How much communication do you think it’s possible to have with a relatively brand new baby?
I recently spent one of these marvellous balmy evenings we’ve been enjoying in the UK, visiting a close friend and meeting her five month old daughter. Let’s call her M.
She wasn’t that interested in me to begin with, preferring to watch her older brother running around the garden playing with his ball and she was, of course, happy to soak up the adoration of her parents, glad to have them both present at the same time. But after an hour or so of us all hanging out on the same rug, snacking and drinking and laughing, M and I began to have a conversation.
It started off with simple eye contact. This seems like the most basic and obvious thing any of us will do when communicating with our youngest children, but stop and consider for a moment. When was the last time you made and held eye contact with your baby or toddler without also changing the nappy, trying to feed, talking to someone else at the same time, or generally having some other task in hand? This is not a criticism, merely an acknowledgement of hard it can be to fit everything into an ordinary day.
I was lucky, I was a visitor, I had nothing else to do other than socialise.
We started to converse with our facial expressions, sometimes I would follow her lead and copy what her features were doing, and sometimes I would lead, with big clear movements like opening my mouth really wide, tilting my head or making large deliberate blinks.
Then we moved onto sounds, with the same kind of turn-taking in terms of who was leading the action, although mostly I was copying M.
Yes these are instinctive and empirical behaviours, but when they are carried out with real focus and attention, they are almost magical.
M’s parents had no doubt that she and I were communicating with each other. It was a joy that lasted for around fifteen minutes, and would most likely have lasted longer had I not had to leave. What a privilege!
Thank you M. I’m looking forward to the next time.