THE BLOG

Everywhere A Sign

03/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I have to walk a very fine line here, because a lot of my mom friends, here in our neighborhood, read this blog and I don't want to alienate myself or lose play dates for the Juban Princeling. But there's something I want to bring up, and I hope I don't offend or step on any toes.

A few weeks ago the Princeling and I were at a playgroup and some other moms asked if the Princeling knew any signs yet. I said no, that we weren't teaching him sign language. The other moms assured me that it was OK, that if we started now and were consistent, he'd pick some up. They then showed me the sign for "hungry" or "eating" or something.

Call the Parenting Police, because I have a confession to make: I did not make any attempt to teach him how to sign for "hunger" or "feed me" or "put food into my eating hole, please" or whatever. I just... didn't.

Two weeks later I went to a friend's son's first birthday party. My friend's mother-in-law told me she bought her grandson a DVD on baby signs, and that I should borrow it from my friend. I replied with, "I know I should probably teach my son to sign, but I just don't." My friend's mother-in-law looked aghast. "There is no SHOULD about it. You either do it or you don't."

Well, I don't, then. Yet another reason why I'm going to Mommy Hell. While I have nothing but respect for those parents who take the time and patience to teach sign language to their babies - really, I do, as it seems to take an enormous amount of dedication and patience - to me it seems like a trend. I therefore feel perfectly justified in not buying into it. Go to amazon.com and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of books and DVDs earnestly encouraging you to teach your baby and toddler sign language. But my personal choice is to not teach him.

So I did my research. Was I, in fact, harming the Princeling by not teaching him to sign? Would he grow up maladjusted and resentful, turning eventually into a hostile teenager that tortured puppies and eventually succumbing to sociopathic rage and winding up with some sort of sick serial killer nickname as an adult? All because I didn't teach him how to sign, "I'm feeling a little hungry, but I don't want a big meal because I don't want to be too full to ride my rocking horse later, so maybe can I have just a little nosh, like some raisins and whole milk, please? Thanks, Mom, you're the best!" I don't want to hurt my child, but I also just don't feel like teaching him to sign.

And what I found out was that the only organization I trust when it comes to my wee little guy, the American Academy of Pediatrics, really doesn't have any info one way or another on the subject of teaching babies and toddlers to sign.

It's an amusing game, actually, trying to figure out what the Princeling wants every time he points at nothing and grunts. "What is it, boy? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Bored? Gassy? Angry? Melancholy? Pre-menstrual? Did Timmy fall down a well? Have aliens landed in Prospect Park? Are Mommy's roots showing? Do you owe money to loan sharks? Are you coming down off a bad trip? Are you having a past life regression? What? Tell Mommy!"

At the Princeling's 15-month Well Baby check-up, I asked his pediatrician point-blank: what's her position on sign language? She answered me carefully: "You can teach him to sign if you want to...or don't if you don't want to...." she trailed off, looking nervous. So I expanded on my question, telling her that I really didn't feel like it was necessary. She breathed a sigh of relief. "It's not necessary. It's just a trend. Ten years from now no one will be teaching their kids to sign because there'll be some other trend."

Thank you, doc. That's all I needed to hear.

***
One thing my husband and I do believe in is helping out the victims of the Haitian earthquake. This is a cause close to me personally, as I have a half-Haitian cousin, whose medically-trained mother has just flown home to help out where she can.

My brother, Mr. Funny, is doing several comedy shows to benefit Doctors Without Borders' efforts in Haiti. You can donate directly to Doctors Without Borders here.

He's also performing in a show on the 21st to benefit the DWB Haitian relief effort. Get your tickets for the show here.