Monday, October 18, 2010

Sign Language

Have you noticed how parenting has changed since you had your children? This isn’t a trick question—it doesn’t matter WHEN you had them, it’s changed. That’s because each generation wants to do it better than their parents did.

When I was an infant and young child, my mother was a devotee of Dr. Spock and his reliance on sane and sensible parenting. I still used his book as a bible when my daughters were born. For instance, after generations of babies being bundled into heavy blankets and sweaters no matter what the temperature, Dr. Spock said you should dress your child the same way you would dress yourself—more layers in cold weather, fewer in warm weather. Amazing! (Apparently Dr. Spock didn’t have any advice on any of the other myriad ways in which my mother managed to screw me up. Oh, well ....)

So it never surprises me to hear about a discovery that the current generation has made about how to undo the parenting my generation did—after all, I did the same thing. Just to keep you in the loop too, here’s my research on latest parenting techniques based on a weekend spent with my nieces Caitlin and Sarah, and two great-nieces, the Amazing Ruby and the Incredible Emily. And here’s what I learned.

Sign Language. Yep, that’s what I said. We’re using the same techniques that scientists are using with lower primates to help them communicate. Because they too lack the ability to vocalize their needs.

But here’s what had me laughing:

Emily (10 months) can use sign language to signal that she wants ”milk, please, “and even “more milk, please.” She does this with a hand sign that simulates a hand pulling an udder, which would make a lot of sense if (a) she knew what an udder was, (b) she knew what would occur if you happened to pull an udder, or (c) she was even drinking milk.

Fact is, she’s lactose intolerant so she really needs a sign for “Non Soy Non Dairy Alimentation Product, please.” So we’re teaching a child to use a symbol she cannot possibly comprehend. But we're the icon generation, and we communicate with pictures. Let’s just hope that somewhere in the education process there’s a lesson on “and don’t try that on the cat!”

So, I’m feeling like Andy Rooney railing about things that make no sense to me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see the positives:

• For instance, a whole generation of mostly silent infants just holding up their hands to signal what they want. That could do away with the whole WalMart rage-at-noisy-children syndrome. How angry can you get at a child silently pulling an udder repeatedly? It could make flying commercial bearable again, or vastly improve the whole eating-in-a-restaurant thing. And they can go directly into silent texting.

• I’m pretty sure that even PETA won’t be able to claim that pulling a virtual udder injures the bovine population in any way. It might embarrass Elsie, but it won’t harm her.  If it turns out that it does somehow take advantage of cows, maybe Chik Fila could change their billboards to say "Eat Mor Children."

• In fact, I’m seeing whole new possibilities for the Happy California Cow commercials. Maybe the happy cows could do their whole sales job silently, using hoof signals. That would make me happy. 

• If our cave dweller forebears had had better signals, they wouldn’t have had to wonder whether Little Oog was crying because he was hungry or because his tiger skin was damp, again. There’s nothing worse than having your cave baby screaming about being hungry when you’re trying to catch the next meal.

And let’s face it. We all use signals of one kind or another to get the job done, even those of us who are accustomed to communicating with words rather than icons. My ex-husband was fond of the “hand writing in the air” signal for the waiter—I suppose that in those pre-electronic days, he assumed that the waiter would hand write the bill so he could pay it. Today’s waiter would be wondering what he was doing. (Is there a sign that uses a hand pushing keys on a computer?)

And who isn’t familiar with the twirling index finger next to the head that signals that someone is a little cuckoo? That one might be accompanied by heavy eye rolling, too. How about the one with the invisible beer being taken to the lips that says, "drinking problem"? The infamous "flying fickle finger of fate" that tells the other driver what you think of his driving?

Finally, we’re all familiar with those signals between spouses, the ones that say “I’m ready to leave now.”  I even remember when that signal meant, “can we go home right now and do something more fun?” rather than “I can’t stand being here with your friends one more minute.”

What does this have to do with knitting? Well, I think we need some Knitting Sign Language. (Not to be confused with the symbols used in knitting charts. Although trying to come up with a hand signal for SSK or Cable 2 Right would be an interesting challenge.)

How about two hands facing each other as if they are holding needles? With a raised, inquisitive brow, it could mean “is it okay to knit here?”  or "did you bring your knitting?" With an angry glare, it could mean “HELLO! I’m knitting here—can you go away please?)

And then there’s the raised index finger that says, “I’m counting! Wait til I'm done, please.”

I think there are definitely some possibilities here. In the meantime, I'm looking for a sign that says "I dropped my bead on the floor and can't find it."