The first few months, babies are a bit like Tamagotchi. Remember the craze for these made-in-Japan digital pocket toys in the 1990s? You had to care your “pet”—really, a basic pixelated rendering of a pet—and feed it, change it, play with it, answer its calls for attention, etc.
Of course, Tamagotchi pets didn’t speak or send messages—you have to figure out what they need.
I still remember these frantic nights and days where, exhausted and half-asleep, I’d try to figure out why Mark was screaming on top of his lungs. “Hungry, maybe he is hungry! Or maybe he is tired. But then why doesn’t he sleep? Oh wait—yep, he peed. Ah AH!”
Discovering the source of Mark’s obvious discomfort felt like winning the lottery.
But course, by the time I was done changing his diaper, there was something else.
Some parents claim they know why their baby is crying. Apparently, the “hunger cries” can be different from the “stinky diaper cries” or the “pick me up cries”. Most of the time, I used the two working neurons I had left and resorted to logic. It’s hard to rely on your analytical abilities when you are so tired that you can’t think straight. That’s why most people try to put babies on a schedule. If it’s close to feeding time, well, you know why he is getting fussy.
But babies aren’t Tamagotchi pets. They weren’t programmed in some fancy lab in Japan—unless, you know, the, ahem, conception took place in said lab with two bored technicians on a break. Babies defy logic sometime. For instance, it took me a while to figure out Mark’s feeding pattern—he did cluster feeding, where he could eat for a few hours in a row and then nothing. Feng and I were constantly amazed at how much milk could fit in this tiny little body.
Months went by and Mark and I got to know each other. We learn to communicate, little by little.
Sure, Mark doesn’t speak complete sentences yet and he uses his own language—a mix of Chinese, French and English.
But lately, he seems to understand us better, and he makes himself understood more and more.
“Mark, are you hungry?” I ask before hanging over a snack. If he nods, I know he is. If he doesn’t pay attention but keeps on playing, he is not that hungry and my little snack may end up in the toy box.
Sometime, I give him the choice between two snacks. I’m always interested in his opinion. Some stuff tastes better than others, right?
The other day, I was sitting in the living room writing emails and Mark was playing beside me. Suddenly, he came around the chair, pointing towards something. He was very insistent.
Meh. Maybe he found the missing MA370 flight, I thought.
“What do you want Mark?”
He led me by the hand to the kitchen, where he stopped in front of the fridge. I opened it. He smiled and pointed to the bottle of water.
“You are thirsty!” I said, amazed by the precision of the message.
Yes he was. He took several gulps of water and we closed the fridge’s door.
This may seem like a little thing but for a kid, it’s a huge step.
For us as well.
Communication is everything.