Week 157: Science, Birthday, and Smiles

I’ve mentioned before how Sam picks up slightly distasteful media obsessions when visiting Grandma and Grandpa. Erstwhile holdouts from the 20th century that they are, they don’t own a DVD player and thus Sam’s TV time is limited to whatever battered VHS tapes the public library had to offer that week. Last week she came back babbling about bears. Bears that care. Care Bears! Sam can identify John Stewart and all the cast of The Simpsons (her favorite is Otto the bus driver for some odd reason I’d rather not contemplate) on sight, but this spong-like property of her brain also means that she spent several days recounting the saccharine sweet adventures of a bunch of stuffed animals that Darwin would have pegged as extinct several generations ago. If there’s any consolation, though, it’s that Sam says her favorite Care Bear is Grumpy Bear.

Still, while at home Sam currently has an obsession that’s much more agreeable to my sensibilities: Curious George. If given a choice between watching an episode of Curious George and doing just about any other activity, Sam will go for the former. Unless it’s between watching George and eating cake, in which case she’d probably try to negotiate eating cake while sitting in front of the TV and watching Curious George. Seriously, her interest can rightly be called a mania.

But I don’t really mind, because the show is great. What I like abuot it is that George, a very curious little monkey (only he doesn’t have a tail, so he’s probably some kind of midget ape), explores the world around him with the intent of learning everything he can about how it operates. In one episode, for example, George breaks a friend’s toy boat. Wanting to build a replacement, George sets out to examine all the other boats he can, noting their properties and behaviors so that he can attempt to reconstruct a working watercraft. So in other words, he observes the word around him, formulates theories about how things work, makes controlled observations to test the theories, revises the theories in light of the information he gathers, and then repeats the process until the theory and data synch up.

In other words, George follows the scientific method. He’s a scientist. The only thing that’s missing is sharing his findings so they can be repeated and expanded on by other scientists, but I think we can cut the little guy a break on that one. He’s a monkey and the academic publishing world has a severe and ugly bias towards non humans. Anyway, I think that’s why kids like George –they’re little scientists too. It’s a very natural way of looking at the world that we eventually discard or at least compartmentalize for the most part when we grow up.

I love watching Sam try to make sense out of something that’s new to her, but mundane to us, like masking tape or magnets or the pilot light on our hot water heater. She’ll get engrossed and engage in repeated trials of experimentation until understands what it is she’s dealing with and can predict what will happen under various circumstances. I think the best adult minds –the brightest and most likely to contribute to the world– are those who never lose this childish penchant for science.

Of course, maybe I should be glad that Sam tempers her love of Curious George’s persuit of knowledge with the empathy of the Care Bears. Otherwise I may find her some day building a doomsday device in her secret volcano lair. Or maybe a weather machine. Who knows?

Oh, I guess I should also mention at some point that Sam had her 3rd birthday this week and we celebrated with a small party of family and her godfather. Sam absolutely raked in the loot, and at first it appeared that the most favored gift was a Big Sister Dora doll that Sam franticly insisted that I free from her cardboard and plastic prison, but what eventually took the cake was something that she …took from the cake: a little plastic Lightning McQueen car. So odd. But aside from that, she seemed to enjoy just about everything.

Sam did, of course, have to share some of the lime light with her sister Mandy. I wish I had more to report on her, but really she’s still not doing much except growing and all the other usual baby stuff. She has, I’m happy to report, started to smile at me, a fact that fills me with much glee. It may still be gas most of the time, but sometimes I can get her to imitate me if I grin at her first. It’s amazing how babies –already cute beings by nature– magnify their innate cuteness just by smiling. It’s neat.

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