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Monday, January 31, 2011

What Can He do?

Sometimes when people drop by, they look at Bow and maybe they even say "hi" to him, but then they turn to me and ask: "What can he do? Can he wave goodbye? Can he blow a kiss?"

 Well, it's not what can he do. It's what he wants to do. There's something about questions like this that makes them hard to answer: the unspoken premises on which they are based. The assumption that if Bow doesn't do something, then he can't. Or the even more deeply embedded presumption, that if he does "things", he does them on command, because he has been trained to do them.

How many parents of talking children have faced the same dilemma: can your child say "mamma"? they are asked. With the implication that if the child can say it, he will do so right now, like a trained performer, instead of a spontaneous user of language.

Bow can spell. He writes what he wants to write, when he wants to write it. He does kiss me sometimes, but not because he has been asked to. It is usually for one of two reasons: because he feels I am sad, and he's trying to cheer me up, or he's done something bad, and he's trying to apologize.

Bow gestures a lot. He shows me when he thinks I should leave, by taking my hand and leading me to the door. He shows me that he wants to spell, by taking my  hand and  leading me to the glass. He takes my hand to draw my attention and points things out to me. The purpose? Always communication. Never to put on a show.

Today, when someone asked what he could do, after they left, Bow took me to the glass and spelled: "Tell them not to talk like I am stupid."

I wish I could.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sharing the Fat

Lawrence called in this morning to say his wife is sick, and he can't come today. This is just as well, except that we've run out of bananas and are about to run out of apples. (I usually do my major grocery shopping on Mondays, when Lawrence comes in.) It's not a big deal, my pantry is well-stocked,  and we won't starve. Tonight, after Bow is in bed, Sword and I will go to Wal*Mart and get more fruit. Meanwhile, I served Bow a bowl of pork and beans along with his apple. I figured it would keep him full till dinner time, and he won't mind. He actually likes pork and beans, and he made happy, excited noises when he saw he was getting that.

When I came in to pick up the empty bowl, I noticed there were two little cubes of pork fat still in the spoon. The bowl was very, very empty, all except for the fat in the spoon. I wondered whether he had decided he was too full or whether he thought the fat wasn't for eating. But as I approached, Bow sat back down by the bowl and picked up the spoon. I thought he was going to finish eating, but instead he held up the spoon toward me. "You want me to eat that?" He indicated "yes" by motioning with the spoon toward my mouth.

"Okay." So I ate the fat. I had been worried there were too many carbs in my lunch, anyway, so this will probably increase my fat to carb ratio for the better. Funny, though, the ideas he gets about what he will or will not eat. He eats cardboard, you know, if I leave him alone with it!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Years Resolutions, New Intern Applications and Foreseeing Culture Shock

Bow's new year resolution to learn to play the piano seems to have fizzled out, as happens with many a new year's resolution. He played with the keyboard a couple of times after the initial attempy, and Lawrence was trying to teach him the scale, but Bow lost interest and handed the keyboard back and asked for it to be taken away.

That's actually one of the new ways in which Bow has been showing more self-control lately: when he no longer wants something in with him, instead of trying to destroy it, he asks for it to be taken away. Yesterday, Lawrence was here, and Bow had had his blanket with him all afternoon, but by the time I came in to relieve Lawrence, the blanket had been put away.

"Bow handed me the blanket and told me to put it up," Lawrence explained. "He said he wanted to eat." (Bow knows I always ask for the blanket before I serve dinner, but he didn't wait for me to come in and ask. He wanted to be ready.)

I hope that in the future, if Bow is not having a good time with one of the interns, he will also find the words to say: "Please go out now," rather than using a more direct approach to get them to leave. This is one of the things that I am thinking about with the regard to possible summer interns. Because right now the applications are starting to come in, and these are eager students, many with excellent qualifications and valuable experiences. I hope that we will find a good match for Bow and for our program.

But in addition to worrying about whether the new intern will get along with Bow, I also worry about other things. I worry that maybe these young people have had all their education in academic settings that were so institutionalized, that they might not even conceive of the idea of a private research project setting. I am working hard to alert them to our lack of institutional affiliation, and everything that this implies. I am hoping to find future students among the applicants, but they are probably unprepared for what it would be like to pursue a research project for years without substantial funding. It will be an eye opening experience for them on so many levels. After all, in the real world everything is very different.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Constructive Behavior? How about fixing and then playing the keyboard

Yesterday had a special looking date: 01/01/11. One /One/  One - One. But it did not look to be that special a day when it started out. Sword had a friend over for a New Year's sleepover the night before. They stayed up much later than I could allow myself, because for me the start of the new year was a regular day and I had to be back in the pen at six-thirty a.m.

