“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
— Carl Sagan

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Everybody is wearing pyjamas

Few weeks back at the nursery my son goes to it was dress up day and the theme was “Super Heroes”. The children were to go dressed up as their favourite Super Heroes. In our household, “heroes” is a subject taught by father since I cannot recall a hero in the same way he does.

Hence it was my partners job to think on which Super Hero our little one was going to be dress like since I never put too much of a thought on heroes to be honest. Heroes for me were Gandalf; in an awkward sort of way the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and whilst in my twenties and doing all-nighters for uni with the television as companion I discovered amongst the cartoons two “Superheroes”: “Dangermouse” and “Speedracer”.

Only when I got older – and I got to read more books – I got to know some real women who did amazing things, real heroines (not to be confused with heroin!) like Hypatia, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, and many others – I could be all day trying to draw a rough list! – and these women gave me the inspiration I needed at the time. They did not chase white rabbits, speak with dragons, climb walls using webs or destroy any villains with powerful glances. On second thought: they did: in the real world, giving hard stares, chasing their dreams and speaking their mind.

Although it does not escape to me the magic of the superheroes represented by cartoons: imposing justice left right and centre, smashing evils and restoring peace and order after all the chaos, with a glimmering smile and a shining outfit. And for the cartoon heroines, those as well, pose a fabulous figure enrobed with a shining outfit and the perfect smile – not to mention no hair out of place (not even one!) after imprisoning a villain and rerouting a convoy of trucks to avoid a family of ducks crossing the road at that exact time.

I am unsure how these superheroes and superheroines may affect the child and the adult it will become in the future and I am unsure if children realise that superheroes are human beings – take Wonder Woman for example – who transform themselves into something extraordinarily powerful to fight injustice. I am sure though there are many studies about this subject all going for it or all against it.

As for my partner, Spiderman and Batman have a special place in his heart and he already gave our little one enough outfits branded with both characters. He cannot tell me why those two are so special to him. But they are. My partner always tells me how singular it was to sit down to watch the cartoon in the afternoons and enjoy every second of it.

As for me, I find Superheroes cartoons very graphic and violent – not to mention that nowadays the resolution on any device is simply amazing – and the path such characters embark upon to bring peace and justice is one of destruction galore which in my humble opinion, is just not good and sets a really bad example for a child and I find it very upsetting that all the good characteristics you want to find in a superhero are just obscured – if not obliterated – by the level of destruction caused to eradicate evil.

And it is my suspicion that obliteration is what remains in the memories of children today thanks to the high definition and fine detail (and extent) on the destruction, fights and damage provoked; the end message of good goes above evil, team work and good moral values are lost amidst ruins, fires, explosions, cars flying and kicks.

I am all up for good old costumes: a skirt that can be a tunic or a long dress; a blanket that can become a cape or a portable tent and a pair of swimming goggles that magically allows to see further away over the hills. Let’s not diminish the power of a stick and a cardboard box; or a belt (oversized) with a hat which transforms a mundane child into the most impervious pirate.

One word: magic. I feel the cartoons raid the magic and slash the imagination and feeds the child from a very early age with ideas – note, I am not saying ideals – situations and results which are far from real. If you think it is not socially acceptable to go around kicking and destroying to get something (although as a society we do. Look at all the wars and fighting going on as I type this) particularly if that behaviour comes from a child.

Yes, you got it. Most likely the child will be labelled. And those labels will damp the ideals we try so hard to imprint on them either from home or school.

How did the story of the costume ended, you may wonder? Well, my partner found a pyjama with “Batman” embodied. So, my little one wore his Batman pj’s over layers of thermals plus a Batman coat with a hoodie that worked as a mask.

No need to say that he never understood how could he possibly be wearing his pj’s to go to school (he tried to have a say on the matter) and when I went to pick him up and asked him how did his day go, he shrunk his shoulders and say “everybody was wearing pyjamas”.

 

Windows of wonder

Almost seventy years later I remember clearly how the magic of translating the words in books into images enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space… 

Mario Vargas Llosa

 

Thanks to Goodreads I found  this phrase in my inbox. It is beautiful, and one that I can relate very easy to.

Since I can remember, reading a book was a good way to escape from the moment and from reality; it could well mean learning something new about nature, seasons and the natural rhythm that surround us; how to bake or cook something which never ever turned to be as beautiful and perfect as in the pictures; how gazing at the night sky turned into staring at the moon trying to discover the spots the books were talking about; how travelling books fed my hunger for discovering new places.

I can remember clearly how my dad with all his patience taught me to read and make sense of the words with a famous book in Argentina called “Upa” well before I was ready for it and how important I felt when I asked my grandparents if I could borrow a dictionary which  had many pictures correlating with most of the definitions, to copy the words – hence, learn to write.

My whole life has been delicately intertwined with books; I’m no book hoarder but I can say that I do have a collection and within that collection a separate bookcase with the most special ones; those that remind me of a special moment, place, or person.

