When newborn babies cry it can mean one of a million things: hungry, tired, wet/dirty diaper, over-stimulated, under-stimulated, needing affection — to name a few. As we gain experience as parents, we learn to decipher the cries. By process of elimination we can deduce that if baby was fed and changed not 10 minutes ago … this cry must be a “tired” cry.
And in time, we learn our particular babies’ types of cries: the I’m-busting-your-eardrums-because-I’m-pissed-you-aren’t-holding-me-in-this-very-second wail is often very different from the where-the-hell-is-my-bloody-milk shriek or the why-haven’t-you-changed-me scream.
As a newborn, Maya was never much of a crier (don’t hate … our next one [someday] is all but guaranteed to be a terror; so spoiled have we been by her!) and when she did cry, we realized it was often because she was exhausted. In fact, even today, most of her toddler crying/fits are tied to exhaustion — even the one she had tonight as we were leaving Sam’s Club.
Because babies can’t truly communicate for a loooooong time, I was super-grateful to daycare for teaching her baby sign. Since she was about ten or eleven months old, she could sign for milk. Since the bulk of her diet then consisted of milk, it was really helpful to know she was hungry — and to know we could meet that need because we understood what she was asking for.
Body language often helped, too. If she was walking around clutching her blanket or rubbing her eyes, it was pretty clear she was tired. But it wasn’t always a cinch to know if she was hungry other than looking at the clock and figuring, “Hey, she didn’t eat much at lunch and she’s probably hungry for a snack.”
Fast-forward to present day. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a tremendous explosion in Maya’s vocabulary and comprehension. It started with her signing “eat” a couple weeks ago when she was hungry and she’d walk over to her high chair and motion her arms up. And now in addition to signing, she also verbally expresses that she is hungry (“Maya eat”). She also can now tell us when she’s tired (“Night night, Maya”). These two small phrases have been incredibly useful to us as parents. The fact that she can show us and tell us now nothing short of awesome.
One thing that we struggle with is sometimes she’s just thirsty but the only way she knows how to express that is by signing for milk. So if it’s not meal-time, we offer her water and then if she throws it … we can assume that is NOT the beverage she wanted. (Do any of you follow Honest Toddler on Twitter!?)
I know there are still tons of things we can’t decipher yet–like the fact that one toe might be bothering her inside her sock or that it wasn’t THIS kind of cheese she wanted that we offered (not to mention the fact that we can’t make heads or tails of what some of her words even mean).
The takeaway is we’re taking baby steps. We’re only in the earliest stages of verbal communication, and while we’ll surely be relying on nonverbal cues for a while yet, it’s great that she can express some basic needs: hunger and sleep — to us now in words.