Since Sword was celebrating that night, I was not even going to suggest that she practice the piano, but oddly enough her friend asked her to play something, just for fun. Sword played the Siamese Cat Song from Lady and the Tramp. It was much later than she usually practices her piano, and I wonder in retrospect if Bow heard her in the pens and whether it woke him up.

The next morning, the girls slept late, and Bow and I had our breakfast in the pens without them at the usual time, and I was back on the computer doing my regular stuff by seven a.m. When the girls came in to breakfast, even though the guest was very polite to Bow on entry, Bow's hair stood on end, and he puffed himself up to twice his normal size and insisted on displaying his strength and might at them by rattling the doors and rebounding off the glass for at least five minutes. The girls more or less ignored this display, but it bothered me that he was behaving this way.

After they were done with breakfast in the pen, the girls stayed a little longer and played charades. Bow sat and watched, and he was calm now and very interested in their game. But he didn't try to guess on any of the charades, and when Sword's friend asked him if would like to try one, he only hunkered down as if looking at her from under the lower grid.

"A snake?" the little girl guessed.

Bow took my hand and spelled: "Yes." But I didn't believe him. I felt that he just said that because he hadn't really thought of anything.

The rest of the day was devoted to answering comments and cleaning out my email account of things that had accumulated there and were filling up the disk space. They disabled "ftp" at the well this year, and so it took me a while to learn how to use the new method to transfer data, which is why I had a backlog of old emails that needed to be downloaded and archived.

Bow asked for his shoe to play with and his blanket. Eventually, he made a small hole in the blanket and separated the insole from the shoe. The shoe had already lost the shoestring it came with at Christmas. I felt disheartened that he was up to his old destructive behavior. He made a soft, "ooh ooh" sound when the insole came out, to alert me that something unexpected had happened. (He also did that the other day when he discovered a spot of dirt on his blanket and decided he should clean it.)

I took away the insole and the blanket and went back to cleaning out my email account. It was a long and laborious process. But Bow was not happy. He made raspberry sounds. I went back in with him, quite irritated. "I left you your shoe. Do you want me to take the shoe away?"

He handed me the shoe and gestured that he needed my hand, so he could spell things on the glass. I gave him my hand. "What do you want, Bow?"

"I want to play music like Sword," he spelled.

I gave him a skeptical look. We had tried so many times to interest him in making music, but he never once took to it. All he ever seemed to want to do was break the instrument. "You want to play music?"

"Yes. Like Sword..."

That seemed to be the big point with him. Not the music, but the competition with Sword. "Bow, you can't play music like Sword," I said, sighing.

He spelled: "Then don't let her." He looked me straight in the eye, in the usual challenge that I suppose every parent with more than one child has to face. Do you love her more than me? he seemed to be asking.

"Okay, okay, fine. I'll have to go look for the old keyboard."

I ran to my room to fetch it, before he could get into any more mischief. The old keyboard was a Casio that my father brought home one day sometime around 1980. He said it was for the whole family, not just for one of us. It was the keyboard I used at all my filksings in Grand Prairie. Sword was using it to practice her piano up until my mother bought her a full sized Yamaha a couple of years ago. Since then, the Casio has been in disuse. I found it on top of a chest and under some pillows that my dolls had been reclining on.

I hurried back to the pens with the keyboard, but when I turned it on, it had no power. "I have to get new batteries, Bow." I rushed to the kitchen for a package of batteries. Back in the pen, Bow watched me open the battery compartment and replace the batteries. But after I did that, it still didn't work. There still wasn't any power.

"I'm sorry, Bow," I said. "The keyboard doesn't work, anymore." I brought it in to show him.

Bow tried the keyboard. Then, when nothing happened, he turned it over and opened the battery compartment.

"No, don't do that!" I was afraid he would break it, but actually he opened it correctly, without breaking, and I was able to close it again. Then Bow picked the keyboard up and held it over his head and shook it. Suddenly, it started making sounds.

"Bow, you fixed it! It works now," I said, very much surprised. "Put it down and play it now." And he did! This is the first time ever that he has fixed something! How about that!

He pounded on the keys for a very long time, enjoying the sounds he was making. Sword came by from her room to see what was going on. "Is that what the noise was?" she asked, when she saw it was Bow playing the keyboard. "I thought you were watching something on YouTube."

"No," I said. "Bow has decided he wants to play the keyboard."

"He's not playing it very well," she said, and went back to her room.

I only got a chance to film the very end of Bow's playing. After that, he gave me back the keyboard and spelled: "I need to learn to play like Sword."

"You want lessons? But Bow, the teacher can't go in with you."

"Tell her to try," Bow spelled. Then he gestured for me to take the keyboard out, because he was done with it.

How's that for constructive behavior?