I certainly did not know that a two year old could look back fondly on her babyhood. But my daughter and I think that’s what’s happening with her daughter, Grace. Here’s what Grace has been doing:
- Grace has been potty trained for almost six months (it was her idea, really, and my daughter just followed Grace’s lead – but that’s another story!). Lately she has asked to wear diapers during the day and she’ll say things like, “Pooping in the diaper” even though she isn’t actually pooping in it.
- And she will go in the closet to find the changing pad my daughter used when they weren’t home. Grace will unfold it and lay down and insist that my daughter “change her diaper,” but this go-round Grace helps with the changing routine, which she remembers precisely.
- She will get down on all fours and say, “Crawl like a baby”.
- She talks about things that happened when she wasn’t verbal, like pooping in the diaper. Here are two other examples: She points to the fireplace in my new house and says, “Fireplace. Don.” Don is her uncle who last Christmas was in charge of building fires in the fireplace in our vacation home in Utah. Grace was 19 months old then. And last summer, when she was 15 months old, her dad twisted his ankle in the park with Grace in his arms. They both fell to the ground and her dad managed to land Grace safely while he writhed in pain. She now points to her dad’s ankle and says things like, “Ankle. Owie,” and gives her dad a hug.
- When it’s nap or bedtime, Grace enjoys being cradled like a baby. When I hold her in my arms and sing to her the way I did when she was an infant, she stares intently at my face with an expression I find hard to describe. But it’s the same look her mother wore when I held her in my arms in the hours after she was born. My newborn daughter stared intently at my face as I cooed and sang softly to her and I remember wondering at the time if she was thinking, “So that’s where that sound was coming from!”
So what’s going on here? If it’s what it appears, then Grace has distinct memories of being an infant. And these are fond memories for her. She enjoys remembering the time when she was a helpless baby who was loved and cared for by her family. Now that she has language, she seems to be sharing her memories with us.
I’m a bit blown away to think that an infant could be conscious of what is happening to her, conscious enough to form memories about it. Even stranger, was my newborn daughter remembering the sound of my voice reaching her ears in the womb? As I listen to Grace remembering, I wonder if we lose something marvelous as we move from womb to infancy to our toddler years. Perhaps as our abilities to move, speak, and act for ourselves improve with experience, we need to be able to draw on our memories of being loved and cared for in a safer, less ambiguous time.
Grace is reminding us that children are capable of as rich an inner life as any adult. She’s allowing us to glimpse that her growing independence rides on an undercurrent of nostalgia for a simpler time. Hey, it’s not all wine and roses when you’re a toddler. Figuring out how to behave properly, how not to mess up or disappoint or annoy or aggravate the jumpy cadre of unpredictable adults that surround you is a high risk game of trial and error. Grace has learned to say “Sorry” when she suspects she may have done something wrong. When I respond, “It’s okay, Grace,” maybe she believes me because she can remember a time when it was.