I was doing a show at a daycare the other day and was talking to one of the infant teachers. As we were talking she was feeding one of the babies. As we chatted, the baby began to tap his hands together kind of like one of those wind up cymbal playing monkeys. I thought it was odd and asked why he was doing that. The teacher told me he was telling her he wanted more food using baby sign language. Having never heard of such a thing I was shocked and amazed that a baby could learn sign language. I also realized I was kind of jealous.
After all here was a child who a few months before could only be seen with the use of an ultrasound and now could express his feelings through sign language and here I was a full grown man who didn’t know sign language at all (unless you count the ones I express to those who cut me off in traffic). I was told by the teacher the baby knew at least 7 signs and as if to prove the point the baby started to make the sign for milk.
It is a very odd feeling to be outwitted by a baby. In my life I’ve been outwitted by a lot of things. In fact one time in Las Vegas I lost at tic-tac-toe to a chicken and I was stone cold sober. Of course of all the things that outwitted me, human poultry or otherwise the baby one was hard to take. After all, it was a baby and not one of those genius babies that can do algebra, just your average run of the mill baby.
On my way home I tried to find a way to spin things so I wouldn’t feel so bad about being outwitted (it didn’t help that while trying to spin things I couldn’t find my sunglasses that ended up being on my head). I could have gone the obvious route and remembered that there were a lot of things I could do that a baby couldn’t, but that seemed sad and pathetic.
In the end I came to the conclusion that instead of feeling jealous or inferior I should feel proud and hopeful for this next generation. Every generation reaches greater heights than the one that came before it, it is the way things are supposed to go. There is a lovely line from Louie Armstrong’s song “What a Wonderful World” that says “They’ll learn much more than I’ll even know” referring to babies (Louie would have been very impressed with the sign language baby!) So while I myself do not know sign language I am very happy for that baby . I wonder what amazing things that baby will learn, I wonder what discoveries and advancements he will see, I wonder what his future world will be like and I wonder if that chicken in Las Vegas would give me a rematch!
– Big Joe