The Strictly Sail Pacific boat show was this past week. Based on what we've learned about how our family best endures such events, we planned a very casual schedule over three days, that allowed for a lot of time to take seminars, explore boats, and browse vendor booths. We do it up right; we bring yummy healthy snacks of our own, but splurge on hot dogs anyway. We sit and focus on seminars, then go outside and run around the statues there at Jack London Square to burn up as much energy as possible, before heading back into the fray. The boys learn as much at these things as we do; while Jason and I are getting the Full Court Press to buy buy buy, Rowan (and to some small extent, Kestrel) is being subjected to no pressure at all, and is free to observe things about people, about merchandise, and about boating in general.
But that's not what this post is about. This post is about other people's assumptions. And I suppose to some degree, my own.
We had been at the show no more than an hour. We were looking at a catamaran that was for sale from the same broker we bought our boat from. We'd hopped on board to say hello, wish good luck, and see what cool ideas we could steal for our own boat. While standing on the dock putting our shoes back on, this woman walks straight up to me (significantly within my personal comfort zone), and begins loudly and aggressively telling me that I am a terrible parent (?!?) because my child should not be on the dock without a PFD (Personal Flotation Device), I'm risking his life, he could be knocked off the dock and swept under and then he'd DIE and wouldn't I feel horrible then.
All the time she's bellowing at me, I'm holding Rowan's hand. Haven't let go since, well, the moment we walked onto the dock to begin with. Everyone who was on the boat commented about how confidently Rowan moved, and how clearly, he knew what he was doing. Readers of my other posts on this blog know the same thing. But this woman, having observed my little family for all of ten seconds, assumed a lot. And it's those assumptions that are most fascinating.
She assumed risk where there was basically none. We were on a cement dock, on the inner shore, with the entire marina between us and the things that make waves, over perfectly still, non-moving water. The dock was about two arms' lengths wide. The water right there is less than four feet deep, and shallows rapidly to where the ducks were standing up. I'm a scuba instructor and an excellent swimmer; I could probably have him back on the dock before he realized he was wet. And did I mention, I was still holding his hand? I could go on, but that's not the point. The point is, this woman perceived a huge risk where none existed, not from any angle I could possibly examine it from.
She assumed Rowan was some form of turnip. At least, that's the conclusion he and I came to. Because all of her fear mongering and aggressive speech was right there in front of him (since, did I mention, I was holding his hand? So invading my space was most certainly invading his too.) He couldn't figure out what she was so upset about, and kept looking up at me as if to say, "OK Mama, now what?" But what was interesting, to me, is that all her concern was supposedly for his safety, but there was no respect for him. Not for his space. Not for talking to him to see how he perceived himself in the scheme of things. She never directly addressed him. "Turnip," stated Rowan, and I completely agree.
She assumed that being commanding and aggressive towards me would result in some form of compliance. I mean, she really thought that I'd smack my forehead, curse myself for a dunce, and race back to wherever to find a PFD for my child and put it on him immediately. My lack of action took her aback completely, and resulted in an escalation of both gesticulation and volume.
We stared at her until she wound down (or paused for breath, I'm not sure which), I said "I'll take it under advisement, thanks" and we walked away. I think there was supposed to be a lesson there about safety, or someone's perception of safety, or something, but she was so completely bombastic, I'm not quite sure. And neither was Rowan. His last reference to the incident was a quick question about why that woman thought he needed a PFD, since no one else had one on. I couldn't answer him, except to say that some people think kids are less able to protect themselves than adults are. We both shrugged, and kept moving.
Later in the day, after too many seminars and far too many vendor booths, we retreated to the food court. They had live music, Eric Stone and his band. Rowan was absolutely entranced, dancing in his seat (Kestrel, who had been in the Ergo all day, demanded to get out and dance too.) The boys were enjoying themselves so much, that at the break, the drummer made his way over to ask Rowan what he thought.
So there's our first data point. He didn't ask me. He made eye contact with me, smiled, introduced himself as Gary Haas, (not only famous for being in Eric's band, but also for being a stand-in for Geoffrey Rush in the Pirates films, and for being Courtney Haas's father) but then had his discussion with Rowan. Because he was the one clearly involved. They discussed the cool red bongo drums that Rowan was coveting, the chimes, drumming in general. Gary excused himself, but asked us to stay put. A few minutes later he reappeared, with a pair of autographed drumsticks, and a pirate flag for Rowan. "This is so you keep playing your drums when you're on your boat, and you think about our music when you practice" Gary informed him solemnly, a professional drummer to a beginning one. Inspiration personified. Rowan immediately crossed the sticks beneath his chin and pronounced, "Skull and Cross-drumsticks!" The kid's a natural.
And as Gary walked away, I sipped my drink, and mused upon an entirely different set of assumptions.
- The kid was the one to interact with, if information was going to be imparted in a way that stuck.
- You can inspire devotion with attention.
- Learning can be motivated in all kinds of ways, and it can be killed flat just as easily. It's all in the delivery.
Rowan's been playing with those drumsticks since we got home. Sometimes, he's actually playing his drum set, sometimes he's hitting other stuff and pretending it's bongos, and sometimes, he's just sitting there, playing with the sticks and thinking. Just on a hunch, I asked him about the loud woman yelling about falling off the dock. He looked at me blankly; the incident is already forgotten.
My assumption? It's been blotted out entirely by a pirate flag and a dream of playing glossy red bongo drums.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The Elemental Mom