Saturday, July 5, 2008

He's Got Me Trained

The Omnivore, who's just over seventeen months old, is not talking yet. He's not even saying Mama or Dada--although he has in the past; I guess it's just that he never saw the point to it, so he stopped doing it. After all, all he has to do is make a sound of the appropriate frequency and amplitude, and he gets the attention of whichever parent is around.

Now, this is a new situation for us. Both of the girls were talking, verbally communicating in sentences of a few words, by this point; and we're wondering a little about why it is that the Omnivore isn't. But we're not actually worried about this. For one thing, we know that there's a tremendous natural variation in kids regarding how early they speak, and there's nothing at all unusual about the fact that the Omnivore isn't saying much yet. If anything, the girls were extremely early in their speech (with the Pillowfight Fairy using words like "metronome" before she was two). We know some boys from church who are about the Fairy's age, who didn't speak for two years, and today are absolutely fine (although their parents were a little concerned there for a while). And we know that even late speakers can be very, very intelligent.

Furthermore, we know that the Omnivore fully understands most of what we say. We can tell him to do things, and he will either obey (if he's in the mood to do so), or he'll get this mischievous grin--and then turn around and do exactly the opposite, sometimes running away from the thing you wanted him to do. In these latter cases, it's apparent from his face and from his body language that he knows exactly what he's supposed to do, and he's just not going to do it unless you make him.

Well, I got a little sense today of my little boy's strategic thinking. He maneuvered me into doing exactly what he wanted me to do, without speaking a word.


...


Here's the setup. We'd been playing outside for a while. The Omnivore had gotten hot and sweaty, but was still going strong; he wasn't acting the least bit tired, but was climbing all over everything he could find out there, and running in the garden (where he's not supposed to go), and climbing our terrace (where he's not supposed to go), and eating sand (which he's not supposed to do), and doing anything that he could think of. I was trying to keep an eye on him, while--as we late-thirties daddies are wont to do--expending as little energy as possible. I had, after all, just mowed the lawn and turned the compost pile, so I was a little tired--much more so than the boy.

Well, at one point, the boy stopped whatever it was he was doing, went over to the big toy chest, pointed at it, looked at me, and made a grunty-noise (of the sort he does when he's using his pacifier). Obviously, he wanted something that was in the toy chest. Now, this chest is a big, heavy one, that can be used as a seat by two fully-grown adults; its lid is quite heavy. And while the kids are able to get it open, the lid can fall closed very quickly and hurt a hand stuck in there. So yes, it's generally Mommy's or Daddy's job to open and close it. So I went to the chest and opened it.

He pointed deep down inside the chest and made another grunty-noise. I looked in the general direction of where he was pointing, and after some trial and error, I found the object he was looking for: it was a little, squarish bucket with a handle. The whole thing is capable of holding maybe a pint of liquid.

This in hand, he went over onto the walkway, next to where the hose was located, and made another grunty-noise. He got a little agitated, until I finally figured it out: he wants me to put some water in his bucket! This is not an unusual request from my kids. Usually they use it to make mud, or to put grass and other weeds in it to make "stew." I figured that, hey--it's a bath night anyway, so I don't mind if my kid gets wet. So I turned on the water, and sprayed about a cup or so into the bucket.

He seemed satisfied.

I turned off the water to the hose, turned around, and:

The Omnivore was taking a big, big drink from this little bucket. It was splashing all down his front, but (of course) he didn't seem to mind.

Then, finally, I figured out what was going on: the Omnivore had been playing hard for an hour or so outside, had gotten all hot and sweaty climbing all over everything, and had gotten thirsty. Not being a talker yet, he didn't know how to ask for water. But he knew where the water was! And he knew he'd need a vessel of some kind to hold it! And he knew just where to get an appropriate vessel! All he needed was for Daddy to do a few things that he couldn't, and he'd have exactly what he wanted.

And he knew exactly how to get Daddy to do those things!

Now, I realize that we parents are supposed to be in awe of how smart our kids are. And I suspect that lots of kids do these sorts of things. Still, I have to marvel at my kid here. After all, he had to think several steps ahead. Here's his little engineering mind at work:

Problem 1: I need water. Where do I get it?
Answer 1: There's water in that hose--I've seen Daddy fill buckets before.
Problem 2: To drink, I need a cup of some kind.
Answer 2: I'll use that little purple bucket.
Problem 3: Where's the little purple bucket?
Answer 3: It's probably in that toy chest.
Problem 4: How do I get it out of the toy chest?
Answer 4: Get Daddy to do it.
Problem 5: Now that I have the bucket, I need to get the water.
Answer 5: When my sisters put their buckets over here, Daddy fills them. I'll put the bucket over here, and see what happens.

Now, the really interesting thing to my mind, is that I never would have had the chance to see this progression at work, if the Omnivore actually knew how to talk. If he'd just said, "I'm thirsty!" I would have gone and gotten his cup, and that would have been that. But because he didn't know how to say it, he had to work his way through the progression above.

This tells me a few things about my kid:
  1. I suspect he's going to be more of an Analytical than a Verbal type, like his Daddy (and to an even greater degree, like his Mommy). Now, this is just a guess on my part; he could grow to be quite a talker. And I myself can be quite a talker when I'm discussing a topic I'm familiar with. But deep down, we prefer to think quietly to ourselves. I know I write a whole lot better than I talk.
  2. It didn't occur to him to ask Daddy for a drink. My girls would have made like they wanted to go inside, and then would have pointed at their sippy cups or at the refrigerator. And the Omnivore occasionally will do this, when he's inside. But while it didn't occur to him today to ask Daddy for a drink, it did occur to him to ask Daddy to help while he was trying to get himself a drink. Does this indicate an engineer's mindset--one that is constantly looking for solutions, and (often) not noticing that other people already have an available solution? It would have been easier for him to do like his sisters would have, after all; but perhaps his mind just doesn't work that way....
  3. He's got an independent streak a mile wide. We've seen it before; now that he's found where the strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are planted in our yard we cannot keep him away from them. Given the chance, he'd feed himself. Today I saw evidence that, given the chance, he would get whatever water he needs without expecting Mommy or Daddy to do it for him. "Hey, I know what I want; why don't I just go do it without bugging them?" This is in general a very positive trait in a person; but it also poses some challenges for parents....
  4. This kid is going to be murder at a chessboard.
Okay, he's not talking yet. It appears that, so far at least, he doesn't need to.

1 comment:

Fred Farnsworth said...

He's got an independent streak a mile wide. We've seen it before; now that he's found where the strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are planted in our yard we cannot keep him away from them. Given the chance, he'd feed himself. Today I saw evidence that, given the chance, he would get whatever water he needs without expecting Mommy or Daddy to do it for him. "Hey, I know what I want; why don't I just go do it without bugging them?"