The “Love, Recorded” column is back, and Matt and Cathreen are educating baby Grace. How early is early education?
My wife is educating our 5-month-old baby. Each day I learn something new about learning. I have learned that simply holding a cup is education. I have learned to play “Hot Cross Buns” on a xylophone (with matching arm movements). I have learned that the high-pitched voice people use with babies is exactly what they best respond to. I have learned that babies want badly to learn and never need a break, except to sleep.
I try to keep the lessons going while Cathreen schedules the entire month of learning into her notebook. She looks up various places to take our daughter before it gets so cold it hurts. I know a few tricks, but not enough. “Almost done,” she says when I am radiating exhaustion. An hour later, I’m running out of songs. My throat hurts. “Almost done,” she says.
My mother thinks we spoil the baby. She says this to our baby as they play. I am thinking about self-fulfilling prophecies, how if you tell someone she’s something, she believes it herself. The word Cathreen likes to use is “important.” We went through a lot to have a baby and we have no plans for another.
I want our daughter to have every advantage. Until I was 2 and a half, I lived in an orphanage in Seoul. My wife wants our daughter to be a genius. I mostly want her to be adaptable. I worry about pressuring her with expectations. I saw a website recently about Asian parents. A degree from MIT? Why not Harvard, just next door? On a TV show in which teenagers break out into song and dance at random, one of the (two) Asian characters gets a B, and they call it an “Asian F.”
During the pregnancy, when so many things seemed to go wrong, when Cathreen was prescribed one medicine after another, we tried to give up expectations. We had thought Cathreen would eat and eat—mostly, she threw up. We had thought the morning sickness would go away after the first trimester—it stuck around for most of the second. We had looked for a pregnancy glow—we found rashes, PUPPP and an allergy to the cold, something I’d never before known existed. The doctor said the allergy would likely go away when the baby came, and now it seems even worse. We’re thinking of moving someplace warm.
Once the meds got all the way to steroids, we gave up on hoping Grace would go to Harvard and hoped for health, instead. And we still hope for health. But now those expectations wash back in as the doctors tell us she’s smart. Maybe pregnancy was the last low tide. The last chance to walk over the exposed land through a normally impassable sea. That is, all of our vicarious dreams.
Grace herself is the most predictable part of child-rearing. We watch her hit the milestones. She eats every four hours. Her day follows a general pattern—unless I’m in charge of taking care of her. She started sleeping through the night the day after she turned 3 months. We had read about the “fourth trimester” and were waiting for a change, and then we woke up in the morning and it was actually morning, the sun was up. Although, what I am leaving out of this little ideal is that sleeping through the night starts after 1:00 AM.
In fact, twice our daughter has made this kind of sea change. The second time happens after we take her to my parents’ for Thanksgiving. Cathreen tells me about some article she found about how more-than-normal stimulation can step up a development stage. The first thing Grace does when we get to Connecticut and my family is all sitting around the table waiting for us, is cry. She takes one look at those seven white faces and balls her eyes out. She hardly sleeps that night, too nervous. Then, when we get home the next day, she is more alert than ever. She must have been scared into her wits. She is suddenly in that stage where you can’t leave her alone for a second. One second and she will find a way to hurt herself trying to do something new. She rolls like a person going downhill. She tries to copy whatever we do. The other day, we gave her her first sippy cup and she watched us drink water from our cups and then raised hers straight to her lips. Cathreen said, “Look, she knows it’s a cup!”
This is what we know, as parents: holding a cup can be like a degree from Harvard.
—photo Flickr/Randy Son Of Robert