Many years ago, I saw a very smart friend make what I thought was a funny hand gesture to her then-two-year old daughter. She must have caught my puzzled “what did you just do?!” look, and she quickly explained that she was practicing “baby sign language.” Because she is a very smart friend, and her ten-year old daughter is now also very smart, I invested in a big thick book on the subject.
The book is quite thick, and although I read it through with my trusty highlighter in hand, I’ll admit I was a little intimidated at the thought of me learning – and then trying to teach the girls – the sign for “hippopotamus”. (There aren’t generally a lot of hippopotami in this geographic area, you know. [And yes, that is an acceptable plural of “hippopotamus.”]) I decided to start small, with a few key words and phrases that I hoped would aid in our daily routine.
The first phrase I taught the girls was “All done!” I thought this would be a great solution to some of our eating challenges. Instead of the girls starting to spit food at me when they’d had enough to eat, they could simply tell me they were finished. Within a couple of weeks, they learned this sign. But then, when they would “dust off” their hands after only three bites, did I have to believe that they were really finished??? Surely they were confused. Oh, and the spitting didn’t end. I’ve decided that’s a random occurrence, or one that is tied to some cosmic phenomenon not yet identified.
Anyway, after the girls learned “All done!” and “ball” (as we have approximately 27 balls in our toy arsenal and I say that word at least 2,700 times a day), I decided to have a little fun. And before I could do my cheerleader dance to the Alabama fight song, the girls were throwing their arms in the air to the call of “Touchdown, Alabama!”
But then I began to feel a little guilty at my fun. Yes, “All done!” and “ball” were legitimate signs, but the girls couldn’t even identify their ears, yet I had already hooked them into football lore.
(On a positive note, when Daddy scolded Baby A, “Don’t touch that!” she threw her little arms up in the air to signal a score….and she didn’t touch the stereo speaker. It looked like a hold-up, but it worked just the same!)
I decided to buckle down again. I’m starting to “believe” the girls when they tell me something. And they now know several additional signs, including “sleep,” which comes in really handy in deciding when we should begin our trek upstairs for naptime. They can also identify most of their major body parts.
And then I was reading Guess How Much I Love You before bedtime last night. In a deliberate, animated voice, I recited, “’But I love you as high as I can hop,’ smiled Big Nutbrown Hare – and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above.” From “hare” (hair) to “ears” to “touched”, you would think the girls were signaling offensive play calls from the sidelines. So here we go again with the football thing....
....or maybe I just need to start reading stories about hippopotami, as they don’t know that sign.