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  • The Ghosts of Children Past December 30, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary , trackback

    children talking with mum

    Beach has spent a lazy Christmas trying to get to know his new daughter and trying to stop his two elder daughters from killing ‘baby’: ‘can I carry her up the stairs’, ‘but I thought she would like to eat a carrot’ etc etc. All this primed him for a dive into CHILDES, possibly the weirdest database that Beach has run through, and that is saying something. Other weird databases: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com CHILDES is a massive selection of conversations held between toddlers and analysts and parents. The project began back in 1984 and includes now 150 conversation corpuses held in many different languages: Beach browsed through Italian, French, Welsh, English (and briefly) Japanese. For child development specialists the result is probably earth shattering, over a hundred articles have been written using the database, apparently. However, for members of the general public it is a time portal: it recreates the strangeness of being two or three again. When Beach watches his children play he rarely remembers his own childhood, save through an effort of empathy while trying to understand why Bugs Bunny’s foot coming off should matter. But there is something about reading these small fragments of the temper tantrums of ten, twenty and, in some cases, forty years that brings the past back with a sting. Maybe it is the concentration on words with no distractions. Maybe it is the ambience. There was one episode where a child was trying to imitate Starsky and Hutsch on the television. The effect is, in any case, powerfully but not unpleasantly somnifacient, and blood pressure dropped off the chart. The closest thing to the experience is a pleasant two hours with a very small child: remembering that there are rarely pleasant two hours with very small children, because it is not easy to satisfy all a child’s needs. A flavour? Take this small conversation lifted at random from the Benjamin files.

    Benjamin: I want to go outside I do (then slowly singing) I want go outside, I want to go outside…

    Noise of pedal car being pushed and pulled by Benjamin. He can’t drag the pedal car out of the door on his own.

    Benjamin: I’m goin. can I do brumming?

    Benjamin rides in his car and makes car noises

    Mum: No Benjamin, you’re not to take that pedal car outside.

    The horrible impotence of being two! You have, to use an image employed by developmental psychologists, the emotional pitch of a Puccini Opera (everything matters, everything hurts), but you have the power of a run down battery torch. All that matters is in the gift of your parents, nannies, grandparents and elder siblings and the laws of physics, when you escape your guardians, are still more impressive. Even moving a toy car… Then there is the inconsequality of everything.

    Mum: what’s the matter ?

    Ellen: come here a minute .

    Mum: alright

    Ellen: A monster (shouts). Mum! A monster.

    Mum: A monster?

    Ellen: Yeah.

    Mum does something else.

    One reason for disbelieving in reincarnation is the horror of having to be a two-year-old again.