Dot writes: one can’t call it babytalk because the whole point is that the baby doesn’t – talk, that is. So one fills the silence (or attempts to provide a cheerful alternative to WAAA, WAAA, WAAA).

‘Shall we burp you? Can I get a burp? Stretch! Up we go! Oh, that was a good burp! That was an excellent burp! Good Prawn! Good little Prawny! That’s much better, isn’t it? Would you like titty two? Nice titty two? I’m not sure you’re still hungry. Well, we’ll offer you titty two. No obligation, you understand. Titty two coming up. More nice sucky suck for Prawn…no, not your fists…’ and so it goes. Meanwhile he practices his various facial expressions, including scepticism, scorn, boredom, worry, and puzzlement. Babies have an amazing capacity for making one feel at a social disadvantage.

There’s an Ursula Le Guin short story that I think about as I babble to my Prawn. It’s called ‘The Silence of the Asonu’ and it’s in her collection Changing Planes: Armchair Travel for the Mind (2003). The Asonu are a people who talk as small children but fall silent as they grow older and as adults may not speak from year to year. Drawn to this amazing silence, some visitors chatter endlessly about their own lives, secure in the knowledge they won’t be interrupted; others come to the Asonu as devotees thinking they must have some deep wisdom to impart and follow them around writing their rare sayings in notebooks. When they do speak, however, the sayings of the Asonu are often rather straightforward. For example, one of the sayings of the Elder of Isu is ‘Not there.’ This the devotee who noted it down interpreted as ‘What we seek is not in any object or experience of our mortal life. We live among appearances, on the verge of the Spiritual Truth’ (p. 19). However, it was spoken ‘in an undertone as the Elder looked through a chest of clothing and ornaments’ (p. 20).

I fear that when my Prawn finally does join in the conversation he will withhold his deeper reflections and say things like ‘No!’ and ‘teddy gone’. The way I’ve been talking to him he will probably feel this is all I can cope with. Seriously, I think he is doing the hardest brain work of his life just working out what on earth is going on. If I can help by offering a running commentary on burps and titties it’s the least I can do.


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