Thursday, September 3, 2009

Testing My Limits

OK, OK, I sometimes have a problem with patience.

As part of Maya’s routine check-up on Tuesday when we found out she may have a tethered spinal cord, they ran a series of diagnostic tests to gauge her development. The first one was for hearing. The medical assistant put a pair of headphones on Maya and asked her to raise her hand when she heard the beep. Maya raised her hand once, but just smiled and ignored the other beeps.

Miguel actually failed his hearing test when he was three because he never acknowledged any of the sounds through the headset. He was probably confused about why he needed to hear a series of beeps anyway.

For Maya’s second test, the medical assistant showed her a piece of paper divided into four quadrants. In each section, there were four symbols (boy, girl, two animals) and rows of the letter ‘E’ all pointing toward one of the symbols.

The assistant pointed to each symbol and identified them. “This one is a…” Then she pointed to one section and said, “Now, Maya, where are all the ‘Es’ pointing?”

“I don’t know,” she said. Her face glazed over as if they’d asked her to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

That’s when I resisted the urge to temper myself and said, “This is a stupid test. How many three-year olds can figure that out?”

The medical assistant smiled sheepishly and said, “I know, but we do have to do it.” Then she handed us the paper and said we should practice with her. They’ll re-test her in 6 months.

I don’t need Maya to do well on these diagnostic-development tests because it will somehow validate our parenting or our DNA. I just get frustrated when kids have to face things that are to my slightly professional eye developmentally inappropriate.

Then, again, I am not exactly unbiased. We sent Miguel to a Waldorf preschool for three years and he spent another five in a Waldorf-inspired elementary school (he is now in a public middle school and thriving). This means he didn’t learn to read until he was nine and slept in the family bed until he was ten, but he could really manipulate beeswax.

The doctor gave us a Kaiser-approved survey that also assesses toddler development. There are a series of questions parents can answer and several more that we must ask Maya. One question is to show her a stick figure that looks like a half-completed snowman and then ask, “Maya, what does this look like?”

If she says a person, a snowman, Daddy, or anything resembling a human, we need to write that down. If she doesn’t have a remote clue or says “I don’t know”, we have to record those answers as well.

Miguel was sitting across from her as Maya pondered the stick figure, and I kept worrying that he was going to feed her the answer. But she plodded on by herself. Finally she said, “It looks like Daddy.”

For another question we had to hand her a writing implement and ask her to draw a circle. We needed to record how she gripped the pen or pencil and whether she could complete the task. She rested the pen against her left middle finger and pinched it between her thumb and forefinger and then drew an oval-shaped circle.

“I think Maya has very good fine motor skills,” I said to Verna after the kids were asleep. Visions of a masterful pianist or talented artist danced in my head as I contemplated Maya’s future.

But I basically thought the tests were silly. Parents could cheat with their answers and why should anyone trust a three-year old to be accurate about reality?

During my first summer in California, in 1988, I was the supervisor of counselors for the Marin Jewish Community Center’s Summer Camp. Each morning, while the 40 or 50 kids were gathered in a circle, I dazzled them with some telepathic feat that involved the counselors choosing an item from one kid and then having me guess it. I would hide and when I returned to the circle they would hand me my clipboard, on which was written the ‘secret’ item. My ‘trick’ never failed to utterly amaze and astound the four and five-year olds eagerly awaiting the day.

Anyway, one of the campers came up besides me one day and said she was sad. I said, “Why?”

She said, “Because my brother died.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said to her.

Later in the day I approached the girl’s mother at pick-up time. “I’m so sorry about Jackie’s brother,” I said. “She told me he died.”

“Interesting,” said the mother, “but Jackie doesn’t have a brother.”

So I am NOT saying kids cannot be trusted, but I am saying their grasp of truth is often anything but firm.

As for Maya, she’s fine and her motor skills and physical and emotional development seem to be progressing in normal fashion. First we’ll get her through the cognitive hurdles of the Kaiser diagnostic tests and then we’ll master quantum physics. And throughout the entire process, I will let Verna teach her to be patient.

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