A preschool child is the perfect human learning machine, gathering survival information through every one of the five senses, and perhaps his sixth. A child is born with unique and inherited DNA in which are embedded characteristics and traits which have helped related generations survive prior to the time of his birth. In other words, he is born knowing much about how to navigate the world he has never known or experienced. He has also been accumulating information in utero, responding to and remembering sounds and watery experiences long before he is able to verbalize them. Children from the very first day of life are filled with an unearthly wisdom, which adults gradually and constantly erase, as the baby moves along his natural path of development.
I believe this because I recall how it felt to reside in that early stage of life. I was in my high chair in the kitchen and I knew the woman at the sink was not my mother. I felt she was my second choice even though she had just placed food in front of me moments ago. She was distracted and disengaged in a way my own mother never was.
I see the blocky back side of her as she leans into her work at the kitchen sink. I am resentful it is not the slender figure of my mother. Her apron is tied over the house dress, and she has on stockings and house shoes. I do not like this combination, but I remember the feel of ladies’ legs covered in nylons, so smooth and silky to my sensitive hands. I begin to rub my hands across the tray in front of me, and it is wet with some kind of food, and it feels wonderful beneath my palms. I forget about the woman at the sink and immerse myself in the experience of the food on the tray in front of me. The room is sunny and bright from the window over the sink in front of my grandmother. I am in a reverie of tactile learning, lost in the taste, smell, and feel of the tray and the food. I feel for my hair, which connects to a related memory of “silky” and am surprised it does not feel smooth at all. Grandma Sophie turns to me, and is laughing and speaking in Norwegian and chiding me in a very loving way, wiping at the tray, removing the learning like magic, and I am polished by a smiling face. I feel her hands, but in my mind, I believe her face is doing it, and I am loving her openly and without reservation. She allows me to remain in the chair with the tray, and turns back to the sink. There is some kind of distraction placed in front of me, but it holds no attention as it is cold, noisy and metallic, and has hard edges.
It must have been measuring spoons. But the spell was broken. I was cut off from smoothness. I accepted this, but felt disappointment…I did not cry. Moments later, my sisters came in from outside, and I felt fully joyful.
Diane sweeps past me, on the right. I feel the burst of her energy, and watch her disappear. Grandma Sophie says something to her in a sharp tone. It is in English, heavily accented. Diane responds with a happy tone, but does not return to the room. My sister Pam, four years younger than Diane, comes straight over to talk to me, and play with me. Her face is small, and her hair moves around it like a halo as she speaks to me. Her chin barely reaches over the height of the tray. Her excited smiles and chirps of affection stir up the same feelings of unguarded love I felt a moment ago. Grandma Sophie pulls out a chair, causing a very loud noise that startles me, breaking the reverie. She sits down heavily and somehow causes my sister Pam to leave me and go to the table to sit with her.
I was alone then. There was nothing to learn at the moment. I sat quietly and waited for something to happen. My eyes studied the linoleum, my nose sniffed the fresh air of the outdoors brought in by those little girls, and my ears were listening for those who were absent. I was aware they would be coming, and soon. I already knew the pattern of my days.
I have asked my sister about this memory, and she validated I must have been barely two years old. She knew the kitchen, the name of the street, and why my mother was not home. She filled out some more of the details and we both marveled this particular hour had travelled with me for over sixty years, intact, and fully accurate in every detail.