Thursday, October 11, 2012

speaking and shrieking

When Griffin was a baby, my husband and I got so excited when Griffin turned over for the first time, sat up, crawled, walked...and then as he started running, climbing up stairs, and knocking down child safety gates, we realized that maybe we hadn’t needed to encourage him quite so enthusiastically!

This time around, when Gwyneth started doing the commando crawl (belly on floor, pulling herself forward with her forearms), I found myself rushing to her with a book or a toy to distract her instead of holding out my arms and telling her to come see Maman.  You see, we already had one child who zoomed around nonstop--I wanted to encourage my baby girl to stay in one place just a little while longer!  (They stay tiny for such a short, short time....)

Gwyneth at nine months: trying to climb into the bathtub

Gwyneth at ten months: trying to crawl up a slide

But despite my best efforts, our very alert and curious Gwyneth was walking at 11 months.  (It was striking, actually, as she is so small-framed that you’d think she was an even younger baby confidently toddling through life.)

Gwyneth at 12 months, exploring the house but not saying much (watch for her reluctant little wave at the very end, if you're willing to sit through 2.5 minutes of a free-range baby)

On the other hand, Gwyneth hasn’t been a precocious speaker.  A week shy of her 15th month, she uses very few words, and none of them consistently.  Sometimes she calls us “ma-ma” and “da-da”--occasionally she greets us with “hi”--we’re starting to hear her say “‘lease” while she does the sign for “please”--and for a while I was convinced that she was joining in when I counted “un, deux, trois” before tickling or bouncing her.  I knew, just knew she was saying “duh” and “wa” along with me!  But, oh, I so want to her to be able to talk, really talk!

I wonder if the fact that Gwyneth loved moving around and then walking from so early on meant that she poured her energy into the physical rather than the verbal?  I have heard that babies tend to learn either to walk first or talk first, that the two skills rarely develop in tandem. Yes, I know that we’re not supposed to compare our children’s development with one another, but since it seemed like Griffin was talking a lot more at this age, I decided to check.  Turns out my memory is faulty!  At 14 months, he could say the following:  mama, dada, uh-oh, hi, no, yeah, yay, doh (door), and arf.  Not that much more than Gwyneth, actually.  (Here’s what he was doing at 21 months.)

The thing is, Gwyneth really does want to learn to talk!  Or, at least, she knows that despite her sounds and gestures and pointing, we don’t always understand what she’s trying to tell us (and that makes her mad). So she shrieks instead. Here’s a typical Gwyneth moment:

She sees a footstool in the bathroom and shrieks in excitement.  Runs to the stool and shrieks to let us know that she arrived safely.  Climbs up on the stool and shrieks in triumph.  Bumps her head on the bathroom sink and shrieks in pain.  Pouts a little.  Looks down and sees the floor.  Realizes that she doesn’t know how to get down from the stool.  Shrieks in dismay.  Realizes that the grown-ups haven’t dropped everything and rushed to help her.  Shrieks loudly, shrilly, plaintively to let us know that she needs us, stat.  Shrieks when she spies a grown-up coming towards her.  Shrieks her thanks.  Shrieks with relief to be back on solid ground.  Notices the stool again and shrieks because it’s so darn exciting and she’s tempted to climb up on it once more.  Shrieks with glee.  Gets stuck.  Shrieks in fear.

What’s most frustrating, though, is when we’re all eating together and she decides she wants something very specific presented in a certain way.  Not the cracker on the tray of her high chair--she wants the cracker that her daddy is eating.  That exact one, mind you, not a piece of his or a cracker from the serving dish.  Or she’ll accept it on a spoon but not from my fingers.  Or from my spoon but not hers.  She’ll turn up her cute little nose at a forkful of mashed potatoes from her daddy’s plate, but when he pretends to dip it in the serving bowl and replenish it, she’s perfectly content to eat it. And as you might imagine, all of the above punctuated with shrieks.  Such an indignant little girl!  Why can’t her parents read her mind?!

Have I mentioned that we’re a little impatient for her to learn to communicate with words?!

Gwyneth at 14 months--this photo is just a placeholder until I can get video of her stupendous shrieks!


  1. Man, I can identify with this. Especially discouraging the second child from crawling and walking. All I wanted was a baby who stayed in one spot!

    I definitely think that babies focus on one skill set at a time. I was a late walker (14 m) but could do puzzles and talk up a storm, while my daughter was an early walker (10-11 m) but a total barbarian with regard to language or cognitive tasks until at least Gwyneth's age. I can see the cycles in my son, too, when he makes strides in motor skills or language, always seems to go in phases.

    I expected my boy to be an early walker because he was crawling and pulling up ridiculously early, but he surprised us and plateaued there for months. His birthday is next week and he's just now taking his first independent steps. But he's more intelligent (with language) than his sister was at this stage, so it seems to balance out.

    I recently read that smaller babies actually walk faster than bigger ones, which fits with the babies in my family as well as petite Gwyneth. I guess the big ones have more ballast to haul around so it's harder for them!

    Hope Gwyneth starts talking soon! Though in a couple of years we may be wondering why we ever taught them to talk :)

    1. I know, right?!

      A "total barbarian"--hey, that would make a cute Halloween costume....

      Happy early first birthday to Marek!

  2. Really nice to read about your childrens' language journey. We too are on the start of a bilingual route. You can see our story at or on Facebook at

    1. Hello Zoe--it's nice to "meet" you!

      Your son is a very lucky little boy to be able to grow up bilingually. It sounds like you and your husband take great joy in interacting with him and that you will be dedicated and consistent in raising him with English at home.

      Bravo to your husband, in particular, for his willingness to parent in his non-native language. I know exactly how challenging that can be! I'd guess that learning all the infant-related vocab and songs and rhymes in English was hard for him (it certainly was for me in my non-native French).

      Good luck to you three!