A friend of ours is studying child language development. She asked us to note down words and phrases that Liko uttered during a 12-hour period. Here's a random sampling, for your amusement and edification. (For parents anxious to make comparisons, Liko is 26 months old. )
Baby, baby singing.
Hold it. Mommy hold it.
Dump. Dump it. Milk.
More - all gone.
Got it, raspberry.
Moon, moon, sun, sun, sun.
Too hot. Too hot.
Dip, dip, dipping, dip, dip things.
Play ball. Liko play ball.
Guy sing that.
Sound banjo makes.
Hold them, George.
Daddy don't go. Come.
School - Sasha crying.
I saw a didgeridoo!
The last two lines require explanations.
Back in July, we attended the Didgeridoo Festival in Reno, NV. A didgeridoo is an aboriginal Australian musical instrument. It made an impression on Liko, who excitedly cries out whenever he sees one in a book. I'm still amazed that he can pronounce "didgeridoo."
As for "School - Sasha crying": Sasha is a little girl in Liko's preschool who terribly missed her mommy, and cried and cried. Liko, who also cried and cried when I dropped him off, started talking with us about Sasha at night as he went to bed. After a few nights of this, he said, "Liko crying." Why? we asked. "Daddy left." We asked him if Sasha's mommy came back. "Yes." We said that his mommy and daddy would always come back too and take him home. "Yeah!" Did he have fun at school while daddy and mommy were away? "Yeah!" Did he have a favorite teacher? etc.
Here's what's incredible (to me) about this story: Liko is clearly relating his feelings to another toddler's, remembering things, verbalizing his memories, and using his memories to put things in perspective. I'm proud to say that this is fairly typical of my son, who is exceptionally empathic and compassionate for a toddler; he often tries to clumsily comfort crying babies on the playground (a gesture that is not always appreciated).
I thought of this as I was wasting time reading conservative parenting books - recall John Rosemond's words, quoted here on September 24: “One does not have to teach antisocial behavior to toddlers. They are by nature violent, deceitful, destructive, rebellious and prone to sociopathic rages if they do not get their way.”
My son is none of those things (not yet!) and I don't know any toddler who is as "violent" as Rosemond describes. Sure, Liko cries and stamps his feet when he is upset; sometimes he blindly hits and kicks. But when he does that, I don't see "sociopathic rages" - I see a confused growing boy who is still learning how to deal with and express his feelings. A true sociopath has no feelings. Sociopathology is a mental illness; toddlers are not mentally ill.
Discipline is necessary and so is punishment, but discipline is not synonymous with punishment. It's a distinction the conservative parenting gurus I've read fail to make. Worse, they see evil where there is none. Toddlers are not yet socialized, but the capacities for empathy, compassion, and cooperation are already there and blooming. Conservatives would say that I am merely beguiled by my child, but I see such qualities in all of the dozens of toddlers I know. They are beautiful. I love the way they run, with every part of their little bodies moving independently of the others, and the way they laugh and explore. Toddlers want to share and help; they don't always know how.
Not only does the conservative portrait of toddlerhood fly in the face of my personal experience, it also defies all scientific research into the topic. (I can feel the one or two conservatives who might be reading this shutting off; as the books I've read make clear, they see science as the enemy.) In a 2001 study, UC cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnik discovered that 18-month-olds understood that another person's tastes might be different, and shared foods if the other person demonstrated a liking for it, an important first step in developing empathy. Nancy L. Marshall at Wellesley College found that "when toddlers saw a teddy bear suffer an 'accident,' their faces showed distress and concern. They also responded by trying to help or comfort the bear."
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany found "that preverbal toddlers as young as 18 months old understand when adults need their assistance and will do their best to help out, even for no reward." "The current results demonstrate that even very young children have a natural tendency to help other persons solve their problems,” says the study.
And so on and so forth. I found dozens of studies that identified prosocial qualities in toddlers, corroborating what most parents - those whose minds aren't warped by conservative ideology - know intuitively.
When people describe "Daddy Dialectic," they most often seem to use the word "thoughtful." I do try to see the other person's point of view and I try to play fair when disagreements arise, and my colleagues Chip, Tom, and Chris do the same.
And I believe that I'm remaining fair and thoughtful when I say that conservatives - who posit themselves the authorities on morality, family life, and parenting - are today promoting lies and half-truths about parents and children, in the service of an authoritarian ideology. At this point - with oceans levels rising, Iraq falling into the abyss, and evidence for evolution mounting, to name only three examples - it astonishes me that any thinking person, anywhere, would elevate their half-baked ideas over what science, reason, experience, and conscience have to say.
It's time for liberals and progressives, especially those of us who are parents, to stop retreating and take the fight to people who see us as their enemies. We're in a struggle we can't afford to lose.
[The photos that appear with this post are of my wife as a toddler, courtesy of my mom-in-law.]