Third in a seven-part series on the nature of work.
At the beginning of life, an infant’s job is basically four-fold: sucking on mother’s breast or a bottle (both take work, even if you don’t remember); letting parents know when something isn’t going well(wah wah wah); filling your pants; and exploring the new world you’ve landed in.
We’ve been recently blessed with a number of new babies (great nieces and nephews) in our extended family and it’s fun to watch the new parents taking on the responsibilities of molding and guiding the tiny ones as the kiddos learn about life outside the womb.
At first a baby’s eyes do much of the work: looking around at the lights and faces that come into view. I always think: what are they seeing? Even more, what are their earliest rudiments of thinking? They learn to recognize mommy’s face, daddy’s face and voices — and remember them, and then a grandma or grandpa join the parade, plus aunts and uncles.
Their newfound environment may be suddenly chilly, or too hot, or too bright and it’s the infant’s job to express disgruntlement or joy over their new situation. They move limbs and soon begin exploring their fists or feet and sucking on them when they can’t find anything else. That’s work!
Baby Sawyer at 3 months has begun talking. No, not words of course, but he coos and babbles, trying to move his mouth and tongue. He jerks his head back and forth, like he’s worried he’ll miss seeing something in his new world. He moves his legs around like he’s working on developing the muscles to crawl. I’m holding him thinking he’s really active and all of a sudden he communicates big time: wah wah wah! Does he have a tummy ache? Turns out he’s just tired, and his grandma snuggles and gently rocks him to sleep in her lap. That’s what he wanted: rest!
Whew. It’s hard work being a baby. Right? He even has to get his parents up at night — out of their desperately needed sleep — to tell them what to do next.
When you think of all the milestones a baby accomplishes within months and the first year, it is nothing short of amazing. Sadie, at 1 is a little girl who’s taking her first steps, eating real food, saying real words or at least things that sound like words, drinking out of a cup, being jealous when someone else is getting attention. Not long ago she was the adorable but clueless infant.
Her cousin Sawyer is holding his head up off the floor, so soon he’ll be rolling over, sitting up. He’ll explore his fingers, toes, belly button, kitty’s tail, the little tiny rattle shaped like a workout weight his Daddy loves handing him. His eyes and ears will follow along as his parents or others read or sing to him.
But experts tell us there’s a lot going on inside the brain that we as parents and grandparents don’t really see: the brain doubles in size in the first year, with lots of amazing growth in the part of the brain controlling motor skills and physical development. This is basically inner work that the child is unaware of — and we are too. But we know from sad stories of lack of development in deprived situations — old-time orphanages where children languished without much care or attention — advanced much more slowly in their developmental stages. So it is important to give children all of the love and stimulation and attention you can give. Just sitting down to read books together from the earliest days kindles their brains in ways they can absorb.
The Psalmist may have been watching a newborn when he marveled: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. … My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together” (Psalms 139: parts of verses 13-16).
For a free booklet, “Work Therapy,” write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.