Monday, December 19, 2011

12.19.11 In Praise of Repetition

I remember reading a collection of short stories by Jorge Luis Borges and coming across one of many thought-provoking concepts that he so brilliantly lays bare through decriptive narratives of fantastical journeys and complex spaces. The idea that has stuck with me for so many years is this: that one cannot accurately evaluate much of anything unless one has had multiple experiences with whatever it is that one is trying to figure-out. In other words, you need to do something at least twice before you can begin to comprehend what it is you are doing, let alone to be critical of it...the first time an experience of any kind is had, whether it is of riding a roller coaster, or tasting lemons, or touching an long-hair angora cat, your brain and your body are processing the sensory information and gathering the data necessary to even have an opinion or an agenda for some action...such as deciding to ride the coaster again or throw-up!
When I watch Maxwell do something over and over and over again...I think of this idea. It used to have a meaning for me that lived in the world of architectural criticism or within my own professional understanding of iconic buildings or landscapes that I really wanted to either like or dislike. I would try to think of this idea and give myself permission to turn off the churning,critical,analytical part of my brain and just visit, really visit the place and let all of its detail sink in on a most basic of sensory levels...before coming back and tearing it to pieces with my critical eye. It was a conscious act, a conscious re-tracing of steps, of re-visiting a place both literally and figuratively.It is amazing what you can learn when you allow yourself to listen, watch, taste, feel, and smell with out the distracting chatter of thoughts...I almost can't do it. Max on the other hand is a natural.
In his effort to achieve even the simplest goals, Max will repeat an action a hundred times, in the process sometimes learning something new. For example, he will try to pull himself to a stand at the table...over and over and over again, slipping to the floor each time his legs buckle with fatigue beneath him. He will cry for a minute and then try again. Suddenly he realizes that when he does this, his stocking feet are actually sliding on the wood floors which is making it difficult but also somewhat enjoyable...he starts to giggle. It has become a game and he is in control. He does it again. Now he is giggling so hard that he can barely hang onto the table.
This tolerence for repetition is what makes it possible for Max to do break-dance style back spins bewteen the wall and the stair rails and never hit his head. (I think he lived a previous life in an 80's nightclub!) He has taken the time to learn by repeating and repeating again a series of movements that when put together add up to a sensory experience that he loves...getting dizzy! As a parent I watch this and am hopeful that there are more useful tasks that Max can learn,(not that break-dancing is entirely futile), and I begin to think about what they might be...Then I observe him as though I were watching someone else's child and I find myself thrilled at the patience he has for the light reflecting off a spoon, or a ray of sun on the floor or the texture of a bump in the carpet. I picture his little brain laying down a memory track, grooved deep, the information he is collecting writing itself permanently for some future use...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

12.06.11 Sisters!!!

Anyone that has ever grown up with a sibling or two or three, knows that since you don't really have a choice in the matter, you learn to take the good with the bad and vice versa.(Or you just travel a lot...!) Even hitting the lottery has its pros and cons, so why should a guarranteed lifelong relationship be any different? A fantasy is always a fantasy until you have to start living it. In an ideal universe the lessons created by the rivalries, negotiations, hair-pulling, head-locks and finger-pointing of a sibling relationship should balance out with and give way to a more benefical, loving, and productive set of social and emotional experiences...Ideally....and then the sky falls down, if only temporarily and then "ideally" doesn't seem like such a good idea anymore.
I have to honestly say that while I still harbor a place in my consciousness that remains heartbroken over the loss of a typical, (read: ideal/fantasy) "brother" experience for my two daughters, I am unfailingly curious to observe their lives as they get older with Max in their orbit. Sometimes I wonder...Will they be more empathetic with others? Will they be drawn into the complex medical and neurological aspects of our dinner conversations and make career choices accordingly? Will they be OK inviting teenage friends over to the house if Max is present? Will they hold a grudge against him or me for the kinds of compromises our family is required to make? Yes...These are silly musings and somewhat unproductive. This is their life and they will make the best of it as we all try to do. However, I experience a joyful little leap of my heart when I feel like I can connect certain, more altruistic behavior in the girls with their direct relationship with Max. Like learning more than one language from birth, their role, as citizens of the globe that are tolerant of our human differences, will be natural. Max has given them a gift and neither of them know it.
It is hard enough for me as a grown,fully mature,(at least I like to think),adult to reconcile the efforts I put into my relationship with Maxwell vs. what he is able to reciprocate. I sometimes cringe when the girls try to elicit a reaction from Max and get nothing in return, or worse, a piercing cry of confusion. I worry. Will they try again? And then from out of nowhere, I hear my 6 year old explain to a friend visiting for a playdate that Max caught a virus and that his ears and eyes are broken, but that, "He's just Max"and "He's my brother." Or I watch my 3 year old strap her giant pink hippopotamus into Max's wheelchair and try to feed it dinner, after first wheeling it around the house of course. I regularly underestimate the girls capacity to recieve and decipher unspoken emotional messages, facial expressions and the volumes that are hidden in a tone of a voice or cry...and I remind myself that Max is indeed lucky.