Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What Did the Cave Babies Do?

Whenever I watch a baby working on a new skill - crawling, pulling up, walking - or imitating the behavior of the people around them - pretending to talk on a phone, pressing buttons on the remote control, taking the car keys and waving bye-bye - I try to imagine their "cave-baby" ancestors in the same stage of development. (By "cave babies," I mean the babies of humans living in more primitive times or in earlier stages of evolution.) Cave babies didn't have little carts with wheels to push around when learning to walk, but I bet you they pushed something around to learn to walk. I like to picture a little naked cave baby pushing a log or something around, or hanging onto their parents' legs or fingers and taking hesitant steps. I imagine a cave baby bear-walking across the cave to a big boulder or stack of firewood and pulling up to standing while his parents look on and applaud. Or what about the little cave toddler waddling about with a miniature spear or bow or collecting basket? How cute is that image?

We have all these modern devices to help babies develop. We have walkers and jumpers and sleep positioners. We have ball popper toys to entice them to run around and catch things. We have knee pads for babies who don't like to crawl on hard floors. We have videos and CDs intended to help babies' brains develop. We have special potty seats and training pants for helping them learn to use the bathroom. It's not that I'm saying that some of these aren't great inventions (although I don't think all of them are great inventions), it's just that sometimes I wonder, how in the world did babies in more "primitive" times ever learn to walk, talk, play catch, or develop skills they'd need to live, without all these modern devices?

When GI takes my car keys and waves bye-bye, I imagine his cave-baby counterpart grabbing his mother's digging stick and poking holes in the dirt. When GI pushes a chair around the house, I picture little cave-baby-GI toddling around pushing a storage basket. When GI proudly holds a vacuum cleaner attachment up in the air, I see the cave toddler happily hoisting aloft his daddy's spear.

Babies will figure out how to get where they need to go. The stages of development are hard-wired. They'll learn to walk and talk and play. They'll imitate their elders, dabble in various skills, and make mischief no matter what kinds of modern devices or boulders and spears we provide them with, as long as they have people to follow around and imitate. (Not that I'd let my baby play with a spear, obviously.) People worry so much about how to teach their babies to do what they already want to do. Assuming they're typical babies, they'll learn to sit and roll over and walk and talk without the need for any kind of fancy devices, specially designed toys, things with buttons that "encourage" babies to talk, things with wheels that help babies walk, or things that dangle bright objects enticingly out of reach to excite babies into rolling over. Sure, these items are fun to have, and someone invented them for a reason, but, really, what did the cave babies do? Did they not learn to roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, and talk? They must have, since they grew up and had babies of their own, or we wouldn't be here!

I like the notion of mischief-making cave toddlers, finding a basket full of freshly-collected vegetables and pulling them all out, trying to put mommy's foot coverings in the fire, burying the rabbit intended for dinner, hiding in the bushes when out gathering, trying to climb into the collecting basket... all the types of things today's toddlers do, but with a cave-baby twist. I think all babies are in some ways the same, and they have probably gotten into some of the same kinds of trouble since time immemorial.

What amazes me is how babies really do imitate what they see. While the cave babies may have mimicked their parents making a fire or skinning a rabbit, today's babies are learning modern skills by copying their parents' activities. A baby whose mom is on her cell phone a lot will pretend to talk on a cell phone. A baby whose parents watch TV a lot will sit and stare at the TV, remote in hand. I suppose this is really a lesson for all of us, that if babies will imitate their parents' behaviors, we probably want to make sure we're behaving in a way we'd want to see them emulate.

1 comment:

  1. I imagine that the main point of all of the educational tools is to help babies learn faster. I don't think cave people needed to learn as many things over the course of their lives, although there are probably some things that they knew much mor extensively than we do, such as what plants are safe to eat, etc. I also think that cave babies couldn't play for as long. They probably had to help pick berries, etc. pretty early on.

    In an unrelated note, have you heard about Daisy the cloned cow? The cow designed to have milk lacking baby allergens?