G’s been going through a phase. We’re calling it the “curious” phase. The phrase “I just wanted to see what would happen” has become his verbal calling card.
“Why did you drop those books?”
“Why did you throw that cup of milk?”
“Why did you dump that bucket of one thousand legos on the carpet right when the clean-up bell rang?”
The answer is always the same. “I just wanted to see what would happen.”
Fortunately, all the teachers, therapists, and other specialists who work with G are engaging with this new behavior with calm and humor… and encouraging me to do the same.
He dropped the books because he truly wanted to see if they would sink to the floor or rise to the ceiling. He threw the cup of milk because he was sincerely curious to see if I would catch it. When I didn’t catch it, he found the big white splatter (as well as my high-pitched shriek) to be genuinely fascinating. I didn’t witness the dumping of one thousand legos at clean-up time, as it took place at school. But I’m sure G reveled in whatever took place as a result of his dumping.
Ever since G was a toddler, he has struggled with learning how and when rules apply. Sometimes, he will over generalize. If he is told to be quiet in the sanctuary at our synagogue one time (during services), then he will be quiet in the sanctuary always (no matter how loud and raucous everyone else is being). He doesn’t recognize social cues… he just remembers that last time we were in this place, he was told to be quiet.
Sometimes he will under generalize. He put a hot French fry in his mouth and burned his tongue. I taught him to look at the steam coming off the French fry. The steam is a clue that the French fry is hot. Blow on it first, it will cool off. After ten repetitions, it seemed like he got it. Until the next day, when we sat down for lunch and there was steam coming off his Mac and Cheese. I assumed he wouldn’t put it in his mouth… as we discussed JUST YESTERDAY that steam means the food is hot. But I was thinking like me. To me, steam means the food is hot. To G, steam means a French fry is hot. Steam coming off Mac and Cheese might mean something completely different. So, he pops the noodle in the mouth… and guess what? Steam coming off Mac and Cheese is EXACTLY THE SAME as steam coming off French fries.
Sometimes, the over and under generalizing drives me crazy. How can I possibly keep this child safe if the rules in his world are not hard and fast the way the rules in my world are? If “look both ways before you cross the street” is not immutable to him, but can be applied (or misapplied) in a variety of ways depending on the context.
However, if I put the fear aside for a moment… what a gift! What an absolute delight! What would it be like to live in a world that is not bound by our rules? How utterly freeing. I wonder what will happen if I drop these books? They might crash down to the floor. That is what happened yesterday when I dropped these books. It’s also what happened when I dropped my toy truck. But, maybe, just maybe… these books will float up to the ceiling. Maybe they will circle up, grab a partner, and do the hokey pokey up there. Probably not… but it is possible. I should just give them a little nudge, and see what happens.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to live in a world like that? A world with endless possibilities? A world like that would draw you in, hypnotize you with the prospect of unforeseen outcomes, and mesmerize you with wonder. And sometimes, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Sometimes, I like to try to enter that world with G. To see the world as he does, and let go of the predictable reality that I know is there. Because isn’t that what true creativity is, really? To think and imagine in a way that nobody else ever has? To see not what is, but what could be?
Sure, it’s my job to keep G safe. Often that means setting concrete limits, or shutting down an activity that is interesting to him. However, I hope that I will be able to construct limits in a way that still gives him tons of freedom to engage with the world with all the magic, curiosity and wonder that makes him who he is. Even if that means getting a little milk spilled on me now and then.