8.03.2009

Life as We Know It

I'm rereading Life as We Know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child, Michael Berube's book that combines a narrative of the first four years of his son Jamie's life with musings on the significance of representation, the history of Down syndrome, deconstruction, social construction, and the difference between memorization and understanding. Among other things. The book is both incredibly smart and readable, a combination that always impresses me.

One thing that struck me this time through the book was Berube's description of how Jamie learned as a baby. He's comparing Jamie with his first son, Nick, who's a typical kid:

With Nick, developmental milestones were fairly discrete: One day he learned to reach and grasp, the next day we had to put away every sharp object in the house, as Nick grabbed keys, pens, and ears of corn with infant abandon. Jamie, by contrast, was not only slower but deliberately slower. For many weeks after he grasped his first toy, he acted as if he were relearning grasping, a little more efficiently each time.

He goes on to give a great description of Jamie's surprise and joy when he was given a toy--surprise and joy that would kick in after he'd been staring at the toy for several moments. "I imagined that we could see all his teeny neurons firing hin order, just that much more slowly, telling him as they cleared a brand-new pathway through the brain, This is something you like. Get it."

This struck me because I've been noticing the same phenomenon with Maybelle. While my mom and Trey were in town, Maybelle finally decided to start commando crawling. This is a step on the way to actual crawling whereby a baby drags herself across the floor by her elbows, perhaps nudging herself along with knees or feet. It's slow and difficult, resulting in little thrusts forward of a couple of inches at a time, but it's mobility, and Maybelle has started doing it. I sort of thought this would be an epiphanic moment for her: she would recognize that a toy (or Benya) can be a foot or so away from her, and now she doesn't have to just scream at it ineffectually--she can go after it.

But it seems that epiphanies happen sort of slowly for her. Every day since her first successful foray into commando crawling, we've had to reintroduce her to the concept. It's sort of frustrating to her. You can imagine her thinking, "Listen, you people--why don't you just give me that toy like you always used to do?" And because she has low muscle tone, she's often just as content to lie on her tummy and watch the thing she wants rather than make the effort to go get it. But every day she seems to learn, or remember, more quickly than the day before. Eventually she's going to be able to do it without us coaching her, and then we're going to have to start thinking about babyproofing the house (and Benya's going to find that her life has changed utterly).

Because her learning is a bit slower and more deliberate, we can really see it happening and participate in it. Sometimes this is hard for me, but most days I'm able to observe and appreciate it.

1 comment:

Cate Bush said...

I loved the clips of Maybelle clapping and commando crawling :). Love you!