Monday, 17 August 2009

blue sky guys

Snooks is talking more and more now. In fact he rarely stops, even when he is asleep.

He is very keen to get across his view of the world and resorts to furious, crescendoing repetition if his insights go unacknowledged.

I suppose I imagined that when he did talk, his observations would be in line with mine: he would notice the weather, what we were wearing, things out of place in the bathroom, that sort of thing.

But the things that alert Snooks’ senses and the sense he makes of them are really, very fabulously, uniquely him.

The Engineer read to me the other night from an article about babies. (It reminds me of a great line from Woody Allen’s masterpiece Hannah and Her Sisters where a character offers to read her film script to him and he replies: “No thanks, I have been doing all my own reading since I was five.”)

The article in the New Scientist explained how babies have more flexible brains than adults – they actually have more neural connections than adults, which they gradually weed out to hang on to the most useful ones – and are therefore more creative thinkers than adults. They are, as the article by Prof Alison Gopnik , University of California, points out ‘the R&D department of the human species, the blue sky guys, while we adults are production and marketing.’

I have to just thank the Engineer here for these nuggets of grown-up information. Most of my mental energy is spent fathoming nap times and what is left by the end of the day I tend to use to dissolve into fiction. Some science to chew on makes a fabulous late night snack.

Plus, this particular nugget has helped to change how I converse with our highly expressive son.

At first it was pretty obvious what was going on. I would point at objects and he would name them, drawing from the words which cropped up most frequently in our lives. ‘Balle’ eventually became ‘ball’, ‘burr’ became ‘bear’ and ‘cake’ has always been embarrassingly clear.

Then he started to volunteer words unprompted. The first happened in a cafĂ© over afternoon tea where he pointed to a balloon on the table and named it out loud. Balloons are not a feature of our everyday world, nor do they crop up in the books we read together, which meant that he had remembered the word from a party months earlier, where he had purloined a giant helium-filled ‘0’ which was announcing the units of age attained by a friend celebrating his 60th birthday.

Last weekend we visited a relative up north where I was expecting to have to contain him indoors, a prospect I faced with some horror on account of his explosive energy and my 77-year-old aunt’s glass-fronted cabinets.

However Snooks provided a solution himself repeatedly shouting, “Sun!” while pointing out of the window, inspiring two visits to the wonderful beaches of the north east coast and hours of pushing Clairebear around the back yard in his boy buggy.

I was doubtful at first that this could really be what he meant, but resolved to try to see what he sees, instead of telling him what my myopic, ground-level vision tells me.

Back home, as I was putting him to bed the other night he ran through his list of favourite words. "Sight," he announced, pointing at the light, (fair enough). "Ayee," he said, poking himself and then me in the eye (par for the course). "Boat," he said, pointing at the Paul Klee print Der Niesen which hangs above his changing mat and which I have believed, for the last 26 years, to be a painting of houses surrounding a mountain.

"No it’s a…" I stopped myself, just in time.

Who am I to say it is not a boat? I am just production and marketing. He’s the blue sky baby.

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