I was never as attentive in Psychology as I should have been. I took Psych 101 my Freshman year, when I thought college was high school with really big lockers. But as it happens, I’m being given a second chance at early-childhood psychology under the guidance of my son, Professor Watch-Me-Do-This.
Ian’s behavior during his first month was fairly simple to explain: stimulus and response. He was hungry, he cried. He was cold, he cried. He was crying, he cried. A thousand stimuli with only one response, but can you fault him? When you can’t grasp the concept of ‘purple’, how can you be expected to grab the nearest Readers’ Digest when your diaper is full?
This ‘Cry Me a River’ period was soon followed by Ian’s ‘Shiny Thing’ phase. Any new sensation or experience would mesmerise him, and he’d sit quietly and stare like a boy and his gramophone, or me and any Gene Wilder movie.
This was neat. Not just because of the Rube Goldberg contraption I could see whirring behind Ian’s eyes, but also because his mind would run at full-throttle for anything. Kelly’s hair, the cats, the livingroom couch, a pencil – when everything is new, nothing is mundane.
From then on, Ian’s behavior was (and is) based on a never-ending game of ‘What If?’. It started as a simple progression from ‘What happens if I push this?’ to ‘What happens if I push this again?’. It was great watching his mind discover new dots and try to connect them.
“Hey, this door closes!”
“Hey, sometimes my fingers hurt when this door closes!”
“Hey, I have to be really careful when this door closes!”
(Ian thinks only in exclamation points. I can see it in his eyes.)
Ian’s first year was the Age of Reason. I could always follow the trail of breadcrumbs and discover some logical explanation for why he was laughing at the toaster. We’ve now entered the Age of…Something Else. Since I used to spend so much time with Ian, and he couldn’t get around so well on his own, the breadcrumbs were easy to find. Now he’s stopped leaving breadcrumbs. Either that, or the cats get to them first.
Ian now polishes the carpet with his forehead. He crawls around the house, sweeping his head from side to side, forehead ground firmly into the floor. I used to think he just had problems lifting his massive, MENSA brain. Now I know that it’s…something else.
He sometimes holds roiling, in-depth conversations with thin air. I think Ian can see dead people. He gesticulates, nods or shakes his head, points at things to emphasize their significance…sometimes he draws me or Kelly into the conversation. He looks at us, expectantly, waiting for our thoughts on the matter. It’s a bit like walking into the middle of a conversation and being asked to agree to whatever’s just been said.
Occasionally he’ll laugh with no toaster in sight. I think he tells himself jokes.
I wish I’d paid more attention in college. Carpet-polishing is amazing to watch, but Ian doesn’t teach from a textbook, and, I swear, he never gave me the syllabus.