Thursday, May 22, 2014

Proving the negative

Have I used that title for a post before? As concepts go, it’s one I refer to a lot, and rarely because I feel like bringing it up out of left field with no relevance to situations at hand. It has any number of everyday uses. For instance:

The little guy has been in something of an argumentative mood for a while now; I can’t quite pinpoint when it started, but I know it’s been going on long enough for me to about have lost patience with it altogether. He’s basically taken it upon himself to challenge everything that comes out of my mouth, or my wife’s, particularly when it pertains to him being asked to do something that he doesn’t want to do. And on the one hand, I do credit him for taking what is a relatively mature and cogent approach, namely rather than simply refusing to do what he’s told he offers alternative suggestions. That’s some pretty advanced negotiating tactics, right? He also, cleverly, couches his own disobedience inside of questions. I say it’s time to go upstairs for the night, and he says “Why can’t I stay down here just for a few more minutes?” which flips things and puts the onus on me to prove why his proposal is not feasible. And of course usually his proposal is perfectly feasible, it’s just not what I want him to do, but I often get suckered into arguing the merits because I don’t like the thought of myself as a because-I-said-so kind of parent. It’s a burden.

OK, that example was maybe a bit dodgy. Here’s another go at it: we’re continuing to count down the days left in the school year, me, my son and my wife, all of us. It’s been a rough journey through kindergarten, giving us new opportunities to be proud of the little guy for how creative and funny and insightful he is, but also informing us that what public schools (apparently) really value are discipline and the ability to stay on task with repetitive drills. Which are not exactly the little guy’s strong suit. The fundamental question, then, is why he lacks discipline and zones out when the assignment is to write out the letters of the alphabet for the umpteenth time and ends up never getting the work done and has to sit out recess time to keep plugging desultorily away at it (true story which just about broke me and my wife’s hearts). Is he lazy? Is he ADHD? Is he just immature because he is literally only five and a half years old? His teacher had a very hard to parse attitude about this for most of the year, a strange combination of “I want to bring this to your attention so we can nip it in the bud” and “I don’t want to over-stress the kid so let’s wait and see how it goes”. So … be aware, but do nothing? Eventually we got tired of doing nothing and we’re now trying to get the school to do something, and they’ve agreed to some preliminary testing, which may well wind up being more or less a series of ruling things out (aka proving negatives). I have no scientific expertise or observational basis for it, but I suspect the truth is a combination of minor factors rather than one major culprit. So they’ll test the little guy for delayed development of fine motor control, and he will be at the low end of average. They’ll test for dysgraphia, and it won’t be a slam dunk, and they’ll test for ADHD, and that won’t be it, either. It will just be some nebulous cluster that everyone involved (parents, teachers, the little guy himself) have to figure out as they go along.

Or it might all go away as suddenly as if someone threw a switch, in a couple of years. That’s not wishful thinking, it’s a phenomena that happens often enough for me to have run across multiple references to it (or have them relayed to me by my wife). But of course, that’s a dangerous hope to hold on to if it ends up going the other way, because it would be very hard for someone to prove to me that it’s never going to happen.

Anyway … the little girl, fully embracing her appropriate three-year-old-ness, is also a bit (read: A LOT) on the ornery side these days, although she has also taken a recent interest in an almost zen-like conception of nothingness. She returned from washing her hands before dinner the other day and proceeded to inform me and my wife that “There is no stove in the bathroom.” She is absolutely correct on that, of course. Why it occurred to her that such a definitive statement on the absence of stoves between the vanity and the toilet was required, we have no clue, but she was adamant.

As for the baby, he has recently mastered shaking his head (really most of the upper half of his body) to express negative interest in something. That mastery, combined with getting the hang of pointing and really walking and climbing with great speed and skill, should pretty much preclude me calling him the baby anymore. I can only barely justify it by pointing out he will (likely) always be the baby of the family, in birth-order sense at least. Perhaps I should simply start calling him the bino (Baby In Name Only). The intent would be to rhyme not with albino (we’re still hoping that, despite their blue eyes and blond hair, the kids will have my capacity for tanning and not my wife’s easily burned alabaster complexion) but with bambino, which at least means “child” and not “baby”.

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