My grandson Liam is three. Back in early July, 2011, I had the privilege of spending three days with Liam and my son and daughter-in-law in Boulder, Colorado. Liam was 2 years old back then.
Little children are natural-born artists and philosophers. Liam is no exception. When I hung out with Liam in those halcyon days last summer, it dawned on me that Liam's every verbal production was pregnant with a wisdom which the socialization of the young beats out of us. True artists retain that wisdom.
Liam was still sleeping in his parents' bedroom, in his own bed. He had a humidifier to maintain a good moisture level in the dry Colorado air. Until I began visiting my son and his family in that state, I never realized that Denver and Boulder are on a high plain, with nearly desert air conditions. Colorado air is dry on the high plain. The state gets something like 300 days of sunshine per year.
Liam's humidifier is a plastic penguin. The moistened air is discharged into the room through the penguin's black beak. It sat on a night table next to my son and his wife's bed.
While Liam's parents were out and I was babysitting, Liam was running around the house, and his and his parents' bedroom, in his diaper. I asked Liam, "What is penguin's name?" He thought for a moment and said, "Bob. Bob the penguin." Naturally, I was flattered. Then I asked Liam, "Is Bob the penguin a boy or girl penguin?" Again he mulled this one over, this time a bit longer. "He's just a penguin," replied the little philosopher.
I love that answer. It told me that Liam was teaching me that gender is largely a social construct, which he has not yet learned, or if he has, he has not yet internalized. Sex is a physical attribute but gender is a set of qualities, of mind, spirit, interests, dispositions which society teaches us; it is not something which naturally occurs to a child.
Liam may have the uninhibited spirit socialized out of him but until he does, it's a unique experience to hang out with him. Fortunately, given the distance between Boulder and Middletown, Liam and I are able to interract visually and orally through the magic of Skype. I hope that one day we'll be able to hang out on a regular basis, in person. There's SO much I need to learn from Liam and probably one or two things I can teach him.