It is a common perception that babies do not know any better and that they are “just babies”. I say that the age-old concept couldn’t be further away from reality.
I recall a time, not so long ago, when I was breastfeeding my month-old son while watching a movie on television. The scene was depicting a mother who was trying to pay a ransom to get her kidnapped child back. Fuelled by the lack of sleep and how overwhelmed I felt by Motherhood, I retorted to my suckling child: “If you were ever kidnapped, I won’t pay the ransom to get you back.”
My child pouted. And then he broke into full-blown wailing. It didn’t matter to him that my breast was still squirting out the glorious milk that was supposed to satisfy him, somehow what I said had disturbed him far more than his hunger could bother him.
I told him I was joking, just to appease his little mind. But he shot me a pensive look as if unsure if I was truly joking.
Then he went back to crying his poor little heart out.
As my husband laughed at the whole incredulity of the situation, I decided to take back my words. “Okay, alright. Even if it took a million dollars to get you back, Mommy will. Okay?”
The moment my sentence ended, all tears dried up and the boy showed me a gummy grin.
Bear in mind, the little boy was only 6-weeks-old when this happened. There were no other factors that could possibly fuel his unhappiness, and less reason for him to do this whilst nursing. He had never broken off midway through a feed for all the time after he was born, and there was no reason he should suddenly do so, out of the blue.
Other than this unforgettable incident, there have been far too many events where he displayed full understanding of what is happening around him. This includes my conversations with his father, and he would find all means and ways to make himself heard.
On a separate occasion when he was 6-months-old, my boy refused his favourite diet of baby cereal, spitting out whatever was shoved into his mouth. Thinking he wanted a change in menu, I brought out his other favourite, pureed fruits. It was not well received either.
He yelled, screamed, kicked in his high throne, simply refusing to eat anything. And then I saw it: his tiny fist clenching and unclenching, doing the handsign for “milk”.
We had started teaching him baby signing days ago, and did not think he would have picked it up so soon. So just to confirm that he really wanted milk instead of a meal, I asked him if he was certain he wanted milk. He glared at me and shoved his fist into my face, all the while clenching and unclenching that little hand with a fervour I had never seen before.
I gave him that bottle even though it was dinnertime, and ever since then, have kept a keen eye on his hands in case he should be signing something and I overlook it again due to my short-sightedness.
Not Just A Kid
It was also this incident that finally woke me from the misconception that babies were “just babies”. They do have their personal preferences and sometimes they even know what they exactly want! They are definitely more than just babies. They are little people who will, one day, grow up to be just like us; adults with preferences in every aspect of their lives.
While we’re busy trying to decipher the elusive baby’s language of wails, screams, squeals and chuckles, we often overlook the simple fact that they are trying to behave just like us. Listen in closely and you’ll often hear them mimicking our usual adult responses of “hmm”, “huh” and “uh” in the most appropriate situations.
My child, now an inquisitive 1-year-old, ‘says’ no by shaking his head, and yes by going “uh”. I don’t think any doctor has ever warned parents about this, but nodding our head requires much more skill than shaking it. So when you question your baby on anything in the near future (this is presuming you give them the freedom of choice in their daily lives), be sure to keep a keen ear to that possible “uh” that he or she might be replying with. Just because we’d like to believe that they “know nothing”, doesn’t mean that they are truly clueless!