May 8, 2015 by Dadinator
A little body is crouched. I’m waiting for goose-flesh to prickle across his skin as the temperature drops and the sheen of water on his skin take what little heat is left away from the surface of his body. I’ve tried to get his attention. I’ve talked, I’ve whispered, I’ve bent over to get down on his level, I’ve tapped his shoulder and I’ve tried to use a Jedi mind trick.
Yet he is immune. A kind of force-field surrounds him, an impenetrable bubble, a buffer against any parental intervention of any form. That shield that folds in a stretch extra distance between us. I stand close, but my waves and words are miles away from him. Should he turn to look at me I would seem a minute (and deranged) figure on the horizon of his awareness.
He’s busy. He’s staring. He’s hypnotised. His concentration has walled him in, and nothing short of an earthquake, a meteor strike or a nuclear explosion is going to snap him out of it.
He’s in the bath. Probably seconds away from starting to shiver, because he’s the only thing in the bath. The plug has been pulled and it is draining. He is riveted to the plug hole, staring at the flow of water, playing with it, splashing at it and watching the twisting whirl of water, steadily sucked down by the inexorable force of gravity into the pipes below the house.
The vortex forms. He places a hand over the plug and waits for it to dissipate. Expectantly he withdraws his hand and patiently waits for the water to resume its previous formation, his mind logging the experience with the rigour of a scientist. The experiment is repeated again and again as his 3-year-old mind tests the world, tests reality and as he learns about the shapes, the sounds and the movement of water.
And I stare at him, wondering about my own experiments when I was young. Recalling when I would watch the whirlpool that has probably held the attention of billions of young eyes through the years. How many times did I stare? How many times did I block the plug hole to see if the tornado would reform, or if something different would happen this time. How many times did I stay too long and shiver in the cold night air?
I remember when I was five, I had an obsession with pulling apart leaves. I wanted to know how they were put together, what they were made of made of and how many times I could cut them up before they got too small to be cut up any more. I don’t know how long those questions kept me occupied, but they did.
In the present the water has gone, but he stares still, wondering at how a round hole managed to create such a spectacle. My earlier frustration has drained away too, disappearing into the back of my mind as I remember what it is like to stare. The world is far to interesting a place for a child to always be paying attention to what dad is saying all the time.
We stare together there are just a few bubbles left in the bath now, and he asks “Has the water gone?” “Yes Lad, no more water till tomorrow”. He is satisfied and stands with his arms up-stretched waiting for me to gather him up and get him ready for bed. The experience has been worth the wait.
They say kids can’t concentrate, that they only have a set amount of time they can devote mentally to a single concept or task. But that’s only half of the story. Kids can concentrate, they just find so many things so interesting that focussing on a single thing for any period of time just doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, though, they stare with an intensity and a discipline you’d expect of professors and scholars. Sometimes they show the can concentrate, when there is something worth the effort. It’s worth watching them when they do.