Monday, June 6, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

As a stimulus-junkie, my experience last week sharing a beach house with 10 adults, 2 teens and 4 young children was a bit different than that of Iris who tends to overload on stimuli just about the time all my systems quiesce. In particular, as Iris would find solas in the quiet of our bedroom, I would find it in the midst of the chaos that followed the kids like a dust cloud following a pickup truck down a country road. From this calm and relaxed state, I made several observations that I'd like to share with you.

1. Subtlety Lost
At the age of two, children appear to miss the subtle distinction of the rhetorical question and answer it as though it where not rhetorical. Each time Luke would say to his son Jack, "OK, you ready to get going?", he would be surprised when Jack matter-of-factly replied, "No."

It would appear that, when addressing a child age two (or for that matter, a child age thirty), one would do well to express imperative statements as imperative statements.

2. Kids Know
On Friday night, fourteen of us pile into cars and drive to Barefoot Landing for dinner. The waitress plops three cartoon placemats and crayons on the table. Before you can say, "OK, boys lets...", Noah and Jack dive across the table, grab placemats and crayons, and return to their seats as if attached to them by bungie cords. Logan looks up to see the lone remaining mat and single blue crayon, turns to his mom, (my daughter Joy, whose expression is pleading, "Oh no, not here, not now!") and explodes into a tantrum of screams and tears.

Joy launches into a well rehearsed rapid-fire succession of statements ranging from consolation to bribe to promise to maxim, all to know avail. I look at Joy. I look at Logan. I stand up, lift him from his seat, and walk out the door, saying over my shoulder to Joy, "I got this."

Outside, I set Logan down and say, "Hey Logan, I brought you out here so that you can cry as long and as loudly as you want. Once you're done, we can go back inside if you like. For now, let's walk a bit so you can cry undeterred."

About the third step, Logan points and asks, "Is that a real camel, Grandpa?"

I say, "Yes. Do you want to go see it after dinner."

Logan says, "Uh, huh. I'm done crying. Can we go back inside now?"

Thirty-seconds later, Logan and I walk back into the restaurant and return to our seats. Joy asks what I did. I tell her. The next three times Logan cries, Joy stands up, picks him up and walks out the door. On the third time, Logan asks her, "Are we going to do this every time I cry?"

Joy says, "Yup."

Logan says, "OK, if I don't cry anymore, can we please stay inside?"

3. Little Sociopaths
There are different theories as to when and how kids develop "empathy", the ability to feel or experience something as another person might. Before they do, they're effectively sociopaths. That's why god makes them small to start. Until they develop empathy, child management techniques that employ morals and obligations as motivators are useless. They may appear to work when accompanied by dyer consequences, but they don't in-and-of-themselves.

When I start hearing Logan saying, "I'm sorry", just before he hits Jack, I realize that perhaps he hasn't quite got the whole empathy thing down yet. I pull Logan aside and launch into a standard explanation of why we don't hit people. From word one, Logan nods his head in agreement, emphatically (if not empathetically), every once in a while saying, "I'm sorry."

Being a relatively quick study, I abandon the speech and say, "Hey Logan, I'll make you a deal. If you don't hit Jack between now and lunch time, I'll give you a horsey back ride."

Logan's glazed-over can-we-get-done-with-this expression disappears. He smiles and says, "OK, Grandpa! I won't hit Jack."

4. Just Because They Speak Well
Jack, Noah and I stand at the top of a dune looking out over the ocean. In the distance I see a parasail towed by a powerboat and point saying, "Hey guys, look at the people flying behind the boat!"

Jack, who's two and just getting the language thing down, immediately follows my outstretched arm and locks on to the rainbow colored sail. Noah, who's four and wonderfully verbal, looks around frantically, left and right, up and down, unable to find the parasail. I place one hand on his shoulder, the other just in front of his face, and extend my hand towards the flying trio as I say, "Look Noah, it's over there."

Again, Noah's head turns like a weather vane encountering a passing stormfront. Conclusion, one can be remarkably strong on one developmental front and have completely missed steps on another.

5. Young Guys Dig Older Women
My grandson Jack is a man of action and of few words. The sounds that emanate from his larynx are often those of automobiles, crashes and explosions as he plays with his matchbox trucks. When he does talk, it's often to express dialog among the myriad characters that fill his imagination.

One night at dinner, Jack sat next to Anna a friend of my cousin Rebecca who just turned twenty. After watching her for a few minutes, Jack began telling Anna about his day. She listened politely expecting a short exposition. After about twenty minutes, Jack was still talking, telling her about the time he and his dad went to Walmart to buy his Batman doll, using different voices to reenact the various characters, and stopping to laugh after having said something that he found particularly amusing.

It's amazing how inspired men can become when in the company of a beautiful woman, even one who is ten-times his age.

Happy Monday,

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