There, on the floor, humming a little song to himself, was our son, now two and in full-on toddler mode, playing. Just playing. With a combination of toy animals, Fisher Price Little People and equally little Sesame Street characters, they were being placed in and out of a barn, a hay loft, or into a tractor, all against the carefree humming of a song I’ll never know, but makes me so glad to hear.
A plastic crate of apples (from the Little People farm stand set he got for his birthday), was placed inside his Little People plane.
“Who’s going on the plane, buddy?”
“Where are they going?”
“Where’s home for the apples?”
Little Ernie, in a construction worker outfit, was bounced along the roof of the barn along with a Little Boy Farmer toy. Were they hitting each other, I wondered, as he pushed them together.
“What are they doing, buddy?”
“They’re hugging, dada! Hugging!”
I couldn’t but help but smile at the delight and laughter that followed. His toys knew the power of a hug, because he does. It made me feel wonderful.
This time goes by quick. I realize I’ve been lax in keeping up to date on the standard childhood milestone – something you’d think I would be better at as a fatherhood blogger. A lot’s happened in recent months and I’ve sort of glossed over it in terms of chronicling.
We consider ourselves very very lucky that he’s shown an interest in the potty since he got one for Christmas back in December. He’s fortunately kept that interest and while still in diapers, he lets us know (most of the time, but admittedly not all) when he has to go, with a pat to his bottom and a “Dada! Mama! Potty!” giving us the cue that it’s time to take action and get him onto the pot!
Letters and numbers started cropping up on a regular basis in the winter and spring and once we noticed it, have tried to keep it up every day in some form or another. He took it upon himself to take letter magnets off the fridge and tell us which letters were in his hand. Within months, it’s only gotten better, and we sing our ABCs together as a family, and sometimes stop to let him fill in a gap and try his hand at what letter comes next. When we heard him mumbling in the winter as he’d go up and down the stairs, we weren’t quite sure what he was saying – until we listened closer and realized he was counting the steps as he went. Now, we count everything and anything. Sometimes we go straight through, and sometimes there’s a 7-8-9-10-9-7 based on his mood at the time.
Regardless, he’s interested. He’s curious. He wants to know and I love it.
He climbs into his car seat on his own now, which only in this past week, I turned around to face the same way I do when I drive him to and from each morning. We talk about what we see out the window.
He’s not a baby anymore. He’s a little boy.
As all these things were going on, I wasn’t writing them down because I now realize I was far too busy enjoying every single minute of it as it was happening.
How could I not?
He just turned two this summer. It’s flown by, and if I don’t savor every moment I can (taking a few moments here and there for reflection), well, I’ll let an old favorite of mine, Ferris Bueller sum it up:
“No!” he said to me, his brow furrowed.
“What is it, buddy?” I ask.
“What do you mean, move?”
“Move, dada!” he said, fiercely, waiting for me to move several steps behind him as opposed to the usual ‘right behind him to spot him’ we’ve done since he started walking up those stairs on his own.
“You don’t want me behind you, buddy?”
I obliged and went three steps back. And wouldn’t you know it, every few steps, he would stop and turn around to make sure I was giving him that space.
And up-up-up he went.
How quickly the urge to declare one’s independence comes.
When I was a little kid in elementary school, I had a hand-me-down set of encyclopedias. I couldn’t tell you what brand, but I remember they had orange covers, littered with four or five photos contained in squares on each cover, giving you a hint of what’s inside. I don’t quite recall if they came from my parents or my grandparents, but they were either something a relative was getting rid of, or a good garage or book sale find. I know they were probably a decade old at the time, but I didn’t care. In a pre-internet age, this was a total fountain of knowledge and I can’t tell you how much time I spent just leafing through and reading that set of encyclopedias, just because I wanted to know.
Yes, I spent tons of my elementary school age just sitting in our house and reading encyclopedias (when I wasn’t running around outside pretending to be Inspector Gadget, Batman or a Ninja Turtle). You’d think that would’ve had some kind of effect, right? What the heck happened?
By the time I reached junior high, I fell into a trap I’m sure many do at that age. Coming out of elementary school with a history of As and A+s must have thrilled my parents and myself in my younger years, but at that oh-so awkward stage of new environments, new people, and new life changes, I felt…uncomfortable with having good grades. So, I started purposely answering questions wrong on my tests. A little here and there, just to bring the grades down so I wouldn’t seem like so much of an outcast. Average seemed pretty good looking compared to being a target for ridicule, or worse, the bus bullies that already were a thorn in my side.
