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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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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)

Oh Alice, bringing the snark!

Oh earnest commenters, bringing the earnestness. Distracted parents don't need technology to ignore their kids. While we're pointing fingers, let's include soap operas, tabloids, dirty novels, and gossip sessions with neighbors - all provide escapism as fabulous as FaceSpace. And yes, moms need to be told to talk to their children because it's not that they're hungry, tired, stressed, angry, distracted, or busy. They're just dumb!
October 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteranna
I'm so conflicted. Your snark is well placed, but I have loved Jane Brody since she wrote a cookbook that actually taught my family how to eat right...we were slow to the concept.

I'm 42 with two teens;I hope to God I am not writing articles about the importance of placing infants in carseats ten years from now. Maybe it's the short-term memory loss that can accompany the menopause. I'm going to stick with admiring you both.
October 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. G.
My baby's first word was "hello" which she said with a head tilt because apparently I talk on the phone waaaaayyyyy too much. ;)
October 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSara -- The Football Wife
You don't have to choose sides, Mrs. G.! I do not in fact hate Jane Brody. What's more, I don't even dislike her. I bet she is a nice lady.

My mom says the same stuff, after all. But I don't get to write posts making fun of her, so I have to get it out somehow, no?

October 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Funny, I read the same article and had a completely different response. Finally, someone saying how important interpersonal relationships are to early brain development is. Kids need more champions, not fewer.
October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMartha Cook
Omigod, hysterical. Though actually I am such a loser that I read the column and berated myself for the times I speak vacantly to my daughter while reading mommy blogs.
October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
Hahahahahahahahahahaaaa! Oh, so freakin' funny. I am so very lucky that you agreed to write for Redbook. Please feel free to snark all over our pages. xoxo SLM
October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacy
A librarian working at a neighboring library to mine took this article as justification for her hatred of infant bucket seats.

Because, according to her, all parents do these days is carry their kids around in plastic buckets, ignoring them.

I said, "gee, maybe you should organize a program about baby-wearing." (sub-text: and then shut up about car seats)

Why is it OK to so severely criticize mothers of small children? Believe it or not, most of our kids will be OK. And if there ARE problems, it's usually a lot more complicated than whether or not mom (and dad? where's the dad here?) pointed out the colors of flowers on a walk. Family income, social norms, educational systems, access to books... yeah. Well, I guess you can't really yell at random moms on the street about those things.

No, it's much easier to judge based on appearances. Well done, Ms. Brody!
October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHaus

Have you read Nurtureshock yet? It recounts a study that shows the key is actually NOT a nevernding stream of chatter at your baby. They have actually shown that you need to respond to the baby's sounds, reaffirming the "conversation" thing and urging them on to trying to make the next sound in the developmental chain. It isn't really such a big deal to just endlessly talk, and in fact can be problematic if you are not "object labelling" at the correct moment for your child to store it - there is a lot of cross-labelling where a kid says "buh-buh" while holding a spoon, and parent says, "BOTTLE? YOU WANT A BOTTLE? HERE'S YOUR BOTTLE, PRECIOUS!" And then they have just taught the kid that a spoon is a bottle or something.
October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBriar
And what pray tell is the bright idea on how to turn the kid off when they get to be teenagers and they have something to say about everything? I can drop mine off for a little field work.

thank you.

this message sent from my iPhone
October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMom101
It was hard to continue reading after you mentioned you had TALKED ON THE PHONE IN FRONT OF YOUR INFANT!!!

What?!? Are you insane?!? Has no one ever called CPS on you?

Wait, hold on, I need to start Dora over so I can continue reading blogs...

Be right back.

And don't judge....she teaches spanish. =)
October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSummer Saldana
Raw throat...funny. Agreed. Because that was the line that got me in her article. I mean, for the love of God, I try to describe things to my daughter...when it seems NORMAL and when I FREAKING FEEL LIKE IT. But that's all I need is another thing to check off my list...leading to neglect of the list leading to feelings of inadequacy as a mother.

You know Ms. Brody, sometimes I might just want to sit in silence with my daughter. No words at all. For an extended period of time. I know!

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca
When that baby is 2 and decides to start talking back,and NEVER STOPS TALKING EVEN WHEN HE IS 8,to his mother, she'll be sorry.
October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSharon
alternately chortling and snorting - beavis and butthead style, because I'm just that mature. Probably why my kids are just walking around here picking their noses and saying, "Duh," all the time. Go get her, Alice! The pompous old ______!
October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon
Lorie, you are hilarious! Crack pipe is right.Didn`t read the Brody article, but I would have to agree with Ellen, while talking on the phone constantly is not ideal, a little alone time lets the child realize that the world doesn`t revolve around them. As well, when they are able to discover and learn more when left to their own devices, without the constant confusing banter of the over present parent. Just find a balance.
October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAshley
Um . . . I love you? And I am madly jealous . . . I wish I had written this. But mostly I just love you.
October 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZozo's Mom
I agree the opening line was off-putting. But I don't think the rest was. I actually think it was quite plain-spoken and true.I'm a mother of four who can't help but zone out from time to time, right?! I mean, I need a break sometime (ALL THE TIME).I'm as guilty as the rest of us when I say "Yep. I agree. Wow." to whatever observations my kids make. Or questions they ask. When I'm engrossed in my own thoughts. Or writing in my head.But I don't think this story is speaking to those times. I think it's speaking to the larger problem of parents tuning children out so emphatically, so completely.Case in point: there's a young boy in my children's preschool class who is having trouble adjusting. He frequently runs off, refuses to listen, acts out. Each day, his father shows up at pick-up and rather than greet the boy, he continues talking on his cell phone. Even on the days when the preschool director approaches to talk about the latest playground outbursts.I'm also thinking of countless children I've seen over the years who try to break through the cell phone wall but instead end up playing by themselves at the playground. With their parents two feet away. Present, yes. But not present at all.Just some thoughts.I still think you're hilarious and outrageously talented.

October 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDana
Please write something about the "parents" who are soooo permissive, the restaurant ruiners, playground idiots, our x-er generation has no clue how to parent, only how to friend, which is ruining kids!

btw, your piece was hilarious. and ironic, which is rare.
October 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterheather
That was awesome. Thank you.

You know, I'm occasionally a bit too quick to judge when I see a parent talking on their phone or using their Blackberry while they're pushing their kid on the swing or whatever. But I force myself to think that perhaps that parent has totally rejigged their job so that they can work from home and be with their kids as much as possible, and maybe -- just maybe -- they're dealing with a rare, urgent piece of business before they get back to the main job of being with their kid.

Perspective. I'm working on it.
October 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTammy
I agree with most of the commenter who think that this woman has some nerve assuming that every parent out there is just hanging on here every pithy word when it comes to how to care for their own kids.But.I'm a low-income single mother and my son is a friggin genius. I know plenty of soccer-mom suburbanites who are raising complete duds. So keep the sweeping generalizations to yourself. Poor people love their children just as much as you.
October 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLucy

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