The Tap Tap Game

We know eventually parenting will get competitive, as every mom and dad describes both the amazing parenting things they are doing — bilingual nannies, summer camp in the Swiss alps, etc. — and the amazing accomplishments of their precocious offspring. I’d hoped it would wait until they babies were born. I mean, already I’ve seen people blogging about phonetics instruction to newborns, potty training before the kid can walk, etc. But even the fetuses are put in a mental footrace, thanks to a thing called “the tap tap game.”

The tap tap game is a theoretical enterprise where you tap on Mom’s tummy and the fetus, getting through its fetal slumbers that this is a call-and-response thing, and having mastered gross motor control, counting, and other skills, will tap back. Tap tap? Tap tap, Mom! Here I am! Can’t wait to meet you! We’ve spoken to moms halfway through their pregnancy who swear this is a ritual. They tap out a little rhythm, the baby taps back.

We stressed ourselves out over it. Our baby’s movements were random and not necessarily responsive to our own. Sure, we could get superstitious — wait for anything and call it a success. But I’m an evidence-based thinker and couldn’t honestly decide there was any pattern to our taps and the baby’s movements.

I tried to google it and couldn’t come up with anything. Google “tap tap,” and you will get noise but no signal. Was this a feasible expectation? I wondered.

We finally asked the doctor and she just gave us a squinty look, then shook her head. No, the baby doesn’t tap back. The baby doesn’t really know its arm is attached to its body yet. It’s just floating around in amniotic goo.  In fact, the baby won’t be able to play the tap tap game after it’s born. It takes a while for the baby to give arbitrary responses to arbitrary stimuli.

Not willing to surrender to such negative thinking, we resumed the tap tap game until we compelled our astounding and better-than-yours child to tap back. We took the Anne Sullivan route, teaching the baby Morse code so we could communicate.

H-E-L-L-O we tapped.

H-I he tapped back. I-L-U-V-U

We didn’t want to coddle him, because bad habits settle in. We made him repeat it until he tapped out.


We tapped out some stories, “reading aloud,” so he could gave a good basis in literature. He bored quickly with Harry Potter, so we’ve moved on to Wallace Stegner. He loves Wallace Stegner. M-O-R-E-M-O-R-E he’ll tap out as we reach the end of a chapter and tell him it is time to sleep.

He’s also writing poetry. One of his stanzas is going to be published in the Paris Review next month.

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