Observations and arguments.

Archive for Parenting

A portrait of the toddler as a creative problem solver

Of course the key problem I need to solve creatively for myself is getting a new career.

But tonight, within the context of swirling questions about the boy’s emotional, language, and sensory development, we witnessed an act of clear ingenuity.

For a while now, the boy has enjoyed running the hallway loop while I kneel in the kitchen, juggling three beanbags. He careens gleefully around the corner and runs headlong into me. I drop the balls. We hug. He asks to do it again.

(I will note here that we intend to steer him away from encountering any actual, working jugglers, until he has become bored of this activity.)

Last night, however, he added a new variant to the game, one in which he shuts his eyes as he enters the kitchen, I suppose as a self-administered test of how he perceives distance in relation to his own velocity. Having a parent to crash into provides an excellent and dynamically adjusting safety net at the terminus of the test.

While I can respect the developmental leap he is making by conducting this experiment in the first place, I also know that it’s a really bad idea for anyone–especially a toddler–to be running with their eyes closed.

He ignored our advice to keep his eyes open, of course, so we quickly transitioned to another activity.

Tonight, however, during our contact-juggling routine, he began to experiment once again with shutting his eyes before colliding into me. This time we successfully convinced him of the importance of opening his eyes, in part by quoting Dora the Explorer: “So we can be safe!”

But by the third or fourth time around the loop following this rule, the boy was becoming bored with the activity. He was apparently dissatisfied at not having completed his experiment, but he somehow understood that shutting his eyes was no longer an option.

So he came running around the corner with his head turned 90 degrees to the side.

His eyes remained open, but he couldn’t see where he was going. He could once again run into me and the juggling balls without looking.

Mad. Genius.

I was so impressed by the ingenuity of his workaround that I let him do it a few times more.

Tomorrow night, we’ll change the rule from “Keep your eyes open.” to “Watch where you’re going.”
I am curious to see what he comes up with in response to that.

The Quoting Gene

Update: We’re currently exploring to what extent this behavior falls under the rubric of hyperlexia, an early-childhood syndrome that pretty much mimics what I write about below:

The boy doesn’t speak so much as quote from his stories.

“Stories”, in this case, being an umbrella term encompassing books, videos, and audio recordings, which he listens to on CD in his bedroom or in the car on Mommy’s or Daddy’s iPod.

As an example, when tonight at dinner he shouted enthusiastically: “Spaghetti, yummy!”–or to be honest, “Hnehi, yummy!” (his consonants remain a work in progress)–he was not simply stating his enthusiasm for the spaghetti and meatballs, but was in fact quoting from Leslie Patricelli’s Yummy Yucky board book.

(We know he was quoting because he followed his exclamation with the accompanying line from the book, “Worms, yucky!”)

Many of the boy’s stories he has access to in all three media, because the Thomas & Friends Industrial Complex develops many of its properties in all three, and also because of Scholastic’s consumer-repackaging of the video adaptations of children’s literature done for more than fifty years by Morton Schindel and his Weston Woods Studios.

This multimedia synergy is a perfect match for how his brain has been wired. It reinforces the stories through repetition (recorded or when we read to him), a process complements his own compulsion to store entire stories as rote memory. (We first identified this compulsion at the age of one and a half–before the video or audio was introduced. Even then he displayed a fierce need to convert a new/unknown book into a familiar/known book, by shouting at us to repeat the beginning of the book over. And over. And over.)

And since family and friends are impressed by his ability to recite entire stories, they are willing to forgive the fact that he remains incapable (or more precisely: unwilling) to answer a direct conversational question, with even a token nod, let alone a verbal response.

The traditional use of quotations in writing or public speaking is based on the premise that someone has expressed an idea using better words than I could come up with myself, so I’ll repeat what they said.

In one sense, language itself is based on this premise. I’m thinking of a round thing, that rolls and bounces. I heard someone else express this idea once in a way I’ll repeat now: “Ball.”

But the quoting gene in the boy’s DNA sequence is the same one found in the individual, who when reminded of a particular scene in, e.g. Raiders of the Lost Ark, does not simply mention it, or describe it, but rather recites it, at length, to demonstrate not merely the relevance of the cultural reference to the current moment, but to prove mastery of the source material, if only to one’s self.

