Exploring the world, one index finger at a time.


My favorite part of the curriculum in social work school was anything that involved developmental theory.

I was mildly interested in Freud’s sexually-oriented theory of human development, moderately interested in Bowlby’s attachment-based model, and wildly interested in Erikson’s holistic model, which integrated physical, social, cognitive, and psychological aspects of development.

Erikson’s model was both elegant and simple, a combination of qualities that’s all too rare in academe. It made sense. His “eight stages of man,” as he called it, was so clean and sensible, and I became enamored of his work. I still reference it frequently.

Now I realize, though, that the first stages of “man” were completely abstract notions for me. At the time, I worked with adults. Though they could be like babies, they weren’t, and I didn’t have a whole lot of exposure to kids. Further, I couldn’t reach back into my own infancy to remember what my development was like.

All of this is to say, albeit in a rambling way, that one of the many pleasures of motherhood so far has been watching how this little human develops. I think about Erikson’s first stage–trust vs. mistrust–which is what we’re in now, and how it still makes sense, but on top of his theory I superimpose other theories, too. What theory explains how an infant uses her index finger to explore her world? This little wormy appendage that pokes itself into my eye, wiggles into my nose, and explores the inside of my mouth, that tries (and succeeds) to pinch?

And I’m beginning to understand my own development, too, how (and why) I rebelled against so much in social work school, including the stupid essays that asked, “Which developmental theory do you think is best? Justify your answer.” Though I loved Erikson the most, I always wrote something to the effect of “Each theory has its strengths; that’s why the “best” theory isn’t a single theory, but the concurrent consideration of all developmental frameworks.” Blah, blah, blah.

But none of it really made sense until Mariel came along.


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