The other day, while preparing her majesties’ morning buffet, I asked Carly Elizabeth if she would like some coconut, freshly cracked out of the shell. “No,” she replied, perfectly stated with a casual air. MaMa and TaTa, the Czech version of DaDa, had been flowing for several months along with the regular crop of toddler babbling. This was startlingly different. Since that beginning the variations of ‘no’ have replaced, more or less, Carly’s banter. “No, no, no, no, no” she sings or mumbles, shaking her head appropriately and with all the correct facial expressions. As predictable as this event is, everyday miracles take one’s breath away. Another milestone. Carly Elizabeth will never be the same, nor will I and Z.
For Z’s birthday I mounted fifteen eight by ten and five by seven frames together creating a collage for her office wall with carefully selected images reflecting the past eighteen months: birth, crawling, Carly’s first Christmas, first steps, each a precious moment. Each image was Carly but Carly Elizabeth wasn’t any of these images. Each of her tiny neurons is connecting with up to 20,000 other branches, expanding exponentially at the speed of light. Carly changes every day. And it is wonderful racing along in a vain attempt to keep up – doomed, of course, but we try.
Along with these variations of ‘no,’ come behaviors to match. Queen Elizabeth, as I often call her, points as if commanding: “take me to the refrigerator,” or “I command another slice of muffin.” If whatever it is – is not quite to her majesty’s liking, phew, out it comes. Everyone at her majesty’s court look on with embarrassed humility. Great care had been invested in selecting and preparing that muffin. Carly tosses her hand as if dismissing some unwelcomed vagrant. You can almost hear her whispering, ‘off with its head.’ Her finger rises again and she points.
We ‘dults,’ being ever-so politically correct, would never express our passions and disdain so directly, so emphatically. It is simply not done. While spitting out a distasteful broccoli sprig might be accomplished more discretely, I often muse, “what would the world be like if we expressed ourselves so honestly and clearly?” As trying as her majesty can be, I respect her passion and her willfulness. It also helps to remember that Carly is firmly grounded in the moment. As quickly as this finger points, surely another will point to something different in a blink. Realizing this, the courtly thing to do, heaven forbid, is not pick a fight and argue. Na, Na! We offer a bit of carrot instead, perhaps sliding it between her toes.
I can say, and with some experience, that it is exhausting to keep up with a nineteen-month old. She never stops. Creative opportunities abound and if one is not center stage, we will go searching. What is this? Does the top come off? Does it fit in that? What if we push it over there and sit on it? If it doesn’t fit – then push harder and harder, then yell in frustration, like I would do trying to stop a leak under the sink.
Behind this bubbling, willful exploring is a quality of innocence so touching that it melts, at least we hope so, the tired crankiness that comes at four in the afternoon. And Z and I have help, a twenty-one year old college athlete, a soccer player I lovingly call ‘Cat in the Hat’, and even she has a hard time keeping up. Imagine being a single mom or having twins!
Here is where deep biological, primal bonding comes in. We can’t run this ever-changing marathon day in and day out and carry conflicting agendas in our backpack, but that is often what we try to do living in an unsupportive culture. Becoming a parent is a developmental milestone as miraculous as Queen Elizabeth saying ‘no.’ Becoming a parent is the awakening of altruism, selflessly caring for another – for the simple joy and wellbeing it brings to everyone. This awakening of selfless caring wasn’t needed before. Now it is. The wellbeing of every child and therefore every future adult and the society they will create depends on this awakening.
Nature assumes that one’s unfolding is complete and full by the onset of puberty and out of this rich experiential soil the higher capacity of altruism sprouts. And, of course, nature expects that the society recognizes and supports this awakening – creating an upward spiral of wholeness for all. Hardly…
Impaired development tends to enhance self-centeredness. Narcissism and selfless-altruism don’t mix. One negates the other. It was for this reason that Joseph Chilton Pearce and many others railed against the various intellectual interferences that hinder and disrupt the mother-infant-father bond, during pregnancy, the magical ecstatic process called birth, the joyful-pleasure that soft touch, holding and breastfeeding release, the quiet times, the safety and embodied knowing that we are connected, that others care. This bonding isn’t something the neocortex is capable of. It emanates in the deep ancient subcortical regions of the human-mammalian brain and in the hormones that all these experiences set flowing. Without the release of these hormones ‘bonding’ is a concept, an idea, like eating the menu for lunch. Love, affection and nurturing are not ideas, not something that one does. It is what you are, or not, and others can tell.
Wait! Footsteps? Her majesty is awake. Carly Elizabeth dressed in her red jammies pushes my office door open. “Helll-looo,”she says. Another first, finger pointing, followed by no, no, no, no, no as she races down the hall singing. My eyes roll and a new day begins.