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AT THE AIRPORT
January 13, 2010
 
You run after him, Anna said, and I'll get in line to check this suitcase. The goal was to keep Wyatt on his feet as much as possible, so that he'd be worn out and take the confinement of a six-hour flight in stride. Fortunately, it's not hard to keep Wyatt on his feet; what's hard is keeping up with him. In and out of each unused ticketing stations he went, looking into each trash can, tapping experimentally on each stainless steel wall, talking to himself as he went. Then it was time to take off across the concourse, where he encountered the crowd control ropes on steel stands, designed to keep the lines of people moving in an orderly fashion.

He stood looking at the array for a moment, studying it intently. I saw him touch his head briefly, and then went underneath the nearest rope, stooping low as he passed beneath it. This was funny: Wyatt is not quite fifteen months old, and there was at least a foot of clearance between the top of his head and the rope. But clearly he didn't know this: he stopped before each overhead rope, touched his head briefly as if to remind himself to be careful and then went forward, ducking his head. Watch your head, his parents have told him repeatedly as he crawls under tables, under chairs, into boxes. Watch your head. So he watches his head. He believes himself to be taller than he is -- his mother has told him many times that he is getting very tall, and it is certain that very tall people need to be extra careful in this world.

He approached an electric wall plug. No, no, no, he said, aloud but to himself, waving both his hands energetically in the general direction of the plug. No, no, no. But he stood and surveyed it longingly for a moment or two before tearing himself away. No, no, no, he said again, and walked on.

Wyatt's conscience is a-borning, among the many other things that are growing in him. He is learning what the market will and will not bear in terms of his own behavior. His current crop of no-no-nos all concern matters of his own safety -- the social taboos are still in the future. With each of my children, and again with the newest crop of grandchildren, the birth of language and the processing of information about how the world works has been a remarkable thing to watch. Each day, a new word or two. Each day, a new piece of the puzzle of life on earth falls into place -- the other day, it was shadows, the crisp silhouettes who mimic our movements on a sunlit wall and disappear when we move into the shade. And reflections in a mirror -- how could his grandmother be pointing and smiling in two places at once? And who was that little boy she was holding?

Most elusive of all seems to be the naming of himself. Daddy and Mommy got names, and I got one. Nana in Kentucky got a name. But naming himself, achieving enough sense of the world outside himself that he can imagine it looking back at him and calling him by name -- this remains a slippery concept. Again and again, we point at ourselves and at him: "Mommy!" "Wyatt!" "Mamo!" "Wyatt!" "Daddy!" "Wyatt!"

"Mommy," he says, "Daddy," and smiles broadly, but I can tell he doesn't quite believe the "Wyatt" part. Only rarely does he venture into the pronunciation of his own name. When one's needs are met as quickly as his are, there is scant need for a "me" or a "mine."

A little boy who thinks he is taller than he is. Who is so central in his own world that he doesn't need a name. Who must remind himself each time to follow the rules, and why. He embodies the progress of our race in the story of his own.
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Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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