Three-way banter

Me: Laurel, play with your Papa.
Devin: (speaking for Laurel, who was climbing up on me) Nooo! I only want to play with someone who has breasts!
Me: You just had the boobs.
Devin: See, Laurel? Knockers. Knock-ers. Or we can call them sweater cows.
Me: Can’t we just call them breasts?
Devin: You don’t. (Pause) Here, Laurel. Knocker Number One and Sweater Cow Number Two. You like cows. They go, “moo.”
Laurel (enthusiastically): Moo!

— Beth

Edited to add:

This interchange arises from a couple of different lines of conversation we’ve had over the past several months. First, there’s the matter of what to teach babies to call the breasts they’re nursed with, or breasts in general. It seems to be pretty common that the learn to refer to them before they stop making regular use of them, so it’s not an impertinent issue. The most common term self-applied by the moms of the babies I know has been “boobs,” probably because (a) it’s a pretty common term amongst western/American/Californian women generally, (b) it’s widely accepted and largely unoffensive, and (c) it’s an easy word for babies to learn. However, bothers me in a couple of respects.

First, Laurel’s eventually going to have breasts herself, and when it happens it’ll be amidst a lot of other body developments and rediscoveries. If we’re really lucky, she might not despise and feel ashamed of her body throughout or after that process, but the social deck isn’t stacked in her (or any girl’s) favor. Western culture is loaded up with sexual hangups and body-resentment issues; whole chunks of our economy are based on inducing and then exploiting feelings of bodily inadequacy; and, there are going to be hordes of adolescent boys and girls out there simultaneously assessing every feature of her eventual anatomy and finding ways to encourage her to feel bad about them. It’s going to be a rough ride. Meanwhile, I worry about seeing parents teaching their kids euphemisms rather than words for the various parts of the kids’ bodies (or their own). Even if it’s just a matter of endearment and not done out of shame or embarrassment on the parents’ part, the euphemisms may eventually cause trouble. Kids will be taught to keep parts of themselves covered, unmentioned in public, etc. It’ll be obvious that the euphemism was employed to avoid saying something else or to avoid something at least a little bit shameful. So they learn to be embarrassed or ashamed themselves. They’ll be working against that most of their adolescent and adult lives — we shouldn’t be setting them up by making it harder.

Second, come on. Most every baby is learning to say “boob.” It’s overused. Set amongst the cavalcade of baby-product brands it sounds like something fluffy and made of cotton you use to absorb spills. If we’re struggling to prepare our children to express individuality and uniqueness, breast terminology’s an easy place to start. Personally, when not making principled stands for body acceptance I’ve been trying to teach her to call them “gazongas.” It’s enthusiastic, meaningless, and it’ll be a hit at playgroups.

– Devin

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Feet in the day, feet in the night

These days, Laurel is bored with her toys. But she’s hungry for books, usually the same six or seven books over and over again. She loves Nina Laden’s “Peek-A-Who?” and “Ready, Set, Go!”, “Baby Signs for Mealtime” and “Baby Signs for Bedtime,” “Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop,” Sandra Boynton’s “Barnyard Dance,” “First 100 Animals,” and Dr. Seuss’ “The Foot Book.”

When we’re reading the animal books, she’ll recognize the names of some of the animals — and go get one of her little stuffed toys that represents the same creature. Duck, cow, rooster, pig, bear, ladybug. We work on the noises that the animals make. So far, she’s managed a rudimentary “moo.”

Laurel wakes up every morning full of energy. Her favorite thing to do right now is sit up in bed, lean over, and then poke one of us enthusiastically in the nose, and then the other. A couple of weeks ago, she couldn’t get enough of pointing out her ears, then ours. Now, whenever we start reading “The Foot Book,” she has to stop everything, sit down, and grab her feet. If my feet are handy, she’ll inspect those, too.

This is the beginning of learning that things in books represent things in the real world around her. She’s going to love reading, I think.

— Beth