Intuitive Logic in the Very Young Scholar; or A Barleycorn of a Different Sort than the One the Chickens Eat
Helen is twenty months old. Her first word was ‘cat.’ Her first grammatically correct sentence was, “Cats jump,” followed shortly by, “Cats eat cat food.” She knows that she herself is not a cat, mostly because she can’t yet jump, but she does not know that a cat is not the same thing as a human. That there are different realms of aliveness. As all young humans do, she operates almost solely by intuitive logic, but not consistent intuitive logic. Therefore, just because the last time she tipped her cup over the edge of the table the milk spilled and her mother made a high pitched warbling noise, doesn’t mean the same thing will happen in the same order if she tips her cup over the edge of the table again. Just because this morning she did not wake up with whiskers and a tail, doesn’t mean tomorrow her fate will be so circumscribed. I do not know how she thinks of herself as a being in the world. I imagine it must be something like Thumbelina. Very small, hampered by the surreal in the form of the every-day (although I hope not by marriage-minded toads, at least not yet). At night, I tell her the story of herself, what happened to her and around her and by her and because of her on that very day which is the only one like it there will ever be. I am not writing these stories, only narrating them based on what seemed to mean the most to her, on what she thought to tell me about in the words she knows and the ones I don’t. Here is the one I told her tonight:
Today there was the sun through the window.
The black bird on the curtain eats a red fruit.
Today we went outside.
Outside there is a yellow flower that is as tall as Helen.
Bees can fly and so can birds and so do airplanes, but they do it differently.
Today we ate cheese for lunch and afterward we took a nap together, you and I.
The black bird was still on the curtain when we woke up.
Outside again, we saw a snake!
A snake is all neck, a long, black neck.
It has been light for a long time and now it is getting dark.
We have been awake for a long time and now the cat is asleep at the foot of the bed.
I breathe on you, you breathe on me.
We are not the same person anymore, but we used to be.
It’s true that cats eat cat food.
Today we were warm and happy.
Tomorrow will come again when you open your eyes.