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What babies really think

If you just had a baby, you know the feeling. If you had one a while back, you remember it. Here’s the question every new parent poses: What’s going on inside that tiny head still so soft at its fontanelle top?

I asked too. Every time chubby cheeks chanced to bob up close to mine. Not a single post-feed burp session passed without me pressing ear-to-ear tight to that small skull. With absurd expectations... as if this would throw out a hotline to the rhythms which waltzed within each bald head!

Talk about that today and my kids laugh out loud. There’s lots more that’s bizarre about motherhood, I assure them. Then it was de rigueur to devour bedside books on baby brain activity. My favourite parenting authors weren’t Dr Benjamin Spock or Dr Miriam Stoppard wise words she dispensed but I preferred those of her ex-husband’s edgy plays.

It was Desmond Morris I turned to. My bible was Babywatching, his amazing guide to the first 12 months of human life. In a portrait of the world that’s altogether realistic, revealing and from a baby-centric point of view, the anthropologist attempted answers to eternal riddles. How do babies think and dream? What makes them cry or smile? How sharp can they smell and taste? How important is a mother actually to her baby?

It was and always will be very interesting learning. Do men and women react differently to the sight of a random baby? (Men’s pupils shrink while women’s grow larger – until the guy has a baby, when his pupils start expanding). Why do most mothers cradle babies in the left arm? (They instinctively hold the baby to the spot to hear the maternal heartbeat, regardless of a mom being right or left-handed.)

Debunking adult-centred biases, this primer greets infancy squarely, shorn of cute observation. Rather than finding ways to make babies work for you (via the old idea of ‘training’), he offers insights into their minds harking back to ape times.

I read two editions of Babywatching, fascinated by its focus on pro-attachment parenting from a biological perspective. Both illustrated and text versions show Morris fusing his zoologist and people watcher skills to track crazily criss-crossing patterns in the tiniest cranium. For all their dimpled innocence, babies think real big on some levels. Those brains are sure ticking powered to get to work early on.

Through my children’s toddler years, I followed Howard Gardner. Identifying eight basic baby thought curves in his classic Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the American developmental psychologist says: “Children should understand the world because it is fascinating and the human mind is curious.

I want them to be positioned to move in productive directions.” Gardener opens us up to respect a bouquet of infant intellects: Verbal-Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Visual-Spatial, Musical-Rhythmic, Body-Kinesthetic, Naturalistic, Intra-personal and Inter-personal intelligence form the octet.

Even non-prodigy three-year-olds can pick up 10 languages, display crack computer skills and play any instrument. Besides grasping and retaining many thousands of facts by the age of four. Just call it mind magic. Who can resist surrender to the wonder of it?

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens. Reach her at: mehermarfatia@gmail.com

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