Rodney Hide: The wonder of human evolution dawns on Dad

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Rodney Hide with his wife Louise, daughter Liberty and new born baby girl Grace at Wellington Hospital. Photo / Mark Coote
Rodney Hide with his wife Louise, daughter Liberty and new born baby girl Grace at Wellington Hospital. Photo / Mark Coote

I didn't know it was possible to drive this slow. I crept home from the hospital at 30km/h, both hands tightly gripping the wheel, my eyes fixed on the road.

I told Lou not to talk. I was concentrating on driving. We had the most precious cargo on board. Newborn babies seem so fragile.

I had dressed her fearing her arms and legs might snap off. I am trying to think back 17 months to when Liberty was this small. I can't. Now dressing Liberty is a tussle.

New arrival Grace was 3.8kg. There are babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit under half-a-kilo. Compared to them, Grace is a monster.

The doctors have ruled out reflux. They put a dye into her urinary system and it didn't wash back. They have tested her blood and determined her kidneys are working fine.

But Grace's kidneys are still enlarged. The doctor explains that can just happen. Saggy membranes, he says. They will keep a close eye on her and her kidneys should naturally just tighten up. Looking at little Grace you wouldn't think anything was the matter. Perhaps these days we can see more of what is going on inside than is good for us.

It seemed awfully windy in the carpark. I was shielding this precious wee thing from the wind. She appeared small and fragile in the hospital. And now we are out in the elements.

The damn car seats are the bane of my life. I have read the manuals, followed the instructions on YouTube and have sought help from Plunket. Still I struggle. Every seat and car is different. I think they have been cunningly invented by the Zero Population Growth people. But this time around I am practised. She's in.

The car starts fine. It hasn't missed a beat since we were rushing to the hospital. That's the only time it has ever died. I wonder if machines can sense our vulnerability.

Now all the girls are home. Louise and Grace sit in the sun on the new veranda. At 100 years old, it had become lopsided and wobbly. It's now straight and solid.

Liberty is loving her little sister. Plus, I get more time with her. My secret mission is to make her Dad's girl. Babies depend on Mum. But toddlers enjoy Dad's rough and tumble.

We do the errands together and always stop at the park and now she kicks the ball around.

We marvel at the birth of a baby but all animals manage that. What is uniquely human is Liberty learning to talk. She knows her little sister is called "Gwace" and she can understand complex sentences. No other animal has anything remotely resembling human language.

Gelada baboons have 22 different kinds of call and gorillas 30 gestures - but that's it. There's no syntax. It's only humans who have the ability to put their thoughts into words.

Children learn languages easily. It's instinctive.

The great linguist Noam Chomsky proposed that there must be a Universal Grammar machine hard-wired into our brains and now scientists are zeroing in on the actual genes that make for language.

Pidgins are limited languages that develop among two populations who have no language in common. Fascinatingly, pidgin children develop their parents' pidgin into a fully fledged language with grammatical rules known as Creole. Chomsky's Universal Grammar machine kicks in. It's an extraordinary thing.

Language with grammar is relatively new to the world. The rough stone tools made by humans beginning two million years ago are just chipped rock. Not until the Upper Paleolithic period did humans precisely shape tools and differentiate them for different tasks. That's just 50,000 years ago.

Archaeologists suggest the production of these tools dates the origin of fully articulate modern language.

Language is perhaps just 50,000 years old.

Here's little Liberty learning to speak all on her own like millions before her. It's amazing, it's uniquely human.

Of course, language brought problems. With it came politics. And lying, which may advantage the individual but is destructive to social life.

With language came religion. Religion set a higher accountability for truth-telling and those tribes and societies that had religion thrived and prospered while those that didn't went the way of the dodo.

It's instructive watching little Liberty. Learning language is within her. But telling the truth is something all children must be taught.

- Herald on Sunday

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