It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It’s as clear as the nose on your face … maybe

All the children are at the table. We are colouring fire. The bowl of crayons in the centre of the table is filled with “fire colours” — red, orange, yellow. We are talking about fire, how it’s hot and makes light and cooks things. We are talking about scribbles and filling the whole paper with fire. We are talking about red and orange and yellow. We are using words like ‘flame’ and ‘flicker’.

And Timmy, in the centre of this fiery maelstrom, takes tiny bits of paper and twists them. Twists and twists little bits of paper. He does not pick up a crayon. He does not join the conversation. He twists little bits of paper into tiny skews, smiling to himself all the while.

What’s your response to this?

“He charts his own course.”
“He’s not very socially aware.”
“He doesn’t follow instructions.”
“He’s more tactile than visual.”
“He’s independent.”
“He doesn’t listen.”
“He lives in his own head.”
“He’s oblivious.”
“He’s not too bright.”
“He’s creative.”

Any, some, or none, of those could be correct. How do you choose? Through careful and objective observation of the child? Maybe. Or perhaps, like most people you’ll just choose the one that meshes with your biases and pre-conceptions, not even realizing that you’re doing so.

So the very out-going person who loves to be mixing it up with others will determine that this child is socially unaware, a little oblivious. This observer may be amused or annoyed by the oblivion, but will be quite firmly convinced the root cause is social — because that’s his/her primary motivator.

The person who values independence and creativity may well see those traits being displayed in this behaviour. The person who likes method and order will see inattention or inability to follow instructions or the example of others.

And each of us who observes him and reaches our conclusions thinks we’ve nailed it. It’s so obvious! It’s ‘just the way he is!’

You have to be aware of your biases in this job.

My evaluation?

Oh, I dunno. He’s just a weird little dude sometimes. Cute, but weird.

January 24, 2008 - Posted by | parenting, peer pressure


  1. Did you ask him about his project? I’d love to know what he intended to do with them. I’d have assumed he was a precocious child and was making 3-D flames!

    Comment by Jill | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  2. Jill – he’s not very verbal. When asked, his response was “ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, PAAAAYper! Buh. buh. buh. buh. buh, buh. PAAAAAAYper! Ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, PAAAAAAYper!”

    Apparently, it’s “paper”. Which tells you nothing you didn’t know — except that it would seem he’s not considering it “fire”…

    Comment by MaryP | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  3. He’s just easily entertained is all. Love that in kiddos. March to the tune of your own fiddle, little dude.

    It’s so weird for me to say that because I was such a Type A little perfectionist rule follower as a kid.

    Comment by Undercovermutha | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  4. Sounds to me like he’s making firestarter? My 2 1/2 yr old girl surprises me like that sometimes.

    Comment by lisa | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  5. hmmm. sounds like my fluffy!

    Comment by kyra | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  6. you can not make any assuptions from that one episode. Further evidence required:-)

    My mother still goes on about Mstr A’s insistance of picking all the berries off the holly and decoratig hus table decoration with them, rather than the branches etc and says how that shows his ASD. But that doesn’t show anything until added in to the dozens of other behavioural preferences and issues!

    IMO the belief that a single incident/behaviour/preference = a specific “thing” is one of the major causes of both mummy guilt & pushy parent syndrome.

    Comment by juggling mother | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  7. Hee…so according to your bias, you’re cute, yet weird. 🙂 I’m weirdly amused by this. Hehe.

    Comment by Karin | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  8. I’m with Lisa…maybe he’s watched his parents start a campfire or a fire in the fireplace and knows that twisted up pieces of PAAAAAAAAYper makes for good fire starter?

    I dunno…otherwise, I would just think, “Cute, he’s doing his own thing.”

    Comment by Sheri | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  9. I love this post.

    Comment by nomotherearth | January 30, 2008 | Reply

  10. I have to stop doing this with my girls. It was funny at first, but other people are treating the previously cute labels as though they’re set in stone. (Of course, I’m the first to label their passport photos The Terrorist, The Bully, and The Criminal. But I’m hoping those are exaggerated enough that no one will take them seriously.)

    Comment by Kat | February 8, 2008 | Reply

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