Monday, November 30, 2009

The sock test



The rapt attention of a child watching “The Aristocats” can be like the fixed stare of the later day-dreamer, in each case the individual giving concentration to sights, sounds, thoughts that will somehow play a role in the evolving life. So, both moments can be a worthwhile investment.

The other day, a babysitting one for grandson Sam, who is 2.5-years-old on this date, offered a look into youthful concentration. In fact, I studied the moment and did a test.

Sam had just come back from a half-walk, half carry-by-gramps jaunt to a downtown (Nyack, N.Y.) diner, The Skylark, where one pancake with strawberries competed for his attention with curiosity about the eatery and its patrons. Thirty minutes later, his grandparents long finished with their own breakfasts, Sam ordered, “Take home!,” nodding to the still mostly uneaten pancake. The waitress nicely wrapped up the food, and we got moving, Sam all the way home (about 1.2 miles) fixing in on this and that, as toddlers do. Yours and mine.

Back in the house, he played a short while with puzzles and building blocks and then took off shoes and socks, his sign for watching a DVD movie, which he retrieved from a shelf, looked at the cover and decided that it was “The Aristocats.” “Put on!” came another order, and after his grandmother bargained with him for a diaper change first – one most resisted – Sam settled in on a large couch ready for a favorite movie, a film that has also been a buddy to millions of children over the decades.

Since his grandfather was seated next to him, Sam did not have a chance. The older fellow set his own day-dreaming on pause, and noticing Sam’s rapt intent as the butler sets out to cheat the kitty cats of their inheritance, decided to test the young fellow’s concentration by putting a sock on Sam’s head.

Well, the sock, sort of a “Cat-in-the-Hat” striped design, remained in place for several minutes as the TV viewer spoke to himself, sang a song or two, swayed his body slightly but, most of all, kept the gears and wheels spinning in that young, developing mind.

Now this was an odd metaphor but nonetheless promising. In this world, this fast-paced time of quick news bites, abbreviated language by cell phone text and just seconds of concentration where once there were minutes at least, there was hope that if a 2.5-year-old could keep his mind and his senses fixed on words, pictures and  thoughts, he would also stay with the many books his parents surround him with each day. The sock on the head might prove to be the covering for the eventual well-placed feet on the ground as it were. An odd but apt metaphor.

Children are not supposed to watch much TV, the dictum goes, and Sam does not. But a movie that offers well-spoken words, lovable characters, a sense of right and wrong and so a moral, can be part of the mix of play activities that get the wonderful gift that is the mind going and growing in life.

I do not know where Sam went, where his thoughts traveled, as he watched “The Aristocats” after a spirited morning with his grandparents, but my sock test, the proof of concentration, gives expectation that he’s building castles and moats and fields and streams and woods and mountains and grand adventure, all set for a life that is, well, an ever bigger, total grand adventure. May it be so.

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