Santa Clause is in My Uterus

That’s what she said.
We were driving home when Greysen (2.3 years old) made this declaration that caused me to react with giggles from disbelief, but before I could respond to her, my quick-thinking hubby stifled them with a sharp look and kind reminder that she was being serious.
I turned around to see her buckled in her seat belt with a Santa Claus Pez dispenser, empty of course, laying across her lower abdomen underneath the buckle. She found him (Sir Clause) among the mounting pile of things in our bedroom that I’m going to go through just as soon as I get the chance.

Forgive the blur, taken from the front seat.

She repeated it: “Santa Claus is in my uterus.” I respond, now more ashamed of my first response, “Oh, I see him.” I did.
That was the end of that.
Kids Say the Darndest Things
When Greysen first said this I laughed. It seemed an unexpected and unusual idea to me, but Mike’s reaction made rethink that. In my own defense, I don’t hear references to anyone’s uterus in everyday conversation, so I was caught off guard.
At a party recently, someone asked Greysen (and immediately answered the question themselves), “Do you know what is growing in L’s tummy? A baby.” Hmm.
With approximately seven of my friends and relatives expecting children this summer/fall, we have spoken about pregnancy in the simplest of terms. I expect Greysen’s understanding is a reflection of those conversations.
Adults simplify ideas for children sometimes to the point of inaccuracy. Believing that the truth is too much or too complex, adults can sometimes complicate concepts by trying to help. Consider instead conveying truthful ideas with simple explanations.

I use accurate terminology when explaining things to my daughters. While I have adults laugh and act puzzled at the vocabulary I use when they hear the simple explanations, my use of the right words seems less mystifying. Words like “decompose,” “worried,” and yes, “uterus,” are all words in her vocabulary because life called for an explanation.
Children’s capacity for understanding complex ideas when explained briefly in terms that they already know never ceases to astound me.

Signing with Infants Part 2: Speaking Before Acting

I’ve spoken with a few parents who’ve shared that they tried to sign with their children, but that their children never really picked it up. If you are interested in signing, my best advice is to commit. Commit. Your child may not sign right away, but I think the process is valuable regardless of whether they sign back or not.


Greysen signing an non-ASL version of "help"


Keep signing as you speak certain key words. If you only learn and use a few, I’d suggest commonly used ones such as the signs for “nurse” or “milk”, “more”, “all done”, “eat”, “sleep”, and “help.”


J. Ronald Lally, Ph.D., co-director of Zero to Three, refers to the happy medium of narrating one’s actions and honoring children’s interest as “bathing” children in language. I’m not signing to her if she’s not paying attention to what I’m saying anyway. I only sign to things she is attending to. Optimal moments to communicate with infants are when we are both focusing on the same thing.


Looking for moments of joint attention when Moon and I are attending to the same thing at the same time also develops the practice of me trying to see things from my daughter’s perspective.  I am looking for what she is interested in or looking at, and thinking from her perspective in that moment.


When we are out and about, pointing out interesting things is another way to create a moment of joint attention, and is the ideal time to name and sign a word.


I am naturally a fast speaker. Too fast. Signing helps me slow down, and as an added benefit inserts a natural pause in my actions. Signing “up” before picking up my daughter helps me to be consistent in explaining what I am going to do before I do it.


I was speaking with an exasperated friend the other day, who relayed her frustrations regarding her daughter’s difficulties with communicating. I suggested that she incorporate sign language, but she expressed that the very thought of learning something new was overwhelming. Taking a sign language class may not be high on the list of priorities for many parents, but communicating using a handful of key signs may be enough for your child to communicate some important feelings, leading to empowerment and of the confidence that comes with being heard.


A few quick ways to pick up some signs that you can share with your toddlers:


  • Programs and DVDs – I first became familiar with signing while speaking with infants when I attended a workshop at a state early education conference. The program included Joseph Garcia’s DVD Signing with Baby. I liked this program because it was based on American Sign Language. It comes with a cheat sheet of sorts, with the most common signs used with infants, and it was a helpful reminder in the early stages of learning.


  • Books – I have an ASL dictionary that I used to reference fairly regularly, though it did not have many signs relevant to our daily experiences. There are also lots of books specifically for parents to use with toddlers. Some have great pictures and really relevant words. This is a great option for someone needing to learn just a few key signs.


  • We also have few children’s books of signing. Even if they are not new signs to the child, they are great reminders. I couldn’t remember the difference between “horse” and “rabbit,” and one of  Greysen’s book helped.


  • YouTube – As great as books are, seeing someone sign is a much easier way for me to learn. It’s always been easier for me to imitate and remember a sign once I’ve seen it. If you are looking on YouTube, check a couple of sources to get a consensus on an accurate sign.


  • Other online resources – In some searches a for “Bless you” when Greysen was an infant, I stumbled upon signing savvy, which is a membership site. For anyone new to signing, I think that this would be a great resource, as the videos are clear and reliable.


A partnership with a person who strives for independence, yet is at the same time so dependent on me for some things, is a relationship that needs lots and lots of communication. Whether infant or toddler, the partnership between parent and child stand to benefit from having multiple ways to express all the things we have to say to one another. I am so grateful for having a way to communicate with Greysen, and now Moon, as soon as they are capable.

