Out of the brains and hearts of babes

November afternoon. Driving down backroads alongside bare brown fields where a smattering of birds takes flight. Snatches of woods scattering scarlet and yellow leaves into the swirling wind. A glance in the rearview mirror: My kindergarten granddaughter, strapped into her carseat, looks pensively through the window.

I shall make conversation…

—You’re very quiet.

—I’m just thinking.

—About what?

—Different things.

—I see.

(pause to see if she’s going to elaborate. She doesn’t. So…)

—I have a question for you.

—What?

—The other day you said you wanted to be a scientist when you grow up.

—Yes.

I’m curious: What kind of scientist? There are so many, you know. Do you want to be a biologist, studying living things?

I want to be a nurture scientist.

A nurture scientist-? Do you mean nature, or…

No, a nurture scientist like the Jeopardy! host.

Ahhh… Mayim Bialik. You mean neuroscientist.

Yes. I want to be a neuroscientist.

—Do you know what neuroscientists do?

—They learn about how brains work.

She is five.

Full of love and wonder and confidence. These and the deep blue sky are reflected in her eyes. No limits, only infinite possibility. The faith of a child is a pure and mighty thing.

Someday I shall tell her about the hippocampi, the two little seahorses in the brain that so fascinate me, and their importance to learning, memory, and emotion, how they navigate us through the stormy seas of life.

But on this golden afternoon, as we head home where her mother and baby sister await, I just marvel at her own brain. The beginning of a brilliant neuroscientist, if that is indeed what she wants to be. The world can surely use more. Humans, know thyselves. It is a daily, moment-by-moment undertaking.

Meanwhile, as evening settles in, I Christmas-shop online for my granddaughter and discover a book by her role model, Mayim Bialik: Flash Facts: Ten Terrific Tales About Science and Technology!

I place it in the cart, thinking about Bialik’s own inspiration to pursue neuroscience, born of a love for understanding the way we think and feel and communicate. On a whim, I search for “nurture scientist.” Turns out that nurture science is a real thing: research-based therapy around the healing power of nurturing as a means of helping families cope with emotional, behavioral, and developmental difficulties.

The tugging of the tiny hippocampi on those reins between the brain and the heart.

Ever a delicate balance.

“Sketchnotes Contemplative Neuroscience with Richard Davidson at Wisdom 2.0”. ForbesOste. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

19 thoughts on “Out of the brains and hearts of babes

  1. Oh, what gifts. I want to be a nurture scientist and a neuroscientist in my “next life” ie in Heaven and if I can’t I would love it if my Kindergarten grandgirl would become interested. I am going to share this with her. I think she would “get it”. They/We don’t watch Jeopardy regularly, but I know about Mayim. I started studying brain research (in a serious way with a course or two and many books) about the connection between the brain research of that time (later ’70s) and learning/teaching. I have many great titles from then and I am sure there are so many more great ones now. I used to teach a course called something like: Discovering the Creative Writer, Artist and Thinker (might have been Teacher) in You. Courses were grad credits for teacher PD through a county-wide Unit in Penn. I loved it, sharing what I had learned and especially these two books which are still available, used I bet: Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico and Drawing on the the Right Side of the Brain (both editions of this are different and both speak to me) by Betty Edwards. So accessible on the idea of the brain’s various sections, though I think probably some of the claims are no longer supported about specific brain function, but they are not “harmful”. AND the workbook aspect of both is terrific. I attended a workshop with Gabriele Lusser Rico and she was amazing. I could go on. But your post is so powerful. Asking your granddaughter about her thinking, how terrific. And what a thinker she is. You need to publish your essays, somehow, someday, Fran. PS I got positive feedback on the course!! I still have all the information tucked away someplace and those books. Too much to learn, to write, to do, to imagine. Not enough time. (I took my Kindergartner to the local professional Nutcracker on Saturday. She adored it, I adored watching her joy.) Thank you again for your writing, Fran.

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    • Janet, so true: Too much to learn, to write, to imagine. Thank you for sharing these rich resources and for your ongoing encouragement. I love your line “I adored watching her joy” – for the grandchildren are the exponential growth of our joy. Please know how much I appreciate you and your words!

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  2. And Mayim Bialik IS a nurture scientist because she’s written a book on attachment parenting, which is nurture science at its best! I love this! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

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  3. OH how I love the way you wove this all together and the description of your beautiful granddaughter. I love your relationship! Now I’m off to Google hippocampus to learn more!

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    • Thank you, Kathleen, and as for the hippocampus: It’s a writer-symbol for me personally, this connection between the brain and seahorses, but I am also intrigued by facts like the hippocampus being smaller in people with schizophrenia. These little “horses” really do hold the reins to much mental and emotional well-being…

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  4. Such a lovely drive and lovely conversation! I love your setting, the way the wind is scattering scarlet and yellow leaves, taking to the wind – taking flight like your granddaughter’s passions and the love and ideas you share on this ride. That’s a beautiful gift for her, and such a great example of a Franna who cares and thoughtfully chooses gifts that reflect the passions of your sweet granddaughter! I have learned something new today about nurture scientists! Who would have guessed they were a thing? Leave it to a smart five year old to lead the way to new knowledge!

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    • Kim, thank you for your feedback on setting – reminds me that place takes on the role of a character in stories, driving plots, etc. We have to pay attention to place! When I am remembering a scene like this to get it on the page, I try to recreate the things that impact my thoughts at the time – the many noticings. The leaves played their part in shaping the moment; they needed to be in the scene. As to nurture scientists: Now that I am aware of them, I think about this being the heart of what teachers are – and moms, and grandmas …

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  5. Amazing that she’s already fascinated by the brain. I don’t think it had occurred to me at age 5 that I could think about or study the thing that was doing the thinking (among other things). Riding in that car at age 5, she’s already miles ahead. I wonder what she’ll say next year.

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    • We are always wondering what gems she’ll come up with next! As to her awareness of the brain: some time back I got a Merge Cube for her and one of the apps is Mr. Body. She uses my phone to make the 3D image of a little character and its organs appear. She likes clicking on them and reading about their functions – her own self-guided anatomy lessons. We’ve come a long way from those encyclopedias with multiple overlays showing organs, vessels, nerves, muscles, and skin, haven’t we?!

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