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Traversing of catastrophic change: final phase when baby is twenty-two to thirty months and the new baby is one to eight months

"Every step in development requires a learning from experience and traversing of a catastrophic change" (Meltzer, 1986, p. 12). The seminar has now become smaller. At times I feel that I am demand feeding the seminar. I am ready to stop the observations, but the group's interest in the new baby spurs me on. I decide to visit the family until they move away. Eric (the name I shall give the older child) is now twenty-two months and mother tells me that she doesn't want me to visit any longer. The new baby is due in ten day's time. Being startled by mother's wish for me to stop, I have the nerve to ask her, "Can I come one more time, just to say goodbye? I'm not quite prepared for this to be the last visit." Mother reluctantly agrees.

Eric at twenty-two months: When I arrive for the final visit bringing a small glass bowl for mother and father, mother's eyes fill with tears as she says, "Oh, but I don't want you to stop coming. I don't know what I was thinking when I told you to stop. Eric would miss you. You're somebody whom he knows comes to see him and he's sad already with the new baby coming". When we agree to continue the observations, mother says she is overwhelmed with so many things to do with the moving, and everything including the new baby. She kisses me on the cheek and says she wants to go and put her present in a safe place where Eric can't reach it. Eric meanwhile is saying, "Boat, where's my boat?" Mother says that she thinks he remembers that I gave him a boat for Christmas.

This memory for his past experiences enables Eric frequently to join in the discussions which mother and I are having.

Eric at twenty-two months: In hearing the word holiday, he interrupts saying "Beach, beach" and "Cuckoo, cuckoo". Mother is astonished, saying, "Do you really remember that we were at a beach and there was a cuckoo in the house in which we were staying?" He smiles, delighted that mother understands and he repeats with pleasure, "Cuckoo, cuckoo."

Mother is continuing to give meaning to his experiences. It is clearly important for Eric to be the centre of mother's attention and mine. He is beginning the struggle over conflicts about the new baby. This is indicated by his more frequent attacks on objects and relentless searches into the inside of objects. One could say that Eric might be doing this anyway at this age, but he is clearly aware of the baby inside mother.

Eric at twenty-two months: In the kitchen Eric is playing with a basketful of plums and tomatoes. He rubs them, holds them gently, squeezes them, throws them, one by one, on the floor. As he does this he says, "Tomatoes, plums, see Jeanne.” After mother picks them up and puts them back in the basket, he pats them once more and then gently drops them on the floor again. When mother scolds him, he climbs up onto the stove, onto a counter and removes corks from the spice bottles. This is forbidden territory. He looks inside the bottles, replaces the corks and looks alarmed when mother removes him from the counter. He then runs to my handbag, lifts it up, quickly puts it down, asks me for a drink. Subsequently he tries to reach a cup on the sink. Later he climbs under the glass table where we are seated. While patting my leg and giggling he calls up to us, "Hello mummy, Hello Jeanne.” He then gets out from underneath the table and begins twirling about excitedly. Shortly he runs to get a puzzle which he brings to mother saying. "Fix the puzzle, fix it mummy.”

Over the months Eric develops a capacity to bear feelings and hold experiences in his mind. He manipulates the objects in the house (the plums, the tomatoes, the corks, my handbag, the puzzle) in an exciting way, for he is endowing them with aspects of his internal world. He touches and drops the plums, then becomes concerned about the little one he has dropped out of the "basket mummy.” Out of curiosity about the contents of mother's body, the new baby inside, he investigates the cork bottles, and the space under the glass table. He's struggling with his wish to be the only one inside mother's mind, beckoning for all mother's attention, asking mother, "can she let him inside?”

Then he beseeches mother to help him put together the pieces of the puzzle with a bus and bus conductor inside. He hopes to fix the pieces together and us to make his internal objects whole and good after his attacks. He is able to fix part of the puzzle himself, feeling the pleasure of being able to "put the object back together”, but then he can't complete the task. He demands, "Fix it mummy”. He is worried, "How can I be mother's baby when this new baby sits there inside mummy and why am I not in there as well?”

Of course, my worry is, will the couple be able to fix things well enough for Eric so that he will not feel "in pieces” when mother and father welcome home the new baby and place Eric in a new nursery? My concluding remarks will show how Eric attempted to face the problem of changing from the position of being the only baby to being the "older brother”. I shall include descriptions of how Eric's parents assisted Eric in his various stages of psychological adjustment to the new baby.

 
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