Bye Bye Extraneous Elephants

I’m doing the desk research for the chapter on perception and attention in the forthcoming book, and I’m struck by how systematically kids’ spotlight of attention narrows over the years until it matches our own, and how much I’ll miss my daughter’s erratic searchlight now it’s starting to settle down. Writing the following kind of broke me:

I remember a supermarket trip with our daughter when she was about 18 months old. From her vantage point in the trolley, she pointed out everything that interested her. Distracted by the task of getting through the shopping list (and oriented solely to the shelves-that-might-have-the-things-I-need-and-for-goodness-sakes-Tesco-stop-moving-them-please!) I was doing that kind of parental echoing thing without fully listening… 

‘Storbees!’ 

‘Yes, darling, yummy strawberries.’ 

‘Oranges!’ 

‘Yes, juicy oranges!’ 

‘A elephant!’ 

‘Yes, darling, a nice, big…what?! Where?’ 

‘A elephant in the bananas!’

A picture of a small plastic toy elephant with a raised trunk and a bit of a cheeky look in its eye
Bye bye elephant – picture by Magda Ehlers

There was indeed an abandoned toy elephant in the bananas. Without the attentional shackles of a shopping list, my 18 month old’s attention could wander happily, bringing me wonders like these. 

I miss those days when everything from ‘windmills’ (wind turbines) to ‘pijishins’ (her first attempts at ‘pigeon’) and ‘bishisicles’ (bicycles) was worthy of note. As her spotlight of attention narrows, she’s more capable of navigating the adult world, and of helping me find the cornflakes, but I wonder if we’ll experience the wonder of spotting the rogue elephant in the bananas ever again.

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