Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The right fork

I'm a big reader, a devourer of books. I'm a fiction junkie, and an avid reader of the scientific literature in my field. That is what scientists do. If we want to know more about a subject, we do a literature search, and read all the papers. When I got a dog, I read every dog training and dog psychology books I could get my hands on. So it is not surprising that as a parent I like to read books about child development. I prefer the books that try to give insight into how a child's mind develops, and teach the reader how to apply that knowledge to helping them grow into the world.

I have tried to put the strategies I have learned into practice; for example explaining why certain behaviours are off limits and offering alternatives that are acceptable. I felt my reading had given me helpful tools, but last night I had a small epiphany. It was an ordinary moment, but for a second I felt the world as my daughter feels it. And I realized what my daughter knows already, that it is really hard being two.

Geekygirl and I were eating dinner. Since Mondays is now my pilates class night, GG, GB and I eat together before GD gets home. She had a toddler knife and fork to eat her ravioli, and was doing a great job of forking the ravioli to her mouth, when she hesitated, lowered her fork, looked uncertainly at it, and asked me

"Does this go in my mouth?".
"Yes", I replied, "your fork is for putting your food in your mouth".
"And my knife does not go in my mouth?" she continued.
"That's right", I said.
She then recited a little mantra "Knives are not for eating with, Knives can be dangerous, forks are for eating with".

And having reassured herself that she was using the correct cutlery she carried on with dinner.

This little exchange illuminated to me just how hard it is to be a toddler, how much information they have to absorb, and how easy it is for us to forget that they are still so new in the world, and their worlds are full of arbitrary rules. She had simply forgotten whether it was the knife or the fork she was supposed to put in her mouth. And really, it isn't entirely obvious, given that her toddler fork is quite sharp, and her knife very blunt. One is not obviously more dangerous than the other.

I made a mental tally of all the things Geekygirl has learned in the past couple of months; how to dress herself, and even make sure the label goes at the back, how to pee on the potty, how to feed her brother without gagging him with the spoon and making him cry, how to put together puzzles with lots of pieces, how to count to ten, how to draw a face, and so many many more things. Compare that to how many new skills we adults could master in two months. I still don't know what half the buttons on my new camera do. And if I'm forced to 'upgrade' to new software for my various work applications it takes me at least two months to become competent, and I get quite frustrated in the process too.

Every moment of every day our toddlers are figuring out the world. It must be like the first week in a new job every single day. I'm going to hold onto this feeling through the tantrums and tears of frustration.

I always believed the experts who said that consistency is important, but I understand it better now that I try to see the world through my child's eyes. Many things in her world are uncertain, so Geekygirl clings on to the rules we provide; the fork is for eating, the knife isn't, the cat tree is not for climbing, but the climbing frame is. In little soundbites like this, she learns how to negotiate the world. She is amazing!

And hopefully, by the time she is awarded her Nobel prize (Peace, preferably, but we'll settle for Medicine, Chemistry or Literature), she will have mastered the vagaries of cutlery selection and will not eat her dessert with her salad fork at the acceptance dinner!

1 comment:

Jenny Henny said...

What an eloquent reminder! They are learning so much, at such a rapid pace. It is hard to remember though, when they are taking FOREVER to get dressed in the morning and you are running 15 minutes behind! But thanks for that perspective.

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