Pure Guesswork: Not Picking Up on the Signs

If worrying had a volume level, my wife Jenny’s pre-set would be a 14. Mine, a 3. Our counterbalance works, but it’s not without occasional conflict. The latest is over Milo getting ample nutrients. I want our 1-year-old to eat well, but I see that he’s strong and that his pants always get shorter so I don’t feel any need to monitor daily intakes. Jenny, on the other hand, once worried that he wasn’t eating enough while he was on his third jar of food.


Recently, however, my parenting concern was stirred up – on a totally different topic. I ran into an acquaintance whose daughter is about Milo’s age. He said that he and his wife had been teaching their little girl sign language and that she can now indicate whether she wants milk, a book or a toy, thereby reducing frustration and guesswork for everyone. Nice, I thought.


Then I realized that we haven’t been teaching Milo sign language. We didn’t even think about teaching him sign language. Now I’m thinking about it and panicking. My boy has probably been trying to tell us things but his illiteracy has prevented it. I wonder at how much simpler the last 16 months could have been, if only he’d been able to gesture, “No Dad, I don’t want more oatmeal. I just want to hit the TV for a while or maybe tear a book apart. Can’t decide.”


We could dive into the course work, but I figure that if the window hasn’t already shut, it might as well have. I love my kid, but he’s not a quick study. He finally knows where his ears are, but he still thinks his mouth is his nose. This has me worried that I didn’t teach him correctly, and he’s in for an eventual mocking by his fellow kindergarteners.

Now somehow I’m supposed to become a sign language instructor.


From what I’ve read, there’s no harm in baby sign language. And since we’re always looking for new things to do with Milo, regular lessons probably wouldn’t be the worst use of our time – he might eventually be able to convey a wish or two, which wouldn't be completely unhelpful. But, ultimately, I just really don’t want to know. He’ll soon be talking, and once he starts, he’s not going to unlearn it. I want to enjoy the relative silence before it disappears. 


Here’s the other thing: Doing this sign language thing feels like looking earlier and earlier for any edge to have your child stand out. It’s nothing more than toddler steroids. And I for one will not be part of such foolishness. My kid may not know where his nose is and may confuse the bookcase with the coffee table, but, by god, he’s all-natural and he’s going to remain that way – at least until preschool.


Steve Calechman is a freelance writer, stand-up comedian and first-time dad in Salem. Email him at

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14 Apr 2013

By Steve Calechman