I posted previously about how much Bud and I enjoy Paul McCartney's latest CD, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. Since then I've been thinking a lot about what an appropriate title that is for our life right now.
"Creation" is a primary goal for Bud these days. He is learning to string words together to create meaning, instead of using scripted language to approximate it. He is learning the art of creative problem solving, instead of relying on us to solve his problems for him. He is learning to assert himself and make his wants and needs and preferences and ideas and imaginings known - he is creating his self-image and, with our help, creating his place in the world.
At the same time, Bud likes routine and predictability. He likes knowing what's going to come next, and likes the satisfaction of having things play out just as they "should." Often, and especially in times of stress, Bud needs that kind of routine and predictability. However, I find that the student development theory I use with college students works with Bud as well. The theory suggests that to develop to their greatest potential, students require an environment that provides the right balance of challenge and support. In an environment that provides too much support and not enough challenge, a student will stagnate. In an environment that provides too much challenge and not enough support, a student will become overwhelmed and will shut down.
And so it is with Bud. He needs routine and predictability, but if we allow him too much of it he turns further inward and his creative ability slows. If he has too little routine and predictability, he is scared and anxious, unfocused and distressed. We must constantly reassess and readjust to find the ever-changing balance; we must preserve enough of the "known" to help him to feel safe, and find just the right moments to introduce an element of surprise, of uncertainty... of chaos.
These are not move-the-earth moments. They are tiny moments that are easy to miss, but they are of critical importance to Bud. One of those tiny moments happened last week while we were playing with his Teletubbies.
"Mama, what Tinky Winky's favorite color is?" Bud asked.
I knew the right answer. The right answer is purple. We have played this game a million times, and the right answer has always been purple. Tinky Winky is purple, so purple is his favorite color. To suggest otherwise in the past has been to start an argument. And yet... I went there again.
"Well," I said, "Tinky Winky is purple. But today I think his favorite color is orange." Bud considered my answer without comment. No argument, but no comment.
"What Dipsy's favorite color is?" And the game continued. I suggested that Dipsy liked blue instead of green, Laa Laa preferred pink to yellow, and Po would rather white than red. Bud accepted my answers quietly.
"Bud," I asked, "What do you think Tiny Winky's favorite color is?"
"Yellow," he answered.
One small step for a Teletubby; one giant leap for Bud.
Another moment, a few days later. Bud was playing with the Tubbies again, this time having them act out a script from a video: "Four happy Teletubbies hopping 'round the tree. One went to hide, and then there were three..."
"Yeah!" I said. "The Teletubbies can play hide and seek! Dipsy can be "it" and the others can hide."
Bud dropped his script instantly and set to work hiding and seeking, creating interTubby conversation, and helping them play the noncompetetive and highly collaborative Bud-version of this popular game in which the hider announces his location as soon as the seeker is in sight ("Ready or not, here I come!" "Here I am, Dipsy. I in the plant!") Another creative leap forward.
Then last night, as we were getting for bed we were playing a rousing game of "I Want To Wear Jammies," a game I developed a couple of years ago when Bud was first starting to use language. It's a game designed to encourage turn-taking, model the back-and-forth flow of conversation, introduce unpredictability, and provide opportunities for shared emotion. The format is simple: we take turns naming places where we'd like to wear our jammies, the more absurd the better. So, for example...
"I want to wear jammies... to school!" ("School? Hahahahaha...")
"I want to wear jammies... to church!" ("Oh, that would be so silly!")
You get the picture. While still a favorite game, I Want To Wear Jammies has outgrown it's usefulness, since Bud has mastered the skills it introduced. Now, in fact, it has turned into something of it's own script, since we tend to visit all the same places every time we play.
This time, though, Bud threw me a curve ball - a place I hadn't heard before: "I want to wear jammies... in space!"
"Space?" I said, my eyes as wide as I could make them. "I want to wear jammies in space, too! Let's go!" So we jumped into his bed (our spaceship), counted down from ten, and shouted "Blast Off!" as we hurtled into the sky.
"WOW! Look at that!" I said, pointing at the lamp. "Look what's out the window!" (Please, Bud, I thought, don't say you see a lamp...)
"Yeah!" said Bud, looking at the lamp. "It's stars!"
"Stars!" I said. Then I pointed to the toyshelf. "And look at that!"
"A moon!" he said, awe in his voice.
"And, oh, my goodness," I pointed to the ceiling. "Out there - it's p-"
"PLANETS!" he shrieked.
One giant leap.
Dissonance and discovery.
Chaos and creation.