It was Christmas 1961. I was teaching in a small town in Ohio where my twenty-seven third graders eagerly anticipated the great day of gifts giving.
A tree covered with tinsel and gaudy paper chains graced one corner. In another rested a manger scene produced from cardboard and poster paints by chubby, and sometimes grubby, hands. Someone had brought a doll and placed it on the straw in the cardboard box that served as the manger. It didn't matter that you could pull a string and hear the blue-eyed, golden-haired dolly say, "My name is Susie." "But Jesus was a boy baby!" one of the boys proclaimed. Nonetheless, Susie stayed.
Each day the children produced some new wonder -- strings of popcorn, hand-made trinkets, and German bells made from wallpaper samples, which we hung from the ceiling. Through it all she remained aloof, watching from afar, seemingly miles away. I wondered what would happen to this quiet child, once so happy, now so suddenly withdrawn. I hoped the festivities would appeal to her. But nothing did. We made cards and gifts for mothers and dads, for sisters and brothers, for grandparents, and for each other. At home the students made the popular fried marbles and vied with one another to bring in the prettiest ones. " You put them in a hot frying pan, Teacher. And you let them get real hot, and then you watch what happens inside. But you don't fry them too long or they break." So, as my gift to them, I made each of my students a little pouch for carrying their fried marbles. And I knew they had each made something for me: bookmarks carefully cut, colored, and sometimes pasted together; cards and special drawings; liquid embroidery doilies, hand-fringed, of course.
The day of gift-giving finally came. We oohed and aahed over our handiwork as the presents were exchanged. Through it all, she sat quietly watching. I had made a special pouch for her, red and green with white lace. I wanted very much to see her smile. She opened the package so slowly and carefully. I waited but she turned away. I had not penetrated the wall of isolation she had built around herself.
After school the children left in little groups, chattering about the great day yet to come when long-hoped-for two-wheelers and bright sleds would appear beside their trees at home. She lingered, watching them bundle up and go out the door. I sat down in a child-sized chair to catch my breath, hardly aware of what was happening, when she came to me with outstretched hands, bearing a small white box, unwrapped and slightly soiled, as though it had been held many times by unwashed, childish hands. She said nothing. "For me?" I asked with a weak smile. She said not a word, but nodded her head. I took the box and gingerly opened it. There inside, glistening green, a fried marble hung from a golden chain. Then I looked into that elderly eight-year-old face and saw the question in her dark brown eyes. In a flash I knew -- she had made it for her mother, a mother she would never see again, a mother who would never hold her or brush her hair or share a funny story, a mother who would never again hear her childish joys or sorrows. A mother who had taken her own life just three weeks before.
I held out the chain. She took it in both her hands, reached forward, and secured the simple clasp at the back of my neck. She stepped back then as if to see that all was well. I looked down at the shiny piece of glass and the tarnished golden chain, then back at the giver. I meant it when I whispered," Oh, Maria, it is so beautiful. She would have loved it." Neither of us could stop the tears. She stumbled into my arms and we wept together. And for that brief moment I became her mother, for she had given me the greatest gift of all: herself.
"The Queen and Prince Philip are delighted at the news of the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's baby."
Duke of Cambridge
"We could not be happier."
"Both my wife and I are overjoyed at the arrival of my first grandchild. It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy."
"Grandparenthood is a unique moment in anyone's life, as countless kind people have told me in recent months, so I am enormously proud and happy to be a grandfather for the first time and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing the baby in the near future."
Prime Minister David Cameron
"It is wonderful news from St Mary's Paddington, and I am sure right across the country and right across the Commonwealth people will be celebrating and wishing the royal couple well. It is an important moment in the life of our nation, but I suppose above all it is an important moment for a warm and loving couple who have got a brand new baby boy."
"It has been a remarkable few years for our Royal Family. A Royal wedding that captured peoples' hearts. That extraordinary and magnificent jubilee and now this royal birth, all from a family that have given this nation so much incredible service. And they can know that a proud nation is celebrating with a very proud and happy couple tonight."
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
"Miriam and I want to congratulate The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son. This is wonderful news which will make the whole country smile."
"The arrival of a first child is a very special time and we send our very best wishes to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - and indeed to all couples who have become proud parents on this very special day."
London Mayor Boris Johnson
"Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their new arrival."
Archbishop of York
Today we give thanks and praise to Almighty God for the arrival of the Royal baby boy. I send my warmest congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and also my prayers for them at this wonderful time."
"It is marvellous that we share in the joy and hope of a new born child, which is a great gift of our loving creator God. Katonda Yebazibwe: God be praised."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
"I think all Australians at the bottom of their hearts wish the royal bub all the best, and certainly wish the new parents all the best as well. This is a day of great joy."
"To Prince Charles and Camilla, they have the delight of being grandparents, all I can say is, this is probably one of the best experiences of your life. And I'm sure they're going to have a wonderful time with the royal baby. And her Majesty the Queen and to the Duke of Edinburgh, the special delight of a great-grandchild. So, on behalf of all Australians, we wish the family all the best at this wonderful time of celebration."
