YO MAMA: Hey baby, stop listening
My partner and I have gotten really good at spelling words out loud ever since our toddler started understanding everything we say.
Conversations in our house sound a bit like we’re having a spelling bee.
“Can you put c-h-e-e-s-e on the shopping list?” furtive glance at the kid to see if he has cracked the code and gone racing for the fridge.
Or, “Where are the c-a-r k-e-y-s?”
To become really adept at this strategy, you must resist the urge to say the word your partner is spelling (this is easier said than done). In the early days, we would say things like, “c-a-r-k-e-y-s….oh, car keys!” as if it was a game to be won. There was a lot of “dammit, it defeats the whole point of spelling it if you say it!” Now, however, conversing in letters is second-nature, a parenting secret code.
Toddlers are expert eavesdroppers and even when it looks like they aren’t listening they totally are. It’s amazing, really, how a toddler can be completely focussed on a set of magnetic train cars while also scanning his parents’ conversation for the words “spray park.”
Of course, there’s no off switch or mute button. It’s kind of like wanting to tell Siri to stop listening, but you can’t, because it’s your baby.
After our son was born, we knew our free speech days were coming to an end, but we figured we still had a bit of time before we actually had to worry about it. We could still drop the occasional f-bomb (typically: I am so f-ing tired) and it didn’t matter because newborns don’t care about anything but boobs and their next nap. But then, before you know it, your wee one wakes up one morning and understands EVERYTHING.
It isn’t just curse words that have to be watched, either. It’s weird stuff that needs censoring these days. Things like “I bumped my toe on the table” — toddler goes and bumps his toe (on purpose) then starts crying because, yeah, stubbing your toe hurts.
Or, “be really careful and don’t drop that on the floor” — toddler looks you in the eye and releases his critical grasp of the cup. (I am convinced toddlers have that form of selective hearing where they omit the “don’t” in a sentence and just do the stated action.)
It’s better to say something like “use two hands!” It’s just another way our communication style has evolved since having a kid.
The problem is the kid keeps getting smarter and smarter — I guess that’s a good thing — and staying one step ahead of him is getting more and more difficult. What will we do when he learns to spell?
I guess we’ll be s-c-r-e-w-e-d. And it’ll be time to learn French.
— Charlotte Helston gave birth to her first child, a rambunctious little boy, in the spring of 2021. Yo Mama is her weekly reflection on the wild, exhilarating, beautiful, messy, awe-inspiring journey of parenthood.
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