Thursday, May 17, 2012

Personalized approaches

At the moment, the little girl’s whole life seems to pretty much come down to the three T’s: talking (or at least babbling with cadence and intonations that make for a fair mimicry of actual talking), toddling (she can string together several steps in a row on her own before grabbing onto something or sitting down) and teething. Oh ye gods of tooth and claw, is she teething.

Normally her mother and I are fairly circumspect about cutting up the solid food we give the little girl into extremely small pieces; she may have a mouthful of choppers but that doesn’t mean she can be completely trusted to use them correctly and consistently. But in light of the frequent discomfort going on with her gums at any given time, we’ve made some concessions here and there, like giving her apple slices that are exactly the same size as the ones we might set in front of her big brother, because gnawing on those does seem to make her feel a little better. Of course sometimes she shoves the whole slice in her mouth in a rather point-missing way, but we stay close enough to intervene in those circumstances anyway.

This also can lead to certain misunderstandings, such as this past weekend. After my wife and I got out of The Avengers matinee we went back to our babysitting friends’ house and all had dinner together. The little girl was in a high chair right beside me and kept pointing demonstratively at my plate, which had some rotisserie chicken on it. So I broke off some tiny bits of chicken with my fingers and put them on the little girl’s tray. She was not pleased. I tried finger-feeding her the chicken and was rebuffed. So I let her be. But she kept pointing at the chicken on my plate. Slowly I came around to the nuanced difference between “I want some of that” and “I want one of those” her “dat dat dat” was intended to convey. So I went to the takeout container and got a good-sized piece of chicken breast that was both skinless and boneless and handed the whole thing to the little girl. And she proceeded to gnaw on it quite happily (it was slightly too big for her to shove the entire thing in her mouth, thankfully) and let me eat in peace.

Point being, I suppose, that my wife and I try to figure out the best ways to meet our children’s needs but they still manage to surprise us sometimes with remarkably effective ideas of their own. In the little guy’s case, his needs are pretty well met in predictable ways but he continues to show hilarious inventiveness in the realm of amusing himself (and, by extension, us). My wife is a big fan of rock-paper-scissors and the little guy has doubtless seen us utilize the game dozens of times to resolve certain questions (like whose turn it is to change a diaper). He sort of has the hang of playing r-p-s himself, which was more than enough mastery to give him the confidence to some up with his own variant on the game called star-people-bridge. The star is an open hand with five fingers waggling (or twinkling, I reckon); the people are two fingers pointing down and moving back and forth like walking legs; the bridge is thumb and pinkie extended with the other three knuckles pointing straight up. The star can shine down on either of the other two and the people can walk across the bridge, and I can hear you asking “How do any of those configurations result in one naturally defeating the other?” But this is my boy we’re talking about here, whose seminal holy text will always be the movie Cars, wherein most of the narrative is set in motion by the early occurrence of a three-way tie. So there tends not to be a lot of winning or losing in games where the little guy makes up all the rules. Which is not to say those made-up games are anything less than fascinating.

I think there’s a tendency that both my wife and myself have to harbor some concerns about how our children will relate to the world at large. We have a decent enough handle on the family angle and feel like we’re doing a better-than-middling job at creating a positive, supportive home environment – but of course that ends at the front door. And both my wife and I had experiences as youngsters, adolescenthood especially, where we went through periods of not fitting in or belonging anywhere in the scheme of things. (I know, I know, I know, the great secret of adolescence you supposedly learn as an adult is that nobody ever feels like they fit in or belong and everyone’s scared and insecure and blah blah blah – be that as it may, as a former fringe-dwelling weird kid I am hard to dissuade from the belief that there’s a wide gap between “sometimes I feel like the only person at this party who has these thoughts” and “sometimes I wish I would get invited to parties”, so assume I’m talking about the latter here.) There’s a part of me, at least, that would be pleased and relieved if our children never develop iconoclastic streaks a mile wide that essentially disqualify them from sailing along in the mainstream. But that part of me struggles mightily with another part that revels in seeing them do their own thing in their own way, utterly oblivious to what anyone else might think. I know from experience that there are potentially negative consequences there. And I know most people tend to grow out of it fairly quickly anyway. I just hope that if my kids never do outgrow it, and are forever reinventing their reality and/or freaking out the squares, that my worrying side can suck it up, keep quiet, and let it happen.

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