My baby niece finds everything enthralling about her physical environment. Ayeyi is the nine-month-old bundle of joy gifted to my family after my sister’s initial miscarriage. She is the blessing that came to soften our hearts after the heavy moments of loss passed – hence the name “Ayeyi”1.
Nana Akua Ayeyi Barnes, as yet, tops my list of most fascinating personages: her sense of wonder, the brilliance in her eyes, her affection for the natural and built environment confounds me. If you thought of babies, when growing up, as infinitely inquisitive about their new world this little girl takes it a little too seriously. Waking up in the morning is an event she absolutely relishes. She has yet to realize she cannot be perpetually parked in the state of consciousness required to interact with her physical environment as she would want. Putting her to sleep is the toughest task anyone can endeavor (her mother inclusive). Her little fists rubbing incessantly on her eyes and nose indicates she requires rest (much against her will); she takes a bit and resumes her hyperactive state all over again. It is inspiring for me, as an artist, to observe her through her processes; the uninhibited passion and will for life sometimes loses its place with me.
This wide-eyed, curly-haired girl is very expressive. She has an opinion on any and every issue she encounters and makes a habit of voicing her position. The rest of us are left stupid and incapable of deciphering her vociferous expressions when she lets out her word strings characterized by “Taa-taaa-taaa-taa-taa-taa-taaa” in combos – varying the intensity with her tone… She will move her body to any rhythm — mindless forward jolting motions to any perceptible sound – this could either be to proper musical sounds or just a random coming together of different voices. The sound of silence sometimes serves as even more motivation for these bursts of excitement accompanied by gestural handclaps. She lets fly a wide grin, flashing her pair of milk teeth, when she’s excited accompanied with sporadic outbursts of laughter. She cannot yet walk but grows in ever-increasing vitality for this ability when she gets on all fours (hands and feet) on the various floors which ground her. She is literally drawn to and interested in every single event which happens around her and lets any erect object or surface act as a crutch to aid her achieve the upright stance.
Author and Apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias said once that the sense of wonder is indispensable to finding meaning in life and children abound in this ethic. Of course a child might have an unformed worldview at this stage of their development but the wonderment they exude certainly affords them the joy they find in being part of this life – something which does not come as a given to adults who often lose this with experience. G.K Chesterton, the early twentieth century philosopher, in his compelling book Orthodoxy wittily articulates the condition of infancy brilliantly when he writes “Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary”2. Ayeyi seems convinced of the infinite gratification derived from her everyday experience of unchanging objects and events – at least from my perspective. When I give her my necklace with the cassette pendant* – even if this had happened exactly the same way ten minutes earlier – she inspects it as keenly as she would an entirely new discovery and then proceeds to put it in her mouth as if to scientifically evaluate and/or verify its status or condition with the tried and tested medium – saliva… It works every time. Mr. Chesterton further commenting on the bliss of infancy dares a relation in similitude to the very character of a transcendent point of reference—our Father. He makes a starkly illuminating conjecture when he writes:
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we. 3
Here, Chesterton is able to assert a relationship between our state of infancy and will to survive—which creates a better posture with which to face the drudgery associated with the monotonous events of life— as that pure state of existence inherited from our creator but which we lose at a point in our development because we fail to find magic in repetition and the mundane. It only becomes mundane when we lose interest and think it irrelevant. A scene from one of my favorite animation films — Kung Fu Panda – perhaps illustrates this best: nearly halfway through the film in the moment when Po (Jack Black), The Fat Panda, was in conversation with Master Oogway (Randal Duk Kim)— the wise old tortoise who’d always believed in him as the Dragon Warrior— was deflated of any confidence in self, Oogway said to him “You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called “present”.” The bulbous Panda’s eyes suddenly grew wide and a moment of epiphany, consequently, seemed to have been inspired. Let me introduce a counter argument with another work on the infantile condition: this time from the book Born Liberal, Raised Right: How to Rescue America from Moral Decline. The author writes:
Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it: his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncle’s watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He’s dirty; he has no morals, no knowledge, no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children but all children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given free rein to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist.4
According to the book, this was an observation presented by the Minnesota Crime Commission at the end of its research into criminal tendencies in 1926. No doubt these poignant and scathing words describe another strand to the genial and lovable condition of childhood. They are irresponsible and compulsive at gratifying their desires that it would be an unlivable world should every baby grow up as they were originally. Moral discipline becomes imperative to a child’s upbringing and parents are then tasked with the arduous job of ensuring this. I look at my beautiful niece exude vitality and exuberance and so much life and think how, through this veil of impassioned will to live, to survive, my sister would also have to administer some dosage of checks and balances. It will come to a point when Ayeyi will learn that not everything she craves must be acquired: to put it clearly, not every proclivity or desire must be satisfied merely because it is desired; the expression of it certainly does not justify our every disposition.
But for now, in this moment, I’ll grant her the satisfaction of her enthrallment: the thrill of life. I’ll let her have it all since there is absolutely nothing I can say to a selfish little savage with no sense of morals, or knowledge. As I stand over her she lifts her countenance to meet mine; we lock gazes for a couple of seconds. My heart wells with love as she smiles gratefully. I feel the weight to share in the responsibility of ensuring she acquires a good skill set to be able to coexist with others in her natural environment. It’ll come to haunt me too if my little niece grows up with all of her infantile characteristics/demeanor intact with no reformations. This will be the precise point at which we would all have failed her…
1. Ayeyi in Twi means “to offer praises”.
2. see Orthodoxy, G.K Chesterton, pp. 31, (Electronic Copyright) EWTN, Irondale , AL 35210 (www.ewtn.com)
3. see Orthodoxy, G.K Chesterton, pp. 42 4.
see link: http://books.google.com.gh/books?id=HGTF128jQJoC&pg=PA21&lpg=PA21&dq=every+child+is+born+a+liberal+born+liberal+raised+right&source=bl&ots=J9IzWSZuQR&sig=nGyZfEnGQGbbh4PfaQR8gZCU42A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=BpnZUo6_KdKzsAS36oHIDQ&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=every%20child%20is%20born%20a%20liberal%20born%20liberal%20raised%20right&f=false