know is the height of rudeness.

But at least he knew how to say "Help Gramma! Mommy's fallen and she can't get up".
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMustangSally
"The Yellow Face in the sky, it burns."

I just wanted to hear that again...
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermisstraceynolan
So Redbook dump the fabulous Julia and her wonderful posts but instead decide to give us more of your yawn-inducing wallowings and obvious snark? Great.
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStu
Jane Brody also had a column on the horrors of late potty-training, and when I read it, I was sure that this was something that had come up with her own grandchildren or their friends. Ma'am, you had your shot. Your raised your kids. Back. Off.

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSlim
Stu, it's obvious you're not my fan, and that's totally fine. I can only be myself, and some people like me, and others don't.

But meanwhile I can console myself in the knowledge that I am, at least, not the guy who chose to spend his time working at making someone else feel bad.

Have a nice day.
October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
This just in: People may only like one blogger. ONE. You must engage in a battle to the death with the others. Ix-nay on the ogrolls-blay. You're not foolin' anyone.
October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSlim
Sometimes a post makes me want to fall down and worship the author. Please accept my humble adoration.
October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrystal
This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday -
October 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterschmutzie
ha-ha..very funny, mom )))
October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike
I think I love you.
October 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermagpie
Amazing brilliant! I can only imagine the reaction of the woman being told that "of all the people I've seen today, you're the only one who is an adequate parent. Congratulations from a stranger!"

The yellow face in the sky--I look forward to her insights.
October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKendra

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