It is the same gene that will propel him, at a point in between the ages of eleven and fifteen, to commit entire Monty Python routines to memory.

I would be tempted to turn the gene off if the option were presented, as I expect that it will cause him a great deal of trouble in the social arena, especially when it comes to dating.

My best hope for him, I suppose, is that he finds friends who also carry the gene, and some similar taste in movies, etc., with whom he can at least develop social skills within a subculture of quoting geekdom.

If it was good enough for his old man…

…is I believe how the expression goes.

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The makings of a good plan.

In a toddler’s life
(or, at least, in my toddler’s life),
pretty much any plan
that incorporates a honey graham cracker
a pretty good plan.

Uncalled for: One Was Johnny

I’ve learned that a common thread in my musical taste is a fondness for tracks in which if you stop and listen carefully to a single element–a vocal performance, a guitar riff, a backing horn track–you realize that the musician is doing something that in isolation would be completely uncalled for. Overripe. Near-ridiculous. And yet, within the overall mix, the excessiveness doesn’t stand out. And rather than detracting from the track, it somehow adds value to the overall vibe.

Today’s case in point, from the boy’s as yet limited musical collection: Charles Larkey’s stoned-funk bass line from Carole King’s “One Was Johnny,” the musical adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library story, as featured on the soundtrack to the television special Really Rosie. (Song available from iTunes.)

The boy was introduced to the four Nutshell songs from his DVD of Where the Wild Things Are, and we’ve listened to them by now hundreds of times. This morning he was working on his number puzzle, while attempting to recite “One Was Johnny” from memory. Except that each time he would get to “6” (the monkey), he would skip to the point at which the monkey steals the banana, which is from the back, descending half of the song (if you’re not familiar with the story, it counts from one to ten and back again). At this point he got a bit confused, in realizing that a) “banana” doesn’t rhyme with the previous line (“bit the dog’s tail”); and b) after “banana” comes “5”, and yet he’s holding the number 7. So we headed into the boy’s room and put the CD in the player to listen to the song again, so that we could get it straight once and for all.

Larkey was apparently also King’s bass player on Tapestry, which now I need to go back and listen to that again.

Regular Comedian, Pt 2

The boy says “cold water”.

His way of forgoing his standard drink of bathwater, and instead asking me to fill up the liquid measuring cup with water from the tap.

I comply, and offer him the nearly full cup. He tilts it towards his face and takes a sip.

He then tilts the cup back towards my face, and I decide I’m willing to play along, so I take a sip of water myself.

He is pleased by this, and he pushes the cup up higher, giving me the choice of drinking more or letting the water spill down my chest. I drink, and then tip the cup back upright in between our faces.

My resistance makes him angry. He pushes back, harder, and I gulp the water awkwardly while attempting not to fall backwards from my kneeling position.

In my cheeriest redirective tone I ask him whether he might not like to take another sip himself.

He wrests the cup from my hands, throwing it down into the bath, and begins waving his arms back and forth towards me in a monkey-like threat of physical violence.

I give him my sternest glare and remind him in no uncertain terms that there is no hitting Daddy.

He ceases his wild gesticulating and stares into my eyes. I can see that he is weighing his next action carefully.

He grins.

And the water he has been holding in his mouth pours down his chin and chest.

I collapse on the floor, howling with laughter.

I am going to pay for this.

Regular Comedian

Tonight the boy was practicing his dribble takes in the bathtub. Except that more than half the time his excitement at the hilarity of it all pushed the dribble take towards a spit take, projecting the water out several images and onto daddy’s pants.

I did not teach him how to do this.

Most nights I can maintain a straight face and a flat tone as I remind him this is behavior that is only acceptable in the bathtub. Tonight I marginally succeed at this.

Later, however, as we are struggling to get him to brush his teeth, and once we have bailed on that attempt and are encouraging him to rinse out his mouth, he sticks the toothpaste tube in his mouth and does a wide-eyed take into the mirror.

My wife and I both burst into defeated laughter.

We understand that this is not helping.

Cute Boy Report: Talking the talk

Discernible words spoken by The Boy:

Hot dog

JD and I are not self-conscious about the absence of “mama” or “dada”.

Not at all.