First Person: The Wonderful Twos

By Al Winslow
Thursday August 20, 2009 - 11:10:00 AM

By Al Winslow 


I was looking at myself. She was a little girl about 2 years old. She was at the edge of the boarding platform at the 12th Street BART station, leaning into space and gazing down the tunnel where the BART train was going to come from. 

She was alone, and I stood close enough to be able to grab her. 

But she was in control. Her hands gripped the edge of the platform. Her weight was thrown back so that if anything occurred she could automatically fall backwards into safety. 

There was no wasted motion. Likely, it was all instinct, but the instinct of an athlete. 

Once, I was an athlete, and I know the center of it—certainty about the capabilities of your body. 

Two-year-olds have long since converted the main elevator at the Downtown Berkeley Library into a playground. 

The elevator, notorious for being slow, has regular buttons but also large, round buttons near the floor. 

They’re meant to be used by people in wheelchairs, but I’ve rarely seen a person in a wheelchair in this elevator. 

Children come in and kick the large buttons. Partly, it seems, as a ritual to get the elevator going. 

One time, I was there with a child who kicked the large buttons—all of them, repeatedly—while going in circles around the elevator. 

She was two weeks short of two years old, according to her mother. Partly her actions seemed to be a ritual to get the elevator to stop and open its door. When it did, the child sprinted into the library. 

I remarked to the mother, who was still in the elevator, “They’re just exploring. They’re not trying to be bad.” 

“Yes, I know that,” she said. 

I once met a guy who had a theory about elevator behavior. He said he was in the elevator with a group of teenagers who were bouncing around. “When the doors opened, they suddenly stopped and walked calmly into the library,” he said. 

His theory is that elevators abruptly compress people and their energies into a small space. This provokes physical activity or comments about how slow the elevator is, because, basically, nobody wants to be there. 

The little girl at the edge of the BART platform looked down the tunnel until the train came rushing in and then she simply pushed herself back. She became enmeshed in a herd of commuters. 

By then we were friends of a sort and I picked her up—the way you pick up a child of that age, each hand in an armpit each thumb resting on a shoulder—and turned to find the mother. She was a few steps away and took the child. 

She had the familiar look of mothers of two-year-olds, expressing fatigue, acceptance and—I’m not a woman so I can’t really know—but something that seemed to say that the nine-month investment was worth the trouble. 

Don Miguel Ruiz, an emerging thinker, wrote, “If we see a child who is two or three ... we find a free human. These humans have big smiles on their faces and they’re having fun. They are exploring the world. They are not afraid to play. They are afraid when they are hurt, when they are hungry ... but they don’t worry. They are so loving that if they perceive they melt into love. They are not afraid to love at all.”