One of the most difficult parenting techniques is also deceptively simple: pointing. Any child-rearing guide will tell you that pointing at stuff is very important for child development, and failing to do so could result in repeating the third grade at least twice.
Apart from the occasional eye injury, the technique isn’t so difficult to master as its application. The same guides which tout the significance of pointing are also quick to mention that kids, for the first several weeks, don’t see much. Their world is seen through a cheese-cloth haze of developing rods and cones, and your arm could just as easily be mistaken for a blur, a blob, or Robert Loggia.
Once Ian could see more clearly, I still wasn’t sure when I should be pointing. I kept thinking of his frighteningly expanding universe, and how everything was new. He’d never seen a tree, but there I was, pointing at grass, flowers, birds, pinecones, dogs, Honda Civics, flags, ponds, fish…Did I really expect him to notice? Even if Ian managed to look past my finger, it was still a bit like asking him to find Waldo. “Look at this! And this! And that! And these! I bet you’ve never seen this before!” (This is why babies sleep so much.)
Somehow his mind absorbed everything I gave him, and Ian started to pay attention to my pointing. I’d tell him to look at something, and he’d do it (if only all parenting were this simple…). Very often he’d look at me with an expression of, “Yeah. And?” But I didn’t care. I was pointing, and Ian was well on his way to skipping third grade altogether.
As so often happens, the tables have turned. Now that Ian’s wrapped his burgeoning mind around the concepts of “tree” and “cookie”, he desperately wants everyone else to understand, too. He loves to point, and always makes sure you’re paying attention:
Ian (pointing) – “Oooh. Wo wo da.” [Father, do you see this?]
Me – “What, honey?”
Ian (frowning, but still pointing) – “Wo. Aie da da!” [Are you paying attention? I said, “Do you see this?”]
Me – “Oh, yeah! Do you see the doggie?”
Ian (scowling) – “Do! Gah! Badee wah go!” [Not the dog. The airplane. Fool.]
Ian loves airplanes. We first learned this while walking to the car after dinner several weeks ago. He stopped walking and pointed into the air. We thought he was looking at the tree, but then I noticed the tiny spec thousands of miles up at which he pointed, again, five minutes later. Our suspicions were confirmed the next time we had lunch at the India Palace, perched atop the Howard Johnson’s next to Lambert Airport. Our table was next to a large picture window overlooking the runway, and Ian made sure we noticed every single airplane that landed.
The problem is that not all of Ian’s observations are so obvious. He’ll point out of the car window and look at us expectantly: “Isn’t that amazing!” But “that” could be any of the hundreds of quickly moving objects outside the car. And quite often he’ll keep his finger pointed for blocks at a time – unless he’s talking about the window, whatever he first pointed at is long gone.
Sometimes he’ll point in two directions, and talk as if they’re somehow logically relevant. And Ian’s tone is more than, “Hey, look at this!” He goes on and on, lecturing about whatever he sees, fully expecting us to know what he’s talking about.
Ian knows there’s a world out there, and he knows what he thinks about it. The trick is to make us understand.
And vice versa.