I used to swear I had no memories from any earlier than four years old. But, at the time of this writing the two year old in the house has been nibbling at the seams of my memory bag and like flour dust from a thinning sack I’m beginning to see daylight spill out across my past.
Teaching Finn the alphabet reminded me of also being so taught. Watching him inspect me in the bathtub, this large naked male version of his own small self, reminds me of my own father bathing while I lay watching on the linoleum of a London long ago.
I recognize the frustration screams that flow from a throat filled with as yet inadequate language, anguish that racks the body, that makes the head bang itself on a wall or a floor or a chair. And then the rituals of learning what is now acceptable, what would then be punished, these we also share, far more than I ever believed I’d remember.
The discovery of handedness is another similar matter. And the teaching of it also. We are fairly certain Finn is right-handed, as is his mother (and the majority of you). I will admit to being disappointed in this, not in him, for it is no made choice, but disappointed all the same. I am cack-handed, my mother is, her father was, it is a line of minority that we all share. But young lovely Finn transfers every crayon I place in his left hand sharply into his right before drawing or waving or throwing.
Now we are beginning to teach him left from right. As in the larger sense a parent must. Right from wrong. And it is in this way also that our better selves become engaged as a model for the child, rather than through any implicit goodness. For all the unknown tiredness and tension of 24 consecutive months of childcare, we are both better people now than we were, or would be judged so by an invisible witness privy to our every fart and burp.
And I remember now how I was taught, initially by my grandmother, left from right and right from wrong down through these amassing years. It began with woolen slipper socks and upon the left one, across the instep, was sewn some straw, in a tiny bundled sheaf, while on the right she stitched a little wool bobble.
And now as I listen, so closely through the perfectly clear acoustics of time, I can hear her calling to me as I walk along the hallway of that little Hounslow house:
Strawfoot, bobblefoot, left then right. Very good, baby, very good.
And it comes to me that this was –of course- how they taught me to walk, even before the matter of where was left and what was right. And it comes to me now, because now I remember.