It may seem unbelievable, but I have a couple of memories as a baby. The more I think about this, the more grateful I am for this incredible gift. It gives me a special perspective and compassion for babies. The youngest one I remember was when I was somewhere between 7 and 8 months old. I remember the ability to easily sit up, but crawling was limited, if even possible. My mom put me on the floor in the living room with a donut puzzle. It has different size rings in different colors that you have to put in a certain order on a cone. The puzzle has a bottom base that rocks a little. I guess it created softer corners and made it more interesting. It also made it a little more challenging to coordinate putting the pieces on the cone because it wouldn’t stay completely still.
My mom left the room and I stared at the puzzle. “Oh, this thing again,” I thought to myself. “This time I’m going to figure this out.” I consciously decided to take each piece off instead of just dumping it out. I didn’t know the names of the colors, but I could identify them as being different. I also realized I couldn’t possibly remember the order, so I remembered the littlest on top was the purple ring (again, I didn’t know it was called “purple”) and the last piece was the big blue one. I put the little one aside. Took off the other pieces. I took the big blue one off, and then put it right back on. Then I picked up another one and it was too small to slide all the way down the cone. “Ohhhhh, so THAT’S how it works.” (Who said kids don’t reason until the age of 5 or 6?!) I remember having the revelation that if they go all the way down the cone, then they will all fit. I systematically placed each donut on the cone (except for the little purple one – I knew that one went last) until I had all the pieces on. I was so pleased with myself! I waited for my mom to come back so she could see that I did it. I wanted her to know that I figured it out. I heard her doing something in the kitchen, so I thought about crawling to the kitchen to tell her, but the thought of that task was daunting. Finally, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and dumped all of the rings off of the puzzle. I was confident I could do it again with ease. The moment I dumped the pieces, my mom walked into the room. I looked up at her and remember thinking, “Wow. She doesn’t even know I can do this.” I realized in that moment that there would be things about me that she didn’t know and I was alone in my accomplishment. It was sad to me, but there was nothing I could do about it.
The second memory I have occurred when I was older than one, but younger than two. I was sitting in a high chair, but knew that I had mobility if I got out of the chair, but still couldn’t communicate with words. We were visiting my aunt and uncle. This was my mom’s favorite brother and his wife. There were six of us, and at least 3 of them, with other cousins visiting. There were several people that I didn’t know. We all sat at a large rectangular table. I was at one end of the table in a high chair, and my mom sat in the corner next to me. It was loud and it felt strange being there. I didn’t like most of the food and I was still hungry. Everyone was talking amongst themselves when my mom asked if there was anything else I’d like to eat. I scanned the table of food seeing if there was anything that I liked. I spotted a green thing that I enjoyed and pointed to it. My aunt had seen me, and shouted so everyone could hear, “Awwww look! She wants more of the jello!”
At that moment every head turned toward me. It was like looking at a wide angle camera lens. I instantly thought I should have not said anything. I wanted to bury my head in my mom’s lap. They were ridiculous! “These people are crazy,” I thought. No one else makes a big deal about what someone wants to eat.
These memories have made a big impact on me as to how I treat children. Babies think, reason, judge, feel, and know a lot more than most people give them credit for. I’ve always tried to treat children with respect. I also reach out to them with my mind, and silently say hello. I smile and tell them that I’m glad that they’re here on this earth and thank them for being here. More times than not, I get a big response from them. Sometimes they’ll stare back at me with a look of “You’re talking to me and not using words!” Then I have to tell them with my mind I can’t hear everything they’re thinking, but yes, I can speak to them. I show kids how things work. I play with them and try to go back to the moment of discovering something new. I give them space. I honor them and treat them like I would have wanted to be treated when I was a baby - with love and respect.
This all paid off when I had my own daughters. When my first child was 2 hours old, my husband joked that her face was all scrunched up and looking as if she was trying to figure everything out all at once. I instinctively told her, “It’s okay, you don’t have to figure it all out at once.” Her face immediately relaxed. When she was 6 days old, she was fussing and squirming. I had already fed her, changed her and she had plenty of rest, so I was perplexed. When I told Rusty I didn’t know what could be bothering her, he said, “Why don’t you ask her?” It was a brilliant idea, and I was a bit embarrassed I hadn’t thought of it myself, but in my defense, I was pretty exhausted at the time.
When I asked her what was the matter, I saw her eyes shift to look down at her belly. I thought maybe she was having stomach problems, but wasn’t sure what I could do about it at the time. I decided to check her diaper one more time, and when I pulled her gown, her sock had come off and wrapped itself around her umbilical cord, which hadn’t fallen off yet. As soon as I removed the sock, she was much happier. She knew exactly what I was asking her. But she didn’t have the words or language to tell me. I have a friend who used sign language with her baby, so during those frustrating times as toddlers, when they can’t express themselves clearly, the sign language made the communication so much easier. One day when they were visiting, her child wanted to leave and kept trying to get our front door open. She mumbled some syllables and sounds, but nothing that would indicate clearly what she meant. When her mom asked her what she wanted, the toddler signed the word “swing”. She saw the swing in our yard and wanted to play on it. Once the toddler knew the mom understood, she relaxed knowing that in a few minutes she could play on the swing.
Isn’t it amazing, knowing that the moment we enter into this world, we already have thoughts, concerns, and reasoning skills? We just happened to be in a body that isn’t completely integrated with the language or the facilities to speak it.