Is our baby sending us signs?

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 5, 2010

I am not what you would call a new-age parent. My wife and I are fairly traditional when it comes to taking care of our 9-month old.

Gibson hasn’t learned the latest meditation and yoga techniques for babies. He didn’t start learning to swim when he turned 4-months old.

In fact, my parenting techniques are pretty middle of the road when compared to some of our friends. We don’t make our own baby food and we don’t use cloth diapers. I admire those who do those things, I just don’t have the time.

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But recent events at the Hillyer house have me considering baby sign language when it comes to communicating with our child.

In recent weeks, Gibson has been experimenting with his mouth. Our son has been enamored with the various sounds he makes with his tongue, teeth and lips.

He declares a new sound of the day each morning as if he is a resident of Sesame Street. “This day is brought to you by the sound …” he seems to announce as he turns on his internal motor. For the rest of the day, Gibson perfects his sound-making techniques, filling the house with gurgling, clacking and spitting sounds.

One day it will be a raspberry noise that is made by pursing the lips and blowing. Another morning will start with a raspy noise that sounds like the muppet Ernie when he laughs at his buddy Bert.

This week is clicking week. The sound made with his tongue and the roof of his mouth seems to fill every waking moment these days. He has practiced the sound so much that he is beginning to sound like a roller coaster climbing a very large hill.

At this point the sounds are more musical than verbal. There have been a couple of ma-ma and da-da sounds.

Most often, though, you might mistake a Gibson soundtrack for a rehearsal of “Stomp” the musical.

Amazingly, Gibson is becoming adept at hand gestures. If patty-cake and peek-a-boo are languages, he knows them.

He has mastered the art of clapping and waving.

Wave hello or goodbye and Gibson waves back. Start clapping and he puts his hands together.

At first all this hand jiving was mildly entertaining. But then I realized there may be more to Gibson’s pantomimes than mimicking his mother or father.

One afternoon, I looked at him and said, “Let’s play patty-cake.” Without raising my hands I started reciting the nursery rhyme.

Immediately Gibson smiled, raised his hands and started clapping to the rhythm of the song. Obviously, he recognized something in the words, the rhythm or both and responded.

Is this communication?

I have friends who found teaching sign language to their children both easy and invaluable. Instead of wondering whether their child wanted milk or juice, the teddy bear or the pacifier, a simple motion of the hands helped clear up the confusion.

I must confess, when I first heard this some years back, I dismissed it as some new-age hooey.

Now I look at Gibson and wonder if sign language might be for us.

Now how do I sign, “Stop with the clicking please?”

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or