Signing with Infants Part 1: A Validation of Partnership


Until this week, Moon signed mostly in imitation. I signed “all done,” and she signed it back. I signed “nurse,” and again she copied. Then, this week, an indication of an impending shift in our communication occurred as we approached her diaper changing area.


Moon signed “diaper.”


Proud mama that I am, I was excited. As any parent would be, I was excited for this point in her development, but it was also something aside from that. In that moment, Moon validated our partnership in a new way. With regular routines, infants are capable of full participation in many, if not most, of their routine care. During diaper changes, infants can partner with their parent by removing their diaper tabs, lifting their legs, and/or taking the wet diaper to the bin. I’ve been the partner in these kinds of interactions many times with children and seen the connection that takes shape.


By signing “diaper” (or at least, Moon’s approximation of the sign), she expressed her understanding of the upcoming sequence. She communicated that she knew what was going to happen next. In essence, she is developing another way to use her voice.


Moon has always had a voice. We are familiar with her sounds. The growl she makes when a large dog comes up for a kiss, the “uh, uh, uh oh” anticipation when food is anywhere within sight but out of reach, and the squeals of excitement when Greysen jumps up and down. We know she is telling us something. Greysen knows some of these sounds. When she tries to nurse from her younger sister and Moon expresses discomfort at Big Sis’ head resting in her lap, Greysen knows her grunts: “Moon says ‘no thank you, Mom.'”


Infancy is a time of rapid change and growth. With each developmental milestone, I am reminded that the person in front of me is simultaneously who is she now, and becoming something more like herself every day.


Twenty years from now, I wonder if I’ll look back and note this one use of sign language as the memorable starting point for what I hope will become a healthy pattern of communication. I know that speaking to one another may not always be as straightforward as it is now and that there will be times where our communications will be wrought with negotiation (I am getting firsthand experience with that in my conversations with Greysen), but I think we are working on a cornerstone of our relationship. And THAT is what I am excited about.


A Child’s Potential is in the Details

In the past couple of months, Greysen’s vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds. We’ll often hear people remark with surprise, “Wow, she knows a lot of words,” or, “Your little girl is really smart!” I’ve actually discussed that last bit with Marisa on more than one occasion, and we’re in agreement that it’s not so much that Greysen is a genius (we’d love to think that she is, but bear with me for a few minutes), it’s that we have higher expectations of her than most people we know and know that she is capable of so much. So, while one person’s child might say “kitty,” which is usually met with, “Oh, how cute,” our daughter happens to say, “cat,” which people seem to think is somehow on a whole other level, receiving comments such as, “Wow! How old is she? I can’t believe she can say ‘cat!'”


Why is this small and seemingly insignificant difference in vocabulary often met with such reverence, especially by other parents? While I can’t be 100-percent positive since I haven’t polled everyone we’ve interacted with when these comments arise, I do have a theory or two, which I’ve developed while talking with Marisa about this very subject. As I said earlier, we really don’t believe that Greysen is smarter than other kids her age, but throughout the years we’ve seen what kids can do when they have a parent and/or teacher who responds to their cues and facilitates learning and interaction in a way that doesn’t dumb-down their experience for the sake of cuteness. And this, finally, brings me back to “kitty” versus “cat.”


I think we can all admit that the word “kitty” is, for all intents and purposes, cute, while “cat” is generally accepted as a standard, nondescript word for, well, a cat. Now, in my opinion, cats are cute no matter what, and I’m pretty sure Greysen would agree, so why would someone feel the need to describe a cat as a “kitty”? I’ll tell you why: for the sake of the parent (or grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.), who for whatever reason feels the need to have their child say a cute word instead of an “adult” word. After all, doesn’t it sound so sweet when a small child says “kitty?” Of course it does, which is why people encourage kids to say “doggy,” “binky,” and “wa-wa” instead of “dog,” “pacifier,” and “water.” I have to tell you, “wa-wa” irks me to no end since Greysen has been learning “water” for a long time now, so every time someone says “wa-wa” to her it feels like a step in the wrong direction.


And for those people who will counter with, “Who cares? It’s just a word,” I must respectfully disagree with many a reason. However, I’ll narrow it down to a few for the sake of attempted brevity. People judge us on our language, spoken or written, every day. Just using the examples I’ve already discussed above regarding cats, you can see that people somehow think that Greysen is at a much more advanced level of language development because of how she speaks, even though it’s essentially just a choice of words. The truth is, people respond to Greysen’s language because it isn’t dumbed-down “baby talk,” and she tends to get the benefit of someone speaking to her a little bit longer and with more meaningful interaction instead of just dismissing her as just another “kid” who says a couple of cute words.


In the end, you get out what you put in, so if you speak to your child in short, “cute” gibberish, that’s exactly how you should expect your child to speak. In my opinion, avoiding “baby talk” respects the child and what they are capable of, which is so much more than most people can imagine, and promotes language development instead of stunting it by keeping it at “baby level.”  So go ahead and let me hear it if you disagree, but you’d better have a convincing argument!