Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Alphabet Kid emerges

It has been said that young children have a prodigious memory, learning at a rate that will never again be equalled in their lives. Everything from language, social rules and power structures to basic math and motor skills gets assimilated at warp speed.

Which may all be true, though as far as we can tell Sonny - who's punched through to almost 15 months with us - is devoting much of his memory power to the alphabet. To be exact, the alphabet chart that Mum drew up eons ago and then hung on the wall. The little fella's devotion to the letters is remarkable: At least once a day, he will demand to be lifted up to it and to chant through from A to K (beyond which point things still get hazy) as he chirrups his mangled responses to "[Fill in letter] is for...?]" Thus, he knows that 'A' is for 'air-pull' (apple), 'B' is for 'bole' (ball) and is for 'cap' (cap). Admittedly, it isn't really clear if he's just guessing ('D', which is supposed to elicit the response of 'Desk', perpetually draws forth 'Dett') and the pronunciation is often comical: 'I' is, apparently, for 'I-kim' (ice cream).

The strongest proof of Sonny's alphabet-mania is the way it can be exploited to disrupt one of his sobbing fits. If he's noisily protesting the snatching-away of some toy, recitation of the alphabet-object pairings will result in a remarkable suspension of bawling - at least long enough for him to wheeze out 'air-pull', before teary service is resumed. At times, the trick whisks away the crying jag altogether - and Sonny will toddle over to the chart and begin to agitate for a run-through.

It is obviously far too early for us to conclude that the little fella will be particularly attached to words and their meanings (even though both his parents are writers of a sort). It could be he simply enjoys the singsong nature of the alphabet 'game', as he may conceive of it: All the serious pedagogical activity that we attempt to interest young children in is probably seen in their eyes simply as 'fun'. Or, in some cases, 'not fun' - at which point the child will brutally end his engagement and scamper off in search of something else to do.

In the present case, we're hoping Sonny will retain his interest until he's gone from 'L' to 'Z'. Maybe after that, we could work a bit on his pronunciation...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who's car-crazy, buddy?

Toddlers are supposed to get overwhelmingly curious fairly early on, but our experience with our particular edition is that he gets fixated about certain categories of objects.

Like cars. And cars. Oh, and cars. The little fella will ignore the garishly-dressed gorilla screaming his name in his ear (we could of course here be merely drawing a less-than-flattering verbal portrait of his father), yet be instantly transfixed by a whispered mention of 'car' at the other end of the room. He'll scamper in that direction, shoving aside anything or anyone that may be in the way, and gibber 'Car, car' as he approaches the approximate location.

In fact, these days, pretty much the only surefire way of distracting him, or grabbing his attention, is to claim that a vehicle is passing our windows or entering the compound. His grandmother is especially skilled at enthusiastically declaring "Hey, look at the big car" with total conviction. You can sometimes play the same trick by invoking "Airplane!", except Sonny is rather scared of aircraft and will sometimes be seized with terror when one is too boisterously reported.

Anyway, one is led to wonder why children - and, or so we are conventionally told, boys especially - develop an early fascination with cars. Mum and Pa can't remember any fixations from their toddlerhoods, but then again they can't remember much of that period of their lives. Maybe it's that motorised rumble, or the way cars zip along enticingly with the sun glinting off the hubcaps and illuminating all those curves. Someone who can only crawl along at 3 miles an hour, or at best totter precariously forward at double that speed (allowing for the odd tumble and slip) is perhaps especially mesmerised by how cars can glide smoothly on their way, accelerating as needed with utter ease.

This is something that many adult would understand, of course. Many of us are all but defined by the extent to which we are in thrall of things, structures or people that are more powerful, stronger or more impressive than we are - so that we are consumed by envy or hunger, and are always seeking an extra glimpse, a closer peek and a fuller view. Looked at from this perspective, a child's car-craziness takes on a more sinister aspect. It begins to sound like a symptom of a character flaw, a covetousness that seeks power or gain to the exclusion of virtue.

We ought to hope, therefore, that Sonny takes a greater interest in the humble ox-cart, for instance, or becomes entranced by the mere mention of a bicycle. Perhaps that would signal a humbler worldview, less grandiose dreams and a healthier mental state.