The few times I have had a book clearance I gave them to my local library and even then, with a heavy heart, only to be comforted by the fact that other people would enjoy them as I did.

My collection of books becomes known and the subject of heavy conversation every time I move to a new house. And when I say, “heavy conversation” this is not only because of the number of books and the weight of such boxes; it is as well because of the amount of swearing involved in the lifting and moving of said boxes and the unkind reminders of the amount of space and dust they gather.

Although I did inevitably catch up with the internet and the wonders of Google and Wikipedia where I am amazed and surprised at every click; I must confess at times this confuses me because of the amount of information given. It is too much and discerning, selecting and choosing takes a big chunk of time.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant, immediately I went to the local library to see what could I find. I explored for endless hours’ websites and more than once I simply shut up the laptop because there was too much to read, process and digest. At least in the library the books were few and I could easily flick through the pages and see if I could find something concise that would answer one question without uprooting a dozen more.

Which – you guess – was a futile quest. But at least two or three books could be something more manageable instead of 1,200,729 results in 0.06 seconds. With 2 or 3 books, I could make better choices. I felt I could choose!

This line of thinking does takes me inexorably to think on how children are being bombarded with 9,623,719 results in 0.40 seconds and the effects those results and the variety have on them. How they are bombarded with ready made things that do not provoke a thought or a sparkle for imagination.

Yes, I hear you say, cartoons do provoke imagination. Children are replaying what they see in their own way and of course they are using their imagination to do so. But have you ever tried to read to a child what he has seen on a screen? Have you ever tried to read to a child something that the child has not seen on a screen? If you give a child the choice to read a book from their favourite cartoon on screen and a book of a classic fairy tale, guess which one will win the contest? Yes, the one based on the cartoon.

My theory for this choosing is simple: because what you read has its foundations on a memory from the screen of something they have seen already. It is far easier to recall an image – or a series of them – rather than create an image built with words.

I for one try – almost desperately – to generate a world with words. I managed to shrink the amount of time in front of any electronic device. I try for my little one to spend more time outside in the patio rather than inside the house where he will test everybody’s patience to get hold of a screen.

I discovered that the time he spends soaking in the bath is perfect for me to read him a short story completely unrelated to his favourite cartoon. And to my surprise, he does enjoy that little time where words create a world.

I cannot avoid the reality we live in and I need my little one to learn about this fast paced world; but I most definitely can show him how to open the little windows of wonder every time he opens a book.

Trust me, I am a baby

Imagine if your baby say that to you:

“Trust me, mum (dad/nan/responsible adult in charge of me) I know exactly what I am doing”

What would you do – apart from double checking that the drink was not spiked – would you relax and stand in awe or would you just turn and say “oh, please! You are a baby!”

I would incite you to think again on what your answer would be under this hypothetical situation. It is difficult, it is not? This beautiful human being, just arrived in your life, needs your whole attention from feeding to dressing almost 24/7 – yes, discount a few hours of sleep here and there – so how can she/he be able to  “ know exactly what he/she is doing”? How could somebody who depends her/his entire life somehow can know exactly what are they doing?

The answer is simple really. They know what they are doing: they are learning. They are learning about what surrounds them, who surrounds them. When they cry, they are learning to “ask” in the only possible way known to them at that time for food, for warmth, for comforting. And they are learning as well who are those “giants” (a.k.a. parents/carers) who respond to that cry.

The baby will “take mental notes” of the voices, smells, main features of the face of the carer, and the way the carer handles he/she. The baby will feel the “mood” of the carer too.

When you see a baby gazing around and you are wondering what they may be thinking, the baby is learning about the space and is starting to see what is near, what is far and as soon as she/he is strong enough to move – they will know when, and you will know as well, because you will see it – they will try to grab what they see, reach to it. And then is when they discover the beginning and end of their bodies.

When they start to gaze at those two marvellous things on their sides, later to be known as hands, they can spend hours looking at them. Have you ever stop to gaze at your hands and truly observe them, noticing every wrinkle, every knuckle, the tips of your finger?

And for a baby it gets even better when they discover those things at the far end, called feet. And, as the hands, they will end up in their mouths.

All these processes are not to be belittled; they take a “huge” effort from the baby and is one of the fundamental cornerstones for development in every possible sense: physical, emotional, and cognitive.

Physical because they start to learn about their bodies and the boundaries and how to go beyond those; emotional because they start to recognise emotions such as joy when they can touch what they see, they can reach what is near or perhaps frustration because they cannot do so; and cognitive because they start to recognise distances – near or far, for example – and is setting the baseline for what later in life will be other cognitive capabilities such as speech and concentration.

Because they require a fantastic effort from the baby, only him/her will do all this on their own good time; a baby *knows* when is ready to learn all this, when is ready to do this effort.

Trust the baby. He/she knows what is doing.