I have had the privilege this summer and fall of spending a lot of time with my nine month old grandson Maksym and witnessing some of the quantum leaps in his development as an infant. Just this morning, he was able to lift himself up into a standing position for the first time. Several weeks ago, in a matter of days, he mastered the art of crawling. During that time, he also acquired the skill of being able to pick up small morsels of food and feeding himself.
For us adults, all this may sound a little trivial, but for someone of his age, these are key milestones in his journey towards adulthood. We must remember that human beings are born with little in terms of mobility, coordination or control of their own bodies. All they can really do in the first few months of life is eat, cry, eliminate bodily wastes and sleep. Their eyesight is poor, being able to focus only on objects eighteen inches or less in front of their face, and unable to distinguish between most colours. They have almost no control of any of their muscles or other parts of their body. By contrast, many animals, particularly herbivores, are able to walk and run within days, if not hours of birth. Evolution has created vast differences in the post-natal capabilities of the various species within the animal kingdom.
That period between birth and the age of three is when we as humans arguably develop the most and the fastest. Ironically, it is also the time of which, later in life, we remember almost nothing. At that early age, the part of the brain responsible for longer term memory, the hippocampus, is not developed sufficiently enough to process what we experience and store it for long-term recollection. Experts say that humans remember almost nothing of what happened before about two and a half years of age, and have only vague and sketchy recollections of events between then and the age of six or seven.
Having had three kids of my own, I am of course, not unfamiliar with the various stages of my own children’s development. However, to be frank, as they were growing up,I was in too preoccupied with day-to-day demands, my career, my ambitions and other priorities to properly appreciate and value all those key developmental moments and milestones that they went through. My wife was a full time, stay at home mother, and as such, her memories and motherhood experiences were far richer than mine. In retrospect, I missed far too many opportunities to appreciate those special moments and miracles that infancy and childhood bring.
I am now at that age and stage in life where I can make some amends for all this, by dedicating more time and focus to the three grandchildren that I have been blessed with. I have experienced and learned much in my life, and come to realize that there is nothing really as important in life as ensuring that our children and grandchildren are given the care and attention they deserve. Our lives will have meant little if our hard-earned knowledge and wisdom is not passed on to our future generations. That can only be done within the context of strong and loving relationships.
I am particularly conscious of the destructive consequences that inadequate, abusive or deficient childhoods can have on individuals. I have seen within my large circle of family, friends and acquaintances, the scars and damage that have resulted from children being brought up in dysfunctional or psychologically deficient environments. The stresses, complexities and demands of life in our day and age can wreak havoc on family life and a child’s upbringing, often without us even being fully aware of what is happening. Dysfunction can be brought about not only by wilful acts, but also by not providing a growing child with the time, attention, understanding and empathy that it needs. Providing a child with food, warmth, clothing and shelter is not enough. It needs to know and feel that it is an important priority and component in our lives.
All animals in nature know instinctively that their main purpose in life is to procreate and raise offspring to continue their genetic line. Human beings are the only species that actually have a choice in deciding what their primary purpose in life is. All too often, we make the wrong choices and our children suffer as a result. As a society and as individuals, we all need to carefully consider and decide what our priorities in life should be.