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
The arrival of the newest member of the Royal Family, a future sovereign of Canada, is a highly-anticipated moment for Canadians given the special and warm relationship that we share with our Royal Family. This new beginning reminds us of the remarkable and enduring relationship our country has enjoyed with generations of the Royal Family."
US President Barack Obama
"Michelle and I are so pleased to congratulate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the joyous occasion of the birth of their first child."
"We wish them all the happiness and blessings parenthood brings. The child enters the world at a time of promise and opportunity for our two nations."
"Given the special relationship between us, the American people are pleased to join with the people of the United Kingdom as they celebrate the birth of the young prince."
From birth, your child is a sensory sponge, taking in the world with the five senses of vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. And the quality of these experiences has a deep effect on the development of a baby's brain. But while you may feel obligated to constantly entertain your child or buy complicated toys that seemingly guarantee rich sensory experiences, experts say that simple, thoughtful, consistent interaction is all a child needs to develop his senses and mind.
Joshua Sparrow, MD, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and co-author, with parenting authority T. Berry Brazelton, of Touchpoints—Birth to Three, recommends that parents help their child discover the world through his senses "not by necessarily doing a whole lot but by following their lead. [With a] four-month old who is looking to reach, you might move the object a little closer to [him] when [he] looks like [he's] going to give up." You can also go easy on buying electronic toys with a lot of bells and whistles (and expensive price tags to boot). Experts say this kind of toy tends to be one-way interactive, with the toy "talking" at the child.
Instead, take advantage of natural opportunities to sharpen your child's senses and brain:
1. Go for a walk.
For many moms, walks are a great way to soothe a baby and a gentle way to get in shape after delivery. But they're also an excellent opportunity to help your child engage her senses. For instance, if you stop to smell the roses on your stroll, your baby will not only understand that flower's scent, but she can also touch the petals (look for thorns!), see the pretty colors, and hear your description of what you're doing.
2. Do the laundry.
It may be monotonous for you, but for your child, the laundry is a sensory adventure. "A toddler helping fold laundry fresh from the dryer is using her senses to process information, and we help them understand that information when we talk about the experiences. ‘Aren't these towels warm? Don't your PJs smell good? Feel how soft this sweater is!’" suggests Jeff Johnson, founder of the Iowa-based Explorations Early Learning, LLC and author of Babies in The Rain: Promoting Play, Exploration, and Discovery with Infants and Toddlers.
3. Make morning routines more meaningful.
Clothing or feeding your child (or having them do it on their own, depending on his age) clearly involves senses like touch, seeing, taste, and smell. But you can add a conversation to involve the sense of hearing in these everyday rituals. For instance, serve a crispy rice cereal. Have your child listen to the crackling, taste the cereal, learn the word "Pop!" and allow him to add any other comments (through expressions, sounds, or words, again, depending on his age). Ask him what color shirt he wants to wear, if he wants apple juice or milk and why, how different fabrics feel against his skin or how creamed corn tastes. Says Johnson, "That running commentary while eating, dressing, grocery shopping, driving, and doing all the mundane things that are part of daily life is the best way to help kids make sense of their senses. It also builds language skills and interpersonal bonds."
4. Put on a show.
While you don't have to entertain kids nonstop, engaging them in some parent-child musical theatre can be fun—and beneficial. Says Sparrow, "The idea is [to focus on] activities that involve this relationship with another human being as the source of the stimulation." Your voice can be more interesting to your baby than, say, the robotic tones of a mobile. "Babies' hearing is set up so they attend preferentially to sounds within the human range," says Sparrow. Plus, the visual of your improve acting just may cause them to join in. Think of your yourself as the best mobile toy ever—you can be funny, soothing, fast, slow, loud, quiet, depending on what your child's face and body language is telling you.
5. Take your time.
Even following these ideas isn't going to make your kid into a "super kid". Every child will develop at an individual rate, as long as she's not severely neglected. "The goal is not to move the kid to the next developmental stage," says Sparrow. "For sensory or motor development, don't be in a rush." (That's not to say kids can't have difficulties: Johnson says signs of possible problems include an infant's failure to track objects with his eyes by the time he's four months old, a reluctance to be cuddled, or a lack of response to your voice or to loud noises. In cases like these, see your pediatrician right away.)
6. Allow TV once in a while.
If you need some time to yourself, you won't be guilty of neglecting your child or doing any long-term harm if you sit them in front of the boob tube for half an hour. "I think it's important for parents to know that it's okay if they get a break to take care of themselves," says Sparrow. But he also urges moderation: the more time your child spends in front of Big Bird, the less time she's spending interacting with you and the rest of the world.
7. Don't overdo it.
When helping your child explore the environment, whether through walks, conversation, or the occasional toy, you'll want to avoid overwhelming him (you'll be able to tell if you are by his reactions). In order to avoid one-sided sensory overload or overstimulation, focus on natural interaction and simple toys like wooden blocks, says Johnson. "I would not waste money on a mobile. The truth is that most infant rooms are probably visually over-stimulating. We cram our homes with so much visual clutter that babies have a hard time picking out a place to focus."