Baby’s First Steps: Why Running on Four Legs Beats Running on Two

Last Thursday, inside a playpen, I sat next to my 11-month-old grandson, in his diaper and flannel top, as he pulled himself up from a sitting position to his full height, let go of the playpen slat and just stood there, unsteadily, for the first time, standing on his two feet all by himself. There were four adults in the room when he did this, one other inside the playpen and two outside, and we all began clapping and cheering him on.

“One, two, three, four…” I counted.

The boy, Abraham, struggled unsteadily, but he kept his balance. He smiled at us. He was as excited as we were. He was STANDING!

“Eighteen, 19, oh my god, 20, 21…”

And then plop! He sat back down on his diaper and he giggled.

It had begun. Another human, having figured out that, although this had not been easy, it would be better to stand on two rather than on four. On two, he could wave his arms around, steady himself, reach out and get things, fend off what he didn’t want, and he was up there, only a few square inches of person touching the earth, and the rest ready for anything else.

Well, it got me thinking, watching this, that maybe being on two is NOT better than four. Maybe in 1,000 years, when other creatures have evolved, they will look back at this and consider that this was just one of those dead-end evolutionary things that got life on earth in trouble. It was wrong for their spines. Their organs inside flopped down one upon the other. Not good. They were susceptible to slipped disks, osteoporosis, stomach trouble, broken hips, flat feet and bad knees. Can you imagine?

Being on four has a lot going for it. First of all, there’s no issue of balance at all. It’s steady as a rock. And it’s fast. Let me ask you this—is there any mammal that is approximately our size that can’t run off to get away from us whenever it wants? You might think you have complete control of your dog. But even the dog knows, as well as you do, that as far as running off, it’s all in the mind. Any time a dog wants to—if he’s not constrained by a leash—he’s out of there, gone, over the dune and into the field. And a human on two feet is helpless to catch him.

Humans on two feet have two gears—walk or run. And run is not that fast. (I discount skip, which is a joke.)

Dogs have at least four gears—walk, trot, lope and gallop. Almost all mammals have that many gears. Some have even more. Horses have walk, trot, pace, cantor and gallop. They can go 20 miles an hour. Deer bound off. Even large, fat mammals can run faster than we can, when they make the effort. You can’t outrun a charging elephant. Even cows, when they wish to make the effort, can run faster than you can. Even small mammals can outrun humans. Try to catch a squirrel. Just see if you can run faster than a raccoon. You can’t.

Which is why, when you come down to it, it became necessary for humans to overcome their disability by inventing cars to catch up with other animals, and guns, so they can shoot them after they catch up with them. But cars pollute the air and screw up the planet. And guns have caused unimaginable pain and suffering to not only animals but humans.

We have certainly gotten ourselves into a world of trouble, fidgeting around making things with our former two front legs.

This can’t go on.

I’m getting down in the playpen on all fours, and if this kid with a diaper knows what’s good for him, he will come down here with me and stay down.

BACK TO Dan Rattiner's Stories