At some point, though, that method started to just take over. Suddenly, I didn’t study as much, I didn’t put forth as much effort. Just getting by was all right, and before I knew it, my grades started dropping down to B or C level and I became just that – a very average student.
It’s something I regret oh so much to this day because I wonder just what type of person I would have been and where my life may have gone had I not taken that cliched detour off of academic row.
When I see my son, just about to turn two, ravenous for more books to read together, to want to know about things, pulling letter magnets off the fridge and telling me what letters they are, I encourage every moment of it, hoping deep inside that he will not follow in the footsteps of his father who, despite my own parents’ encouragement, decided I’d rather be accepted than intelligent. When you see so much potential, the last thing you want is to see it squashed. I can’t imagine how devastated my parents must have been when I started coming home with grades so lackluster compared to my earlier years.
I felt slight redemption in college. Looking back, I remember numerous discussions on philosophical levels that today I can’t even imagine getting into. I think of the bombardment of creative ideas and new ways of thinking that still seem impressive to me when I come across old notes or work.
But it’s often followed by the feeling of dread as I wonder just what happened to that intelligent person. Sometimes I feel so focused on my daily to-do lists of what needs to be accomplished, that my mind rarely has the moments of breakthrough it once did. Currently working at a university, I often find myself with this fear that I’ll be ‘found out’ as just a dummy faking his way through, unable to hold my own amid the academic minds I’m surrounded by.
I don’t know what quite happened, but what I know is that these days I look back and feel as though I was so much smarter at ages 7-12 and 20-26 than any other time in my life so far. And I sit here, at age 34, feeling as though it’s a lost era of myself. I hear things that I don’t quite comprehend, concepts that seem beyond me, and I can’t figure out if back then, I just had more confidence in what I knew (or thought I knew), or if I really am getting dumber and less creative with age.
Have I allowed myself to become content among a world where knowledge is a Google search away? Has the time I used to spend looking things up and reading about things, or having those intelligent conversations now spent online with a multitude of social media sites? Has the world around me just gotten smarter while I’ve stayed stagnant? Theories, all of them, but hopefully you get the point that I think about this a lot. There’s been lots of reports and criticism that the smarter the computers, phones, and other technology becomes, the dumber we as humans turn. But if that’s the case, am I not alone in my feeling? What does it mean as my life continues, what does it mean for my son?
Also, that whole Louis Armstrong lyric – “…they’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know.” It seems so much more somber now than ever before.
Post Script – after writing this, I saw someone online share the following link, which made me feel not only better, but like a genius. So, please, if you ever feel like I did about becoming dumber the older I get, check out these – “Dumb People Across The Internet”
Seems like an easy checklist, but not exactly the easiest of tasks with the little guy at an age when he wants to be into EVERYTHING he possible can.
And you know what, can’t fault him for that. So much is still new to him and he’s learning about the world through getting into things.
But, for this monumental task, we tried to prep well. Meg went to the store to get everything like the soil, the plants, etc while I stayed with our little monkey. She got home and we traded off as I went outside and unloaded all those bags of soil and the accompanying plants.
Then, we waited for nap time.
When his head hit the pillow, it was like a pistol going off at the track. Our feet hit the ground running and with a dedicated speed like nothing else in our week, weeding out the garden and flower beds out back and in front of our house.
We were pretty much all done with the beds and about to start on the potted plants, like herbs, when the little guy woke up. I brought him outside where he quickly took hold off some kid-versions of gardening tools he received in his Easter basket and buoyantly jumped into the fray to help. By help, of course, I mean engaging in all the fun that is sticking his tiny shovel into the garden and throwing around the soil and trying to dig up the plants Meg had just planted.
He was thoroughly enjoying himself, but it would’ve been disaster if I hadn’t intervened. So, I tried to explain to him why we couldn’t do that, but it led to a lot of “No!” and wanting to do it anyway. Meg found, while not a solution, a distraction, and that came in the form of a small watering can.
While she planted the herbs into the pots, he giggled incessantly as I’d use the hose to spray water into the can. Spray, giggle, spray, giggle. Rinse and repeat.
It made me realize how much we took time for granted before we had kids. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change anything in the world right now, but it’s funny how something like his nap time becomes a window of opportunity like never before, and just his waking up and entering the fray into our gardening activities, doubled the time it took to accomplish things. I admit not having put a lot of thought into that aspect of things before we had a kid.
Time is precious. Nap time, is sometimes like gold. 🙂
Every time our little guy learns something new, makes a new expression, says a new word, or just enjoys something in a way he never did before (splashing in puddles, apple picking, or just being pushed around the room in a cardboard box) it has filled our hearts with memories we will always cherish. When I watch him playing with mommy or running around our house, or laughing it up with Gramma and Grampa, I smile thinking of just how much joy he is experiencing and how these are the moments to hold in our memories.
It’s recently saddened me to come to the realization that these times we will remember so fondly, he won’t.
As we start looking to the future and think about what other needs we may have someday as our family grows, new locations, new housing, is at the top of that list. While it’s not immediate, it’s certainly a someday, as our current place was great for Meg and I, but as our family grows, our tiny space seems to shrink more and more.
That got me thinking about the various places that I had lived growing up, equating our current situation/house/neighborhood to what I remembered of the early residence my family had when my brother was born and I was three years old.
Then it began to dawn on me. That was at three years old and that’s the earliest I can remember…well, anything, really. Unfortunately, even that memory is spotty, remembering more just vague images of the surroundings and area through the eyes of a child. I don’t remember my brother being born. I don’t remember the apartment we lived in before that period of three-years old.
Of course, that led me to the inevitable conclusion that all of these wonderful memories we’re making, all these moments of enjoyment our little man is having each day, reacting to, communicating with us…it’s very unlikely he’ll remember any of it. And it just saddened me.
While I didn’t know it at the time, it’s an actual form of development known as Childhood Amnesia.
According to scientists, childhood amnesia (or infantile amnesia) is the term for our inability as adults to recall memories before the stage of 2-4 years old. During our first one to two years of life, scientists say that parts of our brain known as the limbic system holds what is called the hippocampus and amygdala (used in the storing of our memory) and are not fully developed at that point in our growth.
Researchers have found that sometimes children can recall memories from before the ages of 3 or 4, but that’s something they can accomplish while they are still children, and an ability that declines as the children age. It can vary from child to child, reportedly, as to when they start remembering. Sometimes it’s 2 year old, sometimes 3 1/2, other times 5 years old.
Days spent with no reference of time, of limitations – purely of emotion and the drive to do, to play, to enjoy and to love.
It seems a bit unfair to me that these wonderful, carefree times should go unremembered by a child. At these early ages, we as adults get to enjoy in the purest form of their joy and yet, they will not be able to do so themselves.
The researchers used 81 3-year-olds and their mothers who had volunteered in an earlier study on the development of memories in infants by the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development.
As mother talked with their child about six events (ranging from neutral events to positive events) that the child had recently experienced and were recorded doing so, asked to talk to their child as they normally would in any other situation.
In the years that followed, the researchers then made contact with the families again and asked the kids (at different ages, ranging from 5 to 9) to recall the events they talked about with their mothers when they were three. The age differences were so that the researchers could take note of what varied in each child along with how much they either remembered or had forgotten.
According to the MinnPost article, they found that “children 5, 6 and 7 years of age remembered a substantial percentage of events from the age of 3 years. In contrast, children 8 to 9 years of age had lost access to many of their memories of events from the same early age.”
That finding suggested that age 7 was the “inflection point” for childhood amnesia.
While that in itself is not groundbreaking or new information, the recent study is reportedly the first to demonstrate the finding using the recollections of the children.
The study also found that those children who remembered more details of the events discussed at three years old had mothers who had encouraged the child to elaborate on the memories as well as let the child steer the course of the conversation. The researchers say that encourages the child to participate in the give-and-take of the conversation as well as fill their recollection of the memory with their own content.
The MinnPost article goes on to point out that the study revealed the paradox that children between 5 and 7 recalled 65-72 percent of the events they talked about with their mothers at the age of three, but those children who ere 8-9 years old could recall only 35 percent of the events.
And while the older children remembered less of the events, what they did remember was in more detail. The researchers also say those older children were able to take perspective on the events by giving more evaluative information about them.
What the researchers believe this all suggests is that narrative abilities play a role in what is remembered. After seven years old, the language skills of a child have become stronger, which allows them to create a more elaborate narrative for each memory. That then helps the memory become more firmly established in their minds. Whereas at the younger ages, they don’t have much knowledge of the why, what, where and when that goes along with those memories, leaving many of them to be forgotten.