There is a hilarious moment in the cult movie “This is Spinal Tap” when one of the main characters looks into the camera, nods sagely before uttering the inimitable words, “it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever”. Almost every day I look at my children, aged three and one, and shake my head in disbelief. They have an incredible capacity to amaze me by being so perceptive, so knowing and so profound despite their tender years until moments later they go and do something jaw droppingly stupid.
My daughter Meri is a lively, curious and vivacious little girl. She is at the stage where the whole world is there for her to discover. Her curiosity and her intelligence shine through. She makes short work of her “developmental” toys. Shapes are sorted effortlessly, blocks are stacked in order, toys are even tidied away into the right boxes. She is rapidly learning to communicate by pointing, making noises and words are not far away. She has figured out what the remote control is for and frequently changes channels on the TV. All things that make an observant father’s chest swell with paternal pride. However, her curiosity is also her weakness.
Meri is the girl who upon coming into a room will see, find and probably try to eat the most inappropriate thing there. If there is a mobile phone, a set of keys or an important document left within range of her tiny little mitts, she will upon it. Bits of rubbish and debris from the floor are hoovered up within seconds. There have been a number of times when Clare and I have looked at each other with furrowed brows and asked, “What did she just eat?” It was through such brave experimentation that Meri learnt this morning that wood kindling is not edible. We are still trying to teach her that crayons aren’t that good for you with only limited success so far.
For someone so clever in many other ways, Meri has a remarkable lack of spatial awareness. She is currently in the “climbing into things” phase. We were on holiday in a National Trust cottage last week and she discovered a beautiful antique cabinet. The first thing she did was find the cupboard doors and clonk herself on the head with them as she tried to open them. Tears ensued but she is made of hardy stock and not deterred by this minor setback she proceeded to climb inside the cabinet and get stuck. More tears. At home I frequently have to pull her out of the dishwasher and the bin as her curiosity leads her into the most ridiculous scrapes.
Arun even with his disabilities displays a surprising wisdom. He is fascinated with doors and things that open and shut. Despite playing with doors and drawers for countless hours he has never caught his fingers in them – he just seems to sense when he is in danger. Again, even though he has severe problems with movement, he has figured out all by himself how he can go up and down stairs and climb in and out of our bed.
However, he too has his moments. Being a boy he still thinks that most problems can be solved by shouting at them. This lunchtime he was playing with his stacking cups and normally whips them into the right order quickly. Today he was trying to put the blue cup into the orange cup which doesn’t go. He knows this but decided that today was going to be the day that the laws of physics were going to be re-written. He tried and tried and finally lost his temper with said blue cup, shouted at it, threw it across the floor and then proceeded to have what can only be described as an almighty strop.
The fact is though, their “stupidity” is mostly experimentation. They are pushing the boundaries and learning about the world around them. Taking risks and making mistakes is how they are growing, learning and developing. I too have been on a steep learning curve the last few months and I wonder if they would regard some of my behaviour as ridiculous (e.g. “Dad knows this porridge tastes like glue so why is he trying to convince me to eat it again?”). I watch them and wish that I had their optimism, confidence and their bravery. I admire the way they are getting out there and trying new things in the world. As I have gotten older I have also become more timid, more stuck in my ways and less open to new experiences. They’ve reminded me of the joy of learning, exploration and discovery. I am trying to follow their example and am trying to do new things even if that means falling flat on my face. At least I know I tried.
David St Hubbins was right in Spinal Tap – there is only a fine line between stupid and clever. Like my kids I think I might be on the stupid side of it and long may it continue.