November 27, 2008

AM Radio Kids

A Thanksgiving tale, sort of.

The little boy was four, when he was really excited or happy he could communicate semi-effectively, but if there wasn't a force of emotion behind it then he was all just babbles and grunts.  He looked you in the eye like it meant something, he grinned, came over and showed you how he had managed to fit the stegosaurus into the driver's seat of his truck, but his explanation of that was  "mmmmmmmm mmmmm mmmm!!" and I guess it meant he was happy, but it could have meant anything.

When you don't understand a problem you apply the solutions that you do; his Dad's solution was to find ways to train his mind to be focused, to concentrate, and to use logic, so his Dad had taken to making simple patterns with M&Ms,


and if the boy could figure out what the next color was, he could have all the M&Ms.  That was his approach to behaviorism, though he gave the boy all the M&Ms anyway, so he sucked as a behaviorist, too.

And at first the father was stunned, incredulous, at how terrible the boy was at this game.  Not only would he not pick the right one, sometimes he picked a color that was not even involved


It was as if the only pattern he saw was "straight line."

But over two months they had gotten somewhere, gotten past ABABAB; and then there was this


and the boy looked at it, and with all the confidence in the world grabbed an M&M and waved it in his father's face. "Blue!"

"No, no, take a look at it. One red, then green, two reds, then green, three reds, then green, then...?"


"How many reds?"


"No, try again.  One red, green, red red, then green, red red red, green, then...?"

"Fo-- three!"

"No, you almost had it--"

And the boy shoved his fingers into the air, switching them as he waved, first one, then two, then three, all the while yelling "two!"

but his fingers stopped at four.

"No, not two, look, you have it--"

The boy did it again, fingers waving, he was about to say something else wrong, but he paused,  he was confused, he looked at his fingers, then the clock, then a bowl of apples-- the fingers were showing four but his brain was saying something else, what did that mean?  but he couldn't get the answer out.

The father watched, the boy's lips fought between an "f" and a  "th", then he lapsed into a grimace; his fingers showed four, he stared at them, he tried to put one down but his body rebelled and forced them back up, like he was resisting an unseen Jedi Master trying to control his body movements.

There he sat, drenched in the right answer, his body and his lips and his fingers were all telling him the right answer, but his brain was picking something else, he couldn't get it.

"How many fingers do you have up?!"

He looked, his lips moved silently as he counted his own fingers.  "Four?"

"Four!  Right, buddy!"

He smiled, looked at the M&Ms, then messed them up with his hands.  "Vree vre vre vre vre!" 

"Stop!  What are you doing...?!"  Too late.  As M&Ms clacked on the floor, the boy looked up a little afraid.   "Umm...mmmm."  Then, as he saw his father's rage build, he said quite clearly: "how about I clean them up and we make another pattern?"

They are AM radio kids, you spend hours in your car trying to tune in a station but it's all static, once in a while you think there was a word there, or a phrase but that's it, and you turn the knob, push it, cover it with your hand to block out sunspots--  you know it has information, you know it's there, but you can't get the thing to tune in.

And hours of this, you've driven 90 miles down an empty night road with one frustrated hand on the wheel and the other hand on the radio knob, a quarter millimeter often enough to get in a syllable, or lose it, just as you're about to scream and give up, suddenly, a full sentence comes through, perfect, "there's a very good chance that today it might rain, so bundle up"-- you are stunned by the clarity and completeness--

and then it's gone again, back into static.  You try everything, you even smack the side of it but you know that's not a good idea, it never fixes it and eventually it won't work at all.

These are AM radio kids, the content isn't the problem, the problem is the reception, the problem isn't the broadcaster, the problem is you.  AM radio works fine, but with so much other interference competing for the same box, but you want it now and clear, on your timetable, well, what did you expect?



The Boy Who Learned To Talk Too Late And Too Fast

Everything Is A Teachable Moment When You Are A Piece Of Garbage