June 6, 2015
The baby brain freak out continues. When they say, “Every day it’s something new,” get ready, because it’s true. Their brains grow like a California wildfire and eat up data like it’s Cheerios. A baby’s brain doubles in size the first year and the cerebellum, which controls motor functions triples in size. At birth, their brains have all the neurons they will ever have and grow more synapses than they will ever need. This is why the environment the kid grows up in is so important to their brain development. If they had a good pre-natal environment, they are on their way to MIT. But a bad baby environment can sabotage the whole thing.
Cozy never ceases to amaze me. Last night I was reading The Fire Cat to her. (It’s one of my childhood books that my mom saved.) It’s the story of Pickles, the yellow cat, and each time I turned the page, Cozy would point to Pickles with her tiny index finger without any prompting from me. This may not mean much to you, but for a 9 month-old baby to be able to distinguish the pictures from the words on a page and know which image is Pickles is a BFD. She didn’t point to Mrs. Goodkind, just Pickles. I was blown away.
All this started very early. I noticed it the first time when she was just a few months old. I went to pull her up after changing a diaper. She knew what was going to happen and pushed her head forward to brace her neck. I thought that was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. How did she know to do that? There have been so many moments like that since then. Of course, now she likes to crawl, stand, and make a face that says, “Whatever you’re eating, you better share it.” She loves to point and if you wave at her, she’ll wave back. That was a big one.
There’s also a lot of pre-talking. I think early on parents learn which cry means I’m hungry and which cry means I would like it it you remove the crapola from my butt. But there are other sounds. The first bit of laughter. The grunt of desire. The sigh of frustration. The morning babble. But my favorite is the singing. Cozy sings little songs to herself. She’s completely in her own zone, looking at her favorite Picasso book, or strumming the guitar strings (Yep) and singing a little melody. La la la la la. She sounds like if Lady Gaga had joined the Teletubbies. I don’t think she’s singing “Bad Romance,” so I really want to know what she IS singing. A little song that means a lot to her.
As a criminologist, I spend a lot of time looking at all the things that can go wrong with a kid’s brain development that can put them on a path towards delinquency. Everything from lead paint chips to Shaken Baby Syndrome can send the baby brain going in the wrong direction. I have a lecture on Minimal Brain Dysfunction, when a blow to the back of the head weakens the connection between the brain and spinal column, making people more impulsive. I have a good friend who is a criminal defense attorney and one of the first questions he asks is if the defendant was hit in the head as a child. Add to that the scary theories about food additives, GMOs and air pollution, and it seems like their a million things that can turn your Baby Einstein into a knuckle dragging Philistine.
When you look at Cozy, she often seems like she has something deep going on in her head. She’s thinking about the world and her role in it. I’m a bit biased when it comes to my daughter but I’m betting she’ll go to Emory on a full ride. Maybe I’m just thinking of reasons not to start a college fund. Of course, she could develop an addiction to Mountain Dew in middle school or start huffing gas at summer camp or get hit in the head when’s she’s at bat in the 2025 Little League World Series. But the bigger risk is that she likes strumming that guitar too much and decides school is for “sell-outs to the Man.” If I can prevent her from becoming the next Honey Boo Boo, I’ll consider that a win.
Of course, one the major pitfalls ahead is the big 1 3. Carol Gilligan, in her landmark 1982 book, In A Different Voice, found that at around age 13 patriarchy pulls the rug out from under girls by telling them to stop being smart and focus on attracting boys. “Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” But we’ve got some time to prepare her for that wall of bullshit. She doesn’t have to be Doogie Howser. She just needs an environment that keeps that beautiful brain growing. She’ll probably be reading Gillagan herself at 13. But for now, we’ll do The Fire Cat one more time.