Saturday, January 11, 2014

Post-Christmas Reflections

Productivity is the term used in economics, agriculture and ecology, among other fields. It often means the rate at which goods or services are produced or manufactured or refers to the quality of something that facilitates healthful growth and development. Being productive has been of paramount importance ever since my years as a student at the University of Calgary. If I completed my homework, however inconsistently, cleaned the miniature studio apartment I used to call home or persevered through an extreme two-hour-long fitness workout, the feeling of accomplishment permeated the air and lingered in its divine presence before slowly dissipating into the void. 

Incredibly addictive, it continues to drive the physical and mental activity at the Quist residence, which lately has been focused on the growth and development of the youngest family member, the boy with a full head of hair, penetrating blue eyes and the knack for a giggle so infectious it draws innocent by-standers into a full-fledged genuine laughter. A nutritious diet, clean body and clothes and plenty of play are all an infant his age needs for continued advancement, and today, under his mother's watchful eye, Marcus practiced numerous elements of physical and intellectual exercise, meeting the standards for being a productive infant. Albeit it took a few motherly initiatives to take the day beyond opened and slammed shut doors and drawers, their contents scattered around the floor glistening with freshly deposited saliva. 

Having driven the family patriarch to the airport- the Christmas season exhausted its welcome, giving way to renewed field activity in the city of black gold- I felt the urge to spend the day wisely, engaged in the kind of productive action that creates value and yields results. Once back home, I fed and changed Marcus, followed by an unsuccessful attempt to lay him down for a nap. While in his crib, he mumbled and banged his bottle on the wooden railing, as if demanding to be released from the restrictive reformatory cell he was admitted to on an entirely unfair basis. I waited in the hopes that my little prisoner will succumb to his fate, but to no avail. The banging persisted, concluded by the sound of a tossed plastic container, and the mumbling evolved into the amalgam of gentle whimper and periodically expressed yelps, as if to highlight the urgency of his appeal for freedom. 

Once out of his crib, Marcus proceeded to open all lower kitchen drawers, pulling out plastic lids, steel bowls and methodically tossing them on the hardwood floor, which, hurt and deeply offended, nicks and dents evident to an unarmed eye, rang with exceptional intensity. Something had to be done about all that zest for learning, and before I knew it, I caught the glimpse of newly prepared reading cards, piled up on the far side of the kitchen island. Quickly, the squirmy infant was transferred to his high hair, where, excited, he looked at approaching strips of white poster board complete with unfamiliar writing in red ink. Jacket, this reads J A C K E T. Shoes, this reads S H O E S. Already scheming my next attempt at entertainment- the stroll around the neighbourhood- I prepared relevant words to teach my up and coming reading whiz. 

Amused by the process, my animated facial expressions and exaggerated intonation likely the main cause, the