The tactile factor

Though Nico was deep in her oral stage a few weeks ago, she seems to now be entering a new touchy-feely phase. It’s the kind of phase that, were she a 60 year old man, would definitely get her sued for sexual harassment.

She likes to pat things.

Me, Marta, pillows, tree bark, Finn’s eyeball, my dad’s beard, a banana, the kitchen table, a stranger’s boob.

It is a sweet sort of patting. It’s almost like a grandma’s “there-there” patting. Up and down and up and down and up and down. With Finn every once and a while the patting will evolve into an excited squeezing of fur, but for the rest of us she is usually content just to pat.

At first I thought this was a way of making sure we (or it) was still there. One morning Nico was sleeping in bed with me and Marta got up to work so I put a pillow in her place on the other side of Nico. Nico then reached out and patted the pillow. She seemed reassured and fell back asleep.

But I am starting to realize that the patting is something more. It’s a way of knowing.

My parents are here and the first day they came to see Nico she sat in my dad’s lap and looked up at his full beard and began to pat. Then, like she does with Finn, she grabbed a mass of hair, just to see what it would feel like.

They say around this age that the sense of touch really begins to develop. By eight months, a baby can know an object–or person–just by its touch.* Some friends of ours were telling us that a relative of theirs built a whole tactile play station just to stimulate the sense of touch of her children. It was some sort of wooden wall with holes in it and inside those holes were different cool things to touch.

I will so do this too when I have some free time.

In the meantime, I just take Nico around to touch things. When we were taking a walk, I walk her over to trees to touch their bark. We bring her to the park and let her sit in sand, which she squeezes the same way she squeezes Finn. I was washing the dishes the other day and had her in my front carrier and so let her touch the water a bit while I was washing (I am convinced that this will teach her that washing dishes is fun and, in a few years, I can put her to work).

Watching her touch-to-know actually makes me want to do the same much more than I do on a regular basis. With books, with tree bark, with water, with coffee cups and bicycle handlebars, we tend to touch only as means to an end. Touch to hold. Touch to lift. Etc.

But I like the idea of touching to know. Or, better yet, patting to know.

I’ll just have to steer clear of strangers’ boobs.


*Nico just had her six-month birthday, by the way. She ate a banana-breastmillk cake and we sang her happy birthday in two languages.

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