It’s fascinating to watch a baby blossom. They start out as small, folded up wrinkled little things that have no awareness of anything outside themselves. Any displeasure is communicated by crying. As they mature, the crying starts to be more clearly correlated to things. It’s the first way they can express frustration, disagreement, or preferences. Unfortunately for confused parents, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out exactly what it is that they disagree about!
When Aili was a few weeks old, she looked at herself in the mirror for the first time, and wouldn’t look away. Johnny was holding her at the time, and as he turned away slowly, she would move her eyes to keep them fixed on her own image. Vanity aside, it struck me as a fascinating phenomenon. She had a preference: to look at something. And for the first time, she changed something (moving her eyes) to satisfy that preference. The ultimate definition of the human experience: free will. Choosing what we want. Changing our environment, if necessary, to satisfy those choices.
Now, she’s becoming ever clearer about her preferences and starting to make changes – if they’re within her power – to satisfy them. For example, she HATES getting skin lotion put on her face, and recently she’s learned how to use her arms and hands to push me away while I’m doing it.
She’s starting to use her hands and arms more often now. At the beginning she kept her hands in tight little fists and rarely spread out her fingers. It was very hard to trim her fingernails. In the past weeks, however, she’s really opened up her hands and is starting to reach out to touch. She hasn’t yet mastered grabbing with an open hand (although I’m quite confident that it’s right around the corner!) but she does reach out towards things that interest her, and manoeuver things into her mouth using her hands and arms. I’ve watched her transition from having no awareness of the world, to looking with wide eyes, to reaching out to touch. Those very human opposable thumbs, the five-fingered hand, the way we interact with the world. The means by which we discover.
Another one of her recent developments is talking. She chats and coos and talks all the time now; I sometimes hear her talking to herself at five in the morning. (But not crying; hallelujah!) She seems to understand that making noises with our mouths is a way to express and communicate. Maybe that’s not right, because I’m not really sure what she understands – – let’s say that she seems compelled to follow some sort of hard-wired instinct to talk. It’s clear that she responds to my talking to her, and enjoys our ‘conversations’. Another interesting observation is that she knows to look at my eyes while we’re conversing: not my chin or my chest or at the dog, but directly meeting my eyes. Why would this be? How does she know?
Obviously she can’t form words or convey concepts yet, but I am struck by the sense that this is not nurture; this is how she was built, and something she was designed to do. It IS a language instinct. Steven Pinker would be proud.