What is my baby thinking? No, not like “what is he thinking” when he spits up – full projectile – on his Daddy’s suit. More like, what is going through this little guy’s head when he smiles, when he gazes for five minutes straight without a blink at a lit pendant light in the kitchen or “talks” with a full range of sounds as he peers at little stuffed animals hanging above his pack-n-play.
We all know babies aren’t capable of deep abstract thoughts. He’s got a long way to go with countless firsts on the horizon.
But, you have to wonder what goes through his mind. What is he trying to say with his coos, ooos and ahhhs?
All of the new research shows that babies’ brains are locked-in overdrive, like a super sponge sucking-in information with all senses. They are also surprisingly sophisticated in making judgments based on this constantly collected information. And it doesn’t take long at all for a smart baby to learn how to get what he or she wants from those silly parents, who are often under the quite misguided assumption that they’re in charge. But, I digress.
Why does my son like certain songs over another? There’s lots of music in our house (now more than ever) from Mozart to “Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star” to the Van Morrison mix on Pandora and the made-up “We Love Arden” songs that Mommy and Daddy sing every day (the album is forthcoming). So, with all that variety, what is the one tune he seems to respond to the most? It’s when I’m packing him into the car seat to go on another trip, singing “On the Road Again.” To that country classic, he smiles, he coo, and even seems to sing along. This inevitably begs the contemplation of the age-old question: Is the preference for Willie Nelson a hard-wired, innate characteristic of Arden Xavier Krol, or was this somehow a learned response. Or, maybe it was just gas.
No, my son’s no Pavlov dog – but he’s clearly conditioned in some fun ways (or maybe it’s the parents who are conditioned). For instance, when it’s feeding time Mommy and Daddy have the perfect process that includes picking him up and asking a fussy little guy: “Are you ready? Are you ready?” – he knows what that means immediately. He’s not ready for some football. He’s ready to eat. It continues: “Okay, here we go…” followed by a lift-off sound “shhhhhhhooooshhh” and a smiling baby, lifted up and “flying” into a smooth landing and milky bliss.
So, what is our baby thinking?
I hope he’s thinking, “Wow, this is a great place to be a baby,” “Mommy and Daddy are really cool,” or “I’m going to take a little nap right at 6:30 p.m. so my parents can enjoy a quiet dinner.”
But, alas, none of that is very realistic. A little guy learning about the world around him has been equated by world-renowned child researcher Alison Gopnik to being a typical American dropped in the center of Beijing – with no clue about the language or the culture. All you can do is just follow the cues and pick up all the data you can to survive and maybe start to understand what the heck is going on.
Picture yourself as that lost “tourist.”
Now, if you’re a displaced tourist stuck in Beijing, you could be lucky enough to meet one or two strangely familiar folks who have just as difficult time understanding your language as you do theirs. They are natives, but there’s something special about them. No, you don’t know exactly what they’re saying, and they don’t really know what you’re saying (or thinking). But you soon find out that those familiar tour guides will do anything to make sure you safely find your way. Eventually they’ll help you learn their language, the culture and meet others in this strange land. They’ll teach you what you need to survive and maybe even thrive. And more than likely, if they’re truly wise, they’ll learn as much from you as you do from them.