By Gail Nott

Early Childhood Development


I have often wondered how I managed to develop past early childhood without pre-nursery, nursery, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and most importantly, an au pair. My first caregiver was a very high, dark mahogany, ornately carved bed, with an enormous feather-ticked mattress. Each morning, before sun-up, my mother would deposit me in the middle of the great bed on her way to work. Development of motor skills began with learning not to roll to escape the great crevasse of starched sheets and poking feathers. Body weight did not move mass. On hands and knees, I scaled the snows of white linen to reach the edge. I was slow to develop logical thinking and frequently fell head first to the cold linoleum floor. My freedom, though hard fought, was not without reward. Sensory stimulation was heightened by the ever present smells of oil coal lamps, kerosene stoves, sauerkraut, and sounds of Wagner from the old hand cranked Victrola.

The keeper of the “great bed” was Grandma Miller, a 70 year old, German woman. Daily, she was attired in a huge butcher’s apron covering a long, black dress. Flesh colored cotton hose lay like puddles atop her stout black shoes. The waist length braid of silver hair was wound tightly into a bun at the nape of her neck. This redundancy delayed my visual development. Upon descending from the “great bed” on my head, Grandma Miller would enter the room, put her hands on her ample hips and say “Oye”. In time, I began to respond to the name “Oye”.

Books have been written about toilet training; my grandfather never read them. With two granddaughters under each arm, he walked a distance from the main house toward a rather unimpressive small wooden building. We were deposited inside, two at a time, and told to hurry. Questioningly, we would look at each other, “Hurry and do what?” Visual skills were heightened as we surveyed this tiny room; it was dark, certainly pungent, spiders hanging from the ceiling and why anyone would read the Sears catalogue hanging from the hook on the wall was beyond comprehension.

We clung together as we discovered two gaping abyss. A booming voice rang out “Hurry and do your business.” Trust was the lesson of the day. My cousin helped me climb to the space between the two black holes, pull down my shorts and held my arms to insure that I wouldn’t disappear like Alice down the rabbit hole. Naturally, I reciprocated.

There were 24 grandchildren and on any given Saturday night, my grandparents would baby-sit eight or ten of us. We had to be bathed, fed and ready for bed. My mother and aunts believed in the philosophy “you will grow into it.” Flannel nightgowns dragged the floor by a yard. By age 12, I still had the same blue and pink-stripped gown.

The house had one great pot bellied stove in the parlor. There was tire in its belly, but the heat didn’t spread. After being forced to eat homemade molasses cookies, we were placed four or five to a bed, horizontally. All flannel nightgowns were tied in a knot below our feet. Practical, it kept our feet warm and insured that we could not escape and fall down the long, unlit staircase. We were entombed by two or three heavy, patch work quilts. We resembled ballpark franks in shrink- wrap. This, I believe, encouraged socialization skills.

Armageddon occurred when one of us had to use the porcelain pot. Teamwork was called for. We all pushed the quilts toward the edge of the bed. Nightgowns had to be unknotted. The biggest and bravest among us had to peer under the bed to insure there were no monsters and locate the pot. We gasped in unison as warm cherub cheeks touched the cold porcelain rim. Manual dexterity was called for when sliding the pot back under the bed. Hitting the edge of a raised floorboard meant disaster.

Decision-making developed at Myers General Store in front of the massive candy case. I had worked hard to earn the two cents from weeding the garden. Miss Edna, the sales clerk, knew all about childhood development. Even as I covered the glass case with smudges from my nose and fingers, she never hurried me. Clearly, the hard sugar dots on the strip of paper were the best buy for my money.

All the skills I learned as a young child are still with me. I no longer get out of bed head- first nor do I answer to the name “Oye”. When I use a bathroom, I brace my hands against the wall to guarantee I won’t “free fall”. I still hate putting my cherub cheeks on a cold seat. I buy all my nightgowns too large and I peruse the candy racks at all check-out counters and rattle the boxes to determine which has the most Good & Plenty.

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