The Activity of Making Sense

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

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.

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

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.

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Reading To You

We had been to the Harold Washington Library before, but you were too young remember.  So when we walked in from the State Street entrance, you looked around and your eyes trained up, especially when we walked into the round atrium that, as a space, feeds the soul.

We went to the children’s library, to get books and to read.  You pointed out the security, the police, like you always do, and the matronly officer who I wanted to call auntie spoke with a smile that you exchanged for one brighter than her own large grin.  You walked around pulling titles, saying “This one” and “That one, daddy.”  We sat on a multi-colored bench, the one like the old benches that you used to be in parks on the south side when I was a boy, before the city built shelters on corners, when churches like our family’s bought advertisements to tell people waiting on 95th or 87th or Halsted to come and worship.

After we read our first book, we went downstairs and thumbed through the four books we checked out because we would really read them later.  You were excellent in quieting down and listening to three authors read excerpts from their fiction, listening and only occasionally murmuring, as if each of them was pulling you next to them, lowering their voices, and, for a few minutes, reading to you.

At HWLC for Story Week

At HWLC for Story Week

3 Ways to Stay Engaged

I saw this here and wanted it on my blog.  What would you add to Maria Lloyd’s list?

Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to work a full-time job and raise a family- especially as a single parent. Thanks to technology, we’re plugged into work even when we’re at home. It’s imperative to balance your life in a way that is rewarding for you and your children. Spending quality time with your children is imperative for your role as a parent and also for their growth as a child. Although I do not have children of my own, I am someone’s child, so I can relate to the need for attention from parents. Below are 3 ways you, a working single parent, can stay engaged in your child’s life:

1. Eat with them.

You have to eat. Instead of eating breakfast before your child wakes up or putting your child to bed and having dinner alone, eat with them. Children have a wealth of information to share with you about their day. Listen to them very closely. There may be some negative, external influences that you may need to remove them from.Time allotted: 30-45 minutes

2. Read with them.

Share your favorite bedtime story with your child. It is a memory that you and him/her can cherish together for the rest of your lives. It can also become a tradition in your family, so that when your child has his/her own children, they will read the same story and share the same appreciate for it with their own family. Time allotted: 20-30 minutes

3. Give them “homework” in your absence

I strongly encourage you to consider another career if spending face-to-face time with your child is impossible; however, if you’re temporarily unable to spend face-to-face time with your children due to a short-term assignment at work, give them “homework” in your absence. It can be as simple as having them journal their day or as complex as writing a book report. Whichever assignment you give them, make sure you actively check it and leave them feedback on their work. This “homework” helps them to remember that although you’re not physically in their presence, you’re still actively involved in their life. Time allotted: 10-20 minutes (checking the assignment and providing feedback)