COLM O'REGAN: The pivotal moment a baby learns to crawl and haul

Set a baby down and within seconds she’ll be brandishing a previously unseen medieval mace in one hand and a gin-trap in the other, writes Colm O’Regan.

There is huffing and puffing and certain type of grunt. If the grunt came from an adult it would be the grunt of someone struggling with some effing bags and muttering “would one of ye get off yere backsides and give us a lift with these or do I have to do everything myself around here”.

But it’s not an adult. It’s our second baby hauling herself up from the floor into a standing position. For the second time in our lives, we witness this pivotal moment. All has changed and changed utterly and a terrible beauty has born. Thus Spake Zarathustra is playing. The monkey from 2001: A Space Odyssey is banging on the ground with a tapir’s shin-bone and thinking “I’m on the pig’s back now”.

The advent of crawling and hauling is welcome in the same way that any technological advance is welcome. There are benefits but what of the unforeseen dangers? Well whatever the dangers are, she’ll find them. I am still in awe of a crawler’s ability to seek out hazard in the most innocuous situation. You could scour a room for peril, be satisfied it was safe, then set a baby down in the middle of it and within seconds she’d be brandishing a previously unseen medieval mace in one hand and a gin-trap in the other, ready to eat both. Any army could employ her in urban warfare. Whichever direction she wants to move in, that’s where the fella with the IED is hiding.

It’s fascinating watching someone acquire new transferrable marketable skills on a monthly basis. She is not doing any Fetac course, no exam. Just day-in, day-out hands on practice. I think about the imperative for learning the skill. She’s not adding standing, and eventually walking, to her CV in order to get a sweet tax-free place in a compound in Dubai, teaching the children of millionaires the tiniest smidge of personal responsibility. She’s not doing it because she feels a bit stale in the current role and wants to be outside her comfort zone.

She’s doing it for pure survival. I must stress that we haven’t told her that she’s out of the nest in a few months, and we’re going to send her out into the rocky landscape like David Attenborough’s baby iguana. And that she’s going to need all her limbs about her to escape predators. No I can promise her it will be a good while yet before we make her run the gauntlet of the racer snake.

She doesn’t seem stressed about her future. But it feels to me that somewhere in her DNA there is a code that says: Don’t trust him. He’s barely competent. Just look at him. And she’s looking at me when I’m doing something stupid like putting both of her legs into the left hand sleeve of a baby-gro or getting the buttons wrong on the vest or catching my trouser belt hook in a door-handle.

Imagine that, though — survival being an imperative to learn. Imagine if learning Irish was necessary because one day you might need it to get away from marauders.

How quickly would you pick up the tuiseal ginideach then? You wouldn’t be writing tiresome rehashed ‘provocative’ articles in the paper about ‘What’s The Point Of Irish And It Should Be Scrapped’. You’d haul learn the 140 declensions and shut the hell up about it. Because there would come a time when you’d need to know that an abstract noun ending in ‘e’ or ‘i’ was f4 and the genitive plural was the same as the nominative plural (eclipsed) or else you’d be for the chop.

(I don’t know how this dystopic nightmare would come about, unless they bring back the Christian Brothers, but humour me for now.)

Of course, I’m guessing all of this. Maybe babies think it’s all going to be fine and are purely learning to walk for the wheeze of it.

But no one grunts like that for a wheeze.


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