I just spent a week with a nine month old and it’s earth shattering. She went from beginning to raise herself on wobbly, uncertain legs to standing tall and straight, supported by only one hand and occasionally taking that hand off to practice her balance. The drive to explore and expand the limits of her physical ability are intense. Her focus is phenomenal. I would be exhausted by similar physical exertions.
The drive to make her body useful, to link hand-eye coordination, to strengthen her legs, reach her arms, clutch her fingers, explore her thumb, are driven by far deeper currents than adult encouragement. This is an elemental drive, an compulsion built into our DNA.
This physical drive is equally apparent in her insistence on making her brain useful. She is a learning monster, an explorer, a botanist, a geologist, a nutritionist and a sensualist who loves the textures of things.
As I understand it, at this moment her brain is an explosion of connections. She is in touch with everything around her and it must be bewildering. Like your first acid trip. She is in the process of shutting down the synapses she doesn’t need. This is how we make sense of the larger cultural world we live in, rather than the natural world immediately around us that we sometimes experience on halucinogenics.
Imitation is a connection to others that gives her some control over the entirely unknown world she lives in. She does what others do and gets rewarded by attention. She’s been taught to high-five, low-five, sign for nursing and blow raspberries with her lips.
She is a focused, patient learner. About ten minutes for most explorations, gravel on a concrete wall, twigs and pebbles in the forest, sand on the beach, a pamphlet of medical records dropped on the floor by mistake, and any and all electrical chords if only she could get her hands on them. You have to watch her like hawk.
Her relations to strangers are trusting and naive. Evolution must have favored that trait. Helplessness makes trust a good strategy if you’re actually helpless. Yet she will grow up in a world that exploits that trusting nature and she will become suspicious and wary.
All she wants is little more than she can ever get. Standing at a low table, the object most desired is the one just out of reach, but nothing else matters. Where does that come from? I have a crazy theory that it’s what differentiated Homo Sapients from Neanderthals. Gave us the edge. Does it ever go away? I’m still dealing with it at eighty!
Not only will enculturation make her less trustful, if her parents aren’t careful, exercising her body and developing her mind will become work and drudgery, as it apparently is for many Americans. It reminds me of Jules Henry’s prescient 1963 book, Culture Against Man. Maybe her parents have to keep her out of school. What a sad comment for a teacher to make
This Friday, back to history and Freedom Summer of 1964, where the Sixties began to explode.