From Mosquito to Manatee

1179314 28920035I recently read that therapist Pittman McGehee states the opposite of love is not hate, but efficiency (according to Peter Block). 

The words hit me dead center in my heart and I knew I had to write about this statement, which I fear is too often deeply true for young children. Especially, reading this statement so soon after a related conversation on Facebook with a friend seemed a call to speak more widely.

The opposite of love is efficiency. Speed. Git 'er done. Move it, mister. We're late. Check that box. Movin' on.

I know you all know the great challenges of parenting and educating young children in this time and place. There is much to do and there are many places to be. The calendar is full most of the time. There are expectations--many, many expectations--coming from many directions. 

Yet, we must take care not to become a mosquito buzzing meaninglessly in children's ears. Zzzzt. Zzzzzzzup! Bzzzzzzz. I'm reminded of an espisode of Star Trek: Next Generation, in which two crew members are "out of phase" with everyone else. They move so fast, relative to the rest of the crew, that they are experienced as a high pitched whine.

I think some parents and teachers must seem like that to young children. 

Children need us--desperately need us--to slow down to their speed, whenever we can. Their need for us to match their speed is most important during the first three years, which is one reason why extended, paid parental leave is so important.

Newborns, especially, have a speed that is subsonic to many of us adults, overpowered as we are by the high-intensity roar of modern life. Let me help you hear them....

Imagine yourself as a newborn. Imagine what it must be like to suddenly come to consciousness inside a little bag of mostly water. You have no understanding of how your various body parts move, and don't yet have the neural network to move them at your initiation. Lights are brighter. Sounds are louder. Temperatures vary much more. Instead of floating in a water balloon, you are laid on hard, scratchy, or cold surfaces. You may be uncomfortable or in pain and unable to do anything about it. You may be hungry, cold, wet, or itchy, but you have no understanding of communication. You're not yet even aware that you can express yourself in a way that will have meaning for others. 

Your brain is moving very, very fast, indeed, to build these understandings. It is firing and wiring together more than a million new neural connections per second at the synapses where your brain cells meet. Behind searching eyes, you are creating a network among the 100 billion neurons you were born with. Your brain is literally building itself, every moment, in response to what is happening around you. You're like one of those TV or movie robots or androids who is rebooting.

Despite all this high-speed activity in the brain, the amount of observable change in you seems tiny or unobservable to most adults. (Think Janet and the cacti in The Good Place, if you're familiar.) Two or three months in, you still look like a floppy do-nothing, an eating-, sleeping- and pooping-machine.

Here's where my brief exchange with a friend was so interesting. She has slowed down and she sees much, much more. Through my Facebook lens, she appears to have dropped the need to do anything other than parent her newborn (now about 3 months old). Her parenting is very baby-centric, making life work for him, first, rather than for her. It's lovely to watch, even at this media-filtered distance. 

The result of her matching her baby's speed is she can see the micro-changes on the surface that reveal that explosive building process going on under the skull. She can see a child less than 12 weeks of age communicating with intention, by gesture and contact. She can see him already responding to her frequently used words and phrases. Truly, it's rare that adults see this kind of intention in children before they sit up, at about six months.

I hope my friend takes it as a high compliment when I say that she chose to be a Manatee Mom, rather than a Mosquito Mom. Manatees, slow-moving and gentle creatures related to elephants, seemed a good representation to me of the speed young children need. 

When we run every moment of every day on our adult timeline, at our speed, we do our young children a great disservice. Take a breath. Be mindful of the tenderness of the young being beside you. Slow down. Focus on what s/he is focused on.  Enter and enjoy your child's world at your child's speed. 

I promise, it will take your breath away.

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Dr. L. Carol Scott.

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