Before I started a family I was nervous of small children. I found them unpredictable and flighty. Like horses. Tiny shouting horses puking and defecating everywhere. Babies also seemed quite useless and needy to me. When it came to having my own babies I realised this to be true. Humans are in fact the most useless and needy of all the babies in the animal kingdom. At least actual baby horses are self-sufficient. It takes them an hour to learn to stand, something it takes most children a year to master.
There’s a very good anatomical reason for babies being so helpless. Apparently all other animal children are born fully formed and ready to party, whereas our young pop out in a near-foetal state. This is because the womb isn’t capacious enough to carry it. If they hung around much longer up there they’d probably burst through the stomach like an alien. So out they pop with just enough instinct to operate their tiny lungs.
When my sons were born they had no control over their motor skills, instead performing weird spasmodic movements like a malfunctioning robot. Within a few hours using a rudimentary set of senses they had both sussed that the nearest snack was in its mother’s boob and both wormed their way into position to slurp down. And they took it from there, growing and developing in the minutest increments.
Before parenthood I was unimpressed by the achievements of children: their first words, first step, first poo in a potty. There was nothing singular in any of this, me and everyone else had been talking, walking and pooing successfully for years.
But when my own children complete these little developmental achievements I am confounded and delighted. It is all to do with context. Imagine going to a field, leaving the field and then returning to the field a few months later to discover a daisy has grown. Nothing special. But if you stayed in the field and watched day after day while the daisy gradually shot up through the earth and flower it would become something wondrous. Like time-lapse photography in reality. Clearly I’m not suggesting anyone actually watch a daisy for a month, but the point remains.
I remember vividly how overwhelmed I was the moment that the Major first reached out and touched something: a plastic koala hanging down from the arch of his bouncer as it happens. That he’d become aware of something around him and was able to interact with it. And I won’t forget the first time he rolled over onto his stomach which, given his frankly lazy performance in the weeks leading up to it, seemed like a feat of extraordinary athleticism which required me to summon his mum to gaze in awe at what he had done.
I remember the first time the Minor mooed like a cow. I remember when he first nodded in agreement, although admittedly that was yesterday. I remember the profound amusement I felt when the Major first laughed at something on the television, during Ben and Holly when some aliens announced they’d come from the Planet Bong. I laughed too. I remember when my sons first played together. I of course remember all the words, steps and shits in a pot.
So if you are like I was and you remain massively nonplussed by the deeds of small children, trying raising one. They’ll amaze you.