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If there was one thing I knew about motherhood before I had children, it was that baby talkis the worst. I never picked this message up anywhere in particular—it just permeated the air. When men and women speak to babies in a cooing, singsongy manner, not only is it unhelpful for babies, it is terribly annoying for everyone around them. Hence it should not happen. Adults should only speak to babies and children the way they should speak with other adults. "Hello, how are you? You're a baby, I see. How is that working out for you?"
With my first son I worked as hard as I could not to be one of those parents, the type whom child-free people mock and declare to be the worst members of society. I wanted to be a cool mom, an under-the-radar mom, the type of mom people without children would say "Well, I hate children, naturally, but Claire's such a chill, over-it mom that I suppose I can tolerate her and her spawn."
When I watch old videos of my first son, the lack of baby talk almost makes it sound like I'm bored. Without baby talk, I had no idea how to speak to an infant. In one excruciating video I just say, basically, "Bless you," when the newborn sneezes and eventually offer an unenthusiastic "Yay." We had nothing to talk about.
Then, I stopped listening to the peanut gallery about what is and isn't enjoyable to the larger populace in terms of parenting. I read several parenting pieces about "motherese," which is the scientific way of describing baby talk. While there is debate over the particulars, some evidence has shown that motherese actually helps babies' language development (up to a point, obviously—you don't want to be doing goo-goo and gah-gah with a child old enough to spell his name.)
While it would pain me to know I was being mocked online for being an annoying mother, in the end I'm parenting for me and my kids, not strangers on the Internet.
More importantly, I realized that it's just fun. But I couldn't just decide to speak motherese. I did not grow up in a baby talk household and before having my own, I wasn't around babies on a regular basis. The way I learned motherese, actually, was from a child-free friend of mine I'll call Karen. Karen, viewed externally, was one tough cookie, a woman with two pierced nipples, a degree from the University of Chicago and the ability to roll a joint without even looking.
She also spoke motherese to her cats. She'd scoop them up in her arms like babies, nuzzle her face in their bellies and say things like 'Who's a boogie woogie noogie? You are! You are! Oh no!" in a voice completely unlike her regular one. If her regular voice was Daria's, her baby talk voice was Betty Boop's.
I was always bemused by this transformation, but realized that I didn't think Karen was any less cool for her baby-talking her kitties. I admired, actually, her lack of self-consciousness. Her cats brought her joy, they elicited a warm maternal feeling from her, and she spoke to them accordingly.
I gradually got better at speaking motherese with my first but it wasn't until my second that I really let it fly, probably because I had practice, probably because I don't plan on having any other kids so I might as well just let it all hang out, and, ultimately, because I care less about being the "cool" mom. While it would pain me to know I was being mocked online for being an annoying mother, in the end I'm parenting for me and my kids, not strangers on the Internet.
So, now, with Karen, not Internet commenters in mind, I speak motherese to my second kid like he's a cat. We have lots of fun, he and I. He smiles and shrieks while I sing and repeat myself and make funny noises and talk in a high-pitched voice. Because babyhood is short. Yes it is! Yes it is!