I am reading slowly The Evolving Self, a book by Robert Kegan, about the coming together of psychoanalytic theory and cognitive developmentalism. It’s heady and I’m being patient with myself, especially since the reading is deepening me and my theoretical basis for the more practical, and perhaps more intuitive, work I do.
Egan took a moment to reflect on his daughter’s development and his response thereto. I read this father’s recollection of when she was sounding out words and thought of recent experience with our firstborn, Bryce.
“Being in another person’s presence while she so honestly labors in an astonishingly intimate activity—the activity of making sense—is somehow very touching” (p. 16).
It is true in my experience as well. I was reading over words with Bryce the other week. And Dawn gave me a compliment about how I was with him, which is proof that human beings can grow!
Dawn is the better, more patient, nurturing teacher with Bryce. I’m the guy who cooks dinner while they do homework. It’s a more fitting use of our skills and temperament. Dawn with him, coaxing and instructing and illuminating, and me pulling pans and throwing together a nourishing meal. We get it done in our way.
On that particular night, I was reading with him before bed, and Dawn was feeding the new boy. I was to read two pages and then Bryce was to read a page. Little did I know that a page could take so long. I’ve since been carefully told by a teacher how to change this up, and I’ll post about that later.
Now, this boy knows his sounds, thanks to the good work we did with Riggs cards and good teaching last year at his preschool. He’s been “reading” and learning and growing all year in kindergarten. But to be honest, we’ve slipped a little.
We’ve let him be taken into the world of books he’s preferred to read rather than those slim volumes with encircled number 2 or 3 on the right hand corner. We’ve read to him. And he’s been at the work of reading, but he’s really been cheating when we haven’t supervised his reading. He’s looked at comic pictures, which, of course, is a good thing. But he hasn’t been reading.
And he forgets. A lot. He will forget a word that I rehearsed multiple times, and he’ll forget it in three minutes. Now, I have a degree in psychology. I have coursework, dusty it may be in learning and memory and other cognitive psychology courses. But those courses were not my strong areas. I did well if you count the As and honors I always got in psychology, but those As were different than the ones in the clinical/applied courses. So, when I meet with my son’s unique developmental milestones, it frustrates me.
It makes me question my competence. It reveals my anger at him and myself and it shows where my values are: in getting things quickly and in getting things done quickly. This is something he does too, at his six-year-old speed. And of course, when he rushes through something, I catch him and call him out. Even though he’s doing what I do. Even though at his age, he’s doing what I often model: going through the motions. My motions are tutored by what learning I have, and his is too. I just have more in my box than he does. We’re doing the same thing. I’m his model. It’s sobering.
So, seeing him read is an entirely destabilizing endeavor. It’s constructive. It’s good. But it’s disorienting. He’s where he “should be” if we look at him through the gauges people we don’t know have made for him. He’s on course if we take counsel in the collective wisdom of curriculum writers who tell parents what their kids ought to know when. I’m not worried about Bryce in that respect.
But I am worried about how this kid has a way of continually teaching me about me. He’s a teacher to me who exposes my hidden and implicit biases for movement and productivity and fast-gained knowledge and quick wit. Even if those things complicate the simplicity of being at one’s own, real, natural, splendid, unrushed pace.
That is the activity that makes sense. Slowing down makes you. Pacing yourself has a way of making the sense I need. It prevents me from having sense made for me. It’s the activity I need of in my life.
This is a prayer from Debbie Pearlman’s Flames to Heaven: New Psalms for Healing & Praise. It’s a wonderful collection of psalms which Pearlman translates for our use, especially around themes of healing and celebration. This is number one hundred twenty-two.
I am trying, Life-Arranger, I am trying
To live with uncertainties.
I am trying to yield control,
To listen for the calm beneath.
My task nearly done, I am trying to trust
My nurturing and modeling
Have grown a complete person
Ready to enter the next territory.
All my caring words, instructions
Repeated and reworded are no armor.
Only faith in Your kindness
Will secure each tomorrow.
Letting go my protecting hug,
Releasing my shielding body,
I relax. And then I feel You.
You alone must be the Shield about us.
Only to be whole and to be happy.
Only to be well-loved and productive.
Giving and friendly, untroubled by terrors.
Parents’ sighs rise to You.
Teach your daughter how to cook kale.
Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.
Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.
Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.
Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.
Read Sarah Koppelkam’s full article here.
If my math is correct, you’re set to become a father next month. Congratulations. There are few times in the life of a person more exciting (and nerve-racking) than the birth of your first child! As your friend and brother, I couldn’t be happier for you and the wife on this life-changing event. (it’s good to know how to use insurance terms, since in your case, the baby will be born during most open seasons—good timing!). I look forward to watching your daughter grow into the young woman she’ll become with the wisdom and guidance of her great parents.
And since I’ve been around that mountain a few times, I figured the least I could do was tell you a bit of what life is going to be like in the near term.
Basically, you’re going to miss a lot of it because of sleep deprivation. I mean, you’ll be there, but you won’t be there sometimes. Once, when #YoungPanamontana was an infant, I literally had a dream that I rolled over on her on the couch and woke up terrified that I’d killed my child, only to realize that she was upstairs asleep with her mother. Do you understand what I’m saying? I was so tired that I dreamed I was asleep, except I committed murder in my sleep WITH MY SLEEP. Which gets to where I’m going with this.
There are probably countless people who have told you to get all of your sleep now. And though you can’t, it’s one of those things that scientists should be working on: a sleep bank. Right now you can go to sleep at, say, midnight, and wake up at 8 a.m. after a night of uninterrupted sleep—assuming the wife allows you to sleep all night, since I’m sure she’s super uncomfortable right now.
But let’s say she does. Yeah, that’s going out the window the DAY young Homie-ette is born. See, babies, they have to eat every two hours for the first few days (weeks) of their lives. You don’t have to do the math to realize that means that at least 12 times a day—maybe less if she’s doing 2.5 hours—your child will be awake seeking sustenance and attention. Many of those hours come at times when you’d normally be asleep.
I don’t know what you all are going to do regarding breast-feeding (if your wife decides to breast-feed, it saves a FORTUNE on formula; if not, price matching and Amazon.com are your friends). But if she is going to, she’ll be up all night after short naps, only to arise to continue giving life to this person you two created.
Trust me on this one, fam: Wake up, too. Just be awake. Stare at the ceiling fan. Cut your toenails. Hold her boob. Do something so that she knows she isn’t up by herself. There’s a good chance she’ll be scowling at you even if you are helping, but it gets better. And if you’re asleep, there’s a great chance that she’s going to wake you up. I promise.
Read the rest of the letter here at the Root.