Did you know that what we call the leaves’ “fall colors” are actually their beautiful “true” colors? The leaves do not change to new colors in autumn, but rather return to their original colors. I learned this years ago when my oldest daughter asked why the leaves were changing color.
In order to connect (and hide my ignorance), I suggested doing some research on the internet together. We found that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration“The four primary pigments that produce color within a leaf are chlorophyll (green); Xanthophyllis (yellow); Carotenoids (orange); and anthocyanins (red and purple). During the warmer growing seasons, leaves produce chlorophyll to help plants generate energy from light. The green pigment becomes dominant and masks the other pigments. … As the days get shorter and the nights longer … the fading green gives rise to the true colors of a leaf, creating the dazzling array of orange, yellow, red and purple pigments we call fall foliage. “
Equipped with this knowledge, we observe the development of autumn colors differently every year. For our family it is a richer and more wonderful experience. I thought of this phenomenon and its relationship with parenting when reading Alexandra Horowitz’s latest book. While Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observing.
In the book, Horowitz takes 11 neighborhood walks with different experts to experience the same scenes with different eyes. The results are remarkable. Horowitz realizes: “I had become a sleepwalker on the sidewalk. What I saw and looked after was exactly what I expected ”and nothing else.
She learns from a geologist that “Limestone, a popular building material, is full of shells, remains and other traces of ancient animals. … When I took this in, my view of the road was completely different: it was no longer a passive rock; It was a lake cemetery. “She learns from a field naturalist:” Even if you don’t see any insects in front of you, even if the ground is calm and the air looks clear, they are there. “
Learn how children watch the world
Most relevant to parenting is what Horowitz learns from her 19-month-old son about the observation. For him, a walk is “an investigative exercise that begins with energy and ends when (and only when) it’s exhausted.” An infant “has no expectations, so is not excluded from experiencing something new.” The relative lack of Language enables even very young children “to feel the world in a different granularity and to take care of parts of the visual world that we are glossing over; to sounds that we have dismissed as irrelevant. “
Horowitz views a child’s language acquisition as a paradox. She recognizes that language is the key to a child’s development and navigation in the world. Hence, the language could be compared to the necessary green pigment that promotes the growth of leaves. Horowitz also complains that naming objects around a child gradually limits their ability to observe and perceive additional aspects – or what could be called the true (and masked) colors of the environment.
She notices the bittersweet beginning of language for her growing toddler: “I knew that I had not muted his theatrics long before words, enabling thoughts, but also theft of idiosyncrasies. And so our family together had created a fluent vocabulary of facial and body expressions that could be applied to a new situation. “
This poignant passage undoubtedly triggers the memories of all parents of those infant-to-toddler days when sounds were not words. One of my daughters at this age repeated the sound “ta-doo” in different tones. For weeks the family tried to understand the meaning of the sound, until one day an older cousin simply said, “Maybe it just means’ ta-doo. “Somehow that closed the debate.
Every parent also remembers entertaining phrases from their children’s early days of speaking. My older daughter once said to me, “Dad, I’m a little tall and a little short.” My younger daughter once wrote in her diary: “My father has hair on both sides of his head and nothing in the middle.” The last one burned a bit.
Improve your observation skills
Selective attention is necessary for life, but parents should try not to be too restrictive of their attention. Follow the example of very young children before language development. Try to keep an open mind that does not allow habit and expectation to become blinkers that limit understanding.
A great way to get that message across could be a family walk this fall. Slow down and inspect the area together. Marvel at everything that shows up – like the “true colors” in the trees that the pandemic cannot undo. Try to see the world with fresh, unmasked eyes.
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