It was at about thirteen months when I realized that my daughter JL was developing a sense of right and wrong. It’s not as if her mother and I have ever set her down to explain to her the virtues of Gallant and the faults of Goofus. (Highlights reference — look it up.) Our little jellybean still hasn’t quite mastered the fundamental concept of a spoon. Sure, she’ll grasp a spoon by the handle and more or less scoop a blob of food in an effort to bring it to her mouth, but the odds of it making it there are questionable. So, it would be premature of us to assume she understands the principles of ethics and morality.
Yet, JL seems to have a sense of what she should and shouldn’t do. Not that it always stops her from doing the things she shouldn’t do. My child has a strong spirit of exploration and natural curiosity, and for this I am grateful. I’m also naturally terrified. A parent cannot have their eyes on their infant every split second of either of their waking hours. And and infant — especially an infant with a strong spirit of exploration and natural curiosity — can manage do do a lot in a split second. I take a minuscule moment to look for the TV remote the kid has hidden, or ponder if that is in fact a woodchip or something else on the carpet I should pick up, and BAM! The kid has vanished from my parental peripheral vision.
My first thought is that she has managed to obtain the gift set of steak knives which I never returned, that are on the highest shelf of the linen closet, and she is systematically inserting them into the blades of the box fan that she has managed to remove the grill of. So I look over the couch, behind the door, and sprint to her room to find her calmly sitting on the floor pursuing her board books of shapes and colors. After this occurs a handful of times, and I realize she cannot get to the set of steak knives in the closet, nor remove the protective grill of the box fan, and that she has a tendency to wander off to her room only to read her books, my paranoia begins to lighten just a bit.
So, let’s say that we’re at home and I have managed to lose sight of JL. I’m not a hundred percent positive where she is exactly or what she is doing. I am relatively positive that she is not in any immediate danger. We don’t have packs of wild dingoes roaming our home, nor do we have any sinkholes that are portals to never-ending abysses, nor any open flames comparable to Burning Man. But that does not mean that I do not immediately jump to action and seek the whereabouts and whatabouts of my daughter.
I might find her in the hallway kissing herself in a mirror, or pulling the junk mail off of the cabinet in the living room, or in our bedroom just carrying one of my shoes for no apparent reason. Upon discovering where she is and what she’s doing I usually say something to her along the lines of “Hey, kiddo. What are you doing?” or “What’cha got there, jellybean?” It’s at this point that she usually immediately stops whatever she is doing, drops whatever she may be holding, and quickly start walking away from wherever she was. She knows that she’s been made — scram!
I’m not upset that JL has wandered off to kiss herself in the mirror, or tear through the junk mail, or misplace one of my shoes. But, she doesn’t know this. A wave of guilt washes over her and I can almost hear the gears of her brain try to calculate how she got into this predicament and how can she get herself out of said predicament. I’m quick to assure her that I’m not angry and that she’s not in trouble — as if my assurances make any sense to her at this age.
I’m not sure if my daughter already has a guilty conscience for acts that will meet my disapproval later in life, or if she just doesn’t want to upset her daddy — who for some reason doesn’t understand the importance of moving one of his shoes from point A to point B, but not the other. Either way, I figure that it’s good to keep her on her toes while letting her explore and questioning authority. It’s going to be my job to nurture this little seed of morality and ethics that already exists within her psyche to a strong and solid sense of right and wrong. I cannot assume that it will sprout and blossom on its own accord. And, I also must allow it to grow a bit wild — the tendrils of integrity continue to climb and the roots of virtue to hold solid ground.
Of course none of this applies when it comes to matters of the dogs’ water bowl. All bets are off as far as the allure of the seductive stainless steel saucer is concerned. The bewitching basin of aqua pura is above any law laid down by parents. For the vessel of hypnotic H2O beckons — no, demands — for the hands of the youth to be plunged beneath the surface of the calm and shallow liquid as if grasping for the elusive hilt of Excalibur itself.