My husband got back on Wednesday from 10 days away for work, and Labor Day weekend was a long, long weekend together. Though for most of it we were still wading through the period of annoying the crap out of each other that always happens when we are apart and then together again (does this happen to you, too?) , there was also—thanks to said return of said husband and a visit from two friends who are great guests and love to help with the cooking and dishes—an unusual amount of time available to sit on the couch and read magazines. Like, I read three New Yorker articles!
One of the articles was about Elizabeth Spelke, an infant development researcher at Harvard who does all kinds of super interesting experiments to determine what kinds of mental capacities very young babies have.
The article was mainly about how people are drawing pretty far-reaching conclusions from her work: things about inborn gender differences in scientific skill (she maintains there are none) and innate tendencies to classify others by race (her research hints humans might have a biological propensity toward this, though she’s vocal about the need to overcome rather than reify it).
But then in the middle of this article about all the high-sounding conclusions and heavy implications of her research, there is this paragraph, which feels like a calm, strong heart at the center of it all:
Spelke mistrusts products that are marketed as brain boosters for babies, but, in an e-mail, she said that she thinks it’s “a good idea, whenever possible, for parents to expose their babies to people, places, and events that they themselves love and want their children to enjoy with them later on. There’s little explicit memory for events or places that are experienced in infancy, but I do think (and some research supports this) that there is implicit emotional memory for them.” Spelke may never test this notion in her laboratory, but she is satisfied with the data generated by her family. She went on, “My hunch is that my own children love the things I love—travel, movies, blundering along in new languages—in part because they have been exposed to these things with me, literally since birth.”
I like her advice—in part, of course, because I agree with it. But somehow it is especially nice to read it, in these simple words, from someone who has clearly had plenty of opportunities to be bogged down by her abundance of knowledge about the inner workings of little minds. That she can stand in the middle of a lab that (I imagine) whirs with little infant brain testing contraptions and crawls with babies and is lined with books full of Important Things to be Said About Children, and say this simple thing…well, it just makes my job seem a little easier and a lot more joyful.
And it reminds me that we have got to get M out on a camping trip or two before the snow flies. What are the things that you love to do, that you are doing (or wish you were doing) with your kids?