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.