Tonight I saw my almost 9-month-old niece Ellie. She is the daughter of my brother, Mark, and his wife, Gretchin. We were meeting at the AT & T store to upgrade our I-phones and she arrived in a purple coat and purple hat that her mother had just crocheted for her.
She stared out at me from among the largest set of eyes I have ever seen. I wish I could tell you the color, but they may not have made up their mind yet. They are still baby eyes and not yet set, but are wide and deep, holding pools of foreign knowledge.
It is easy to look at a child this young and think that like Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button perhaps we age backwards, losing wisdom as we go. As with my pugs, I can't be sure of what goes on beneath the surface, what this child is thinking or trying to say. Mostly she watches and observes, like maybe if she applies enough effort she will be able to record enough details to remember later what she now knows for sure.
I have never met a child, no matter how innocent they appear, that looks like a blank slate. They most certainly have their own way of thinking and communicating. Who tells them what's funny? And, yet they laugh. Who tells them what's frightening? And, yet they cry. We are as foolish to try to explain their thoughts and actions with our emotions than we are to apply them to a dog. Children this young are still their own creatures. If, like a camcorder, they record our actions to learn, than I think we may be overwriting a previous program.
Do children lose a little bit of who they are every day, becoming in chameleon-like fashion more like us? Is our subconscious world of dreams and emotions and our penchant for imagination simply the remains of a world where we all once lived? One we leave, step-by-step, behind us as we learn to talk and walk and mirror our adults?
In many ways it is harder to discern my niece's thoughts than it is my dogs because the mirror is too close. Her likeness makes me jump to too many conclusions. I think I can anticipate her needs, but then she looks and stares and nestles her face into her mother's chest and lifts her head and looks at me from behind impossibly long lashes. I deduce she is playing shy, but is she? She looks too sly, but I do not know. Like Alfie's paw brush of Waffle's face, Ellie is talking in ways I may not understand. But, I love to watch and wonder and stare into those swirling orbs while the portal is still open - before the color sets and this alien world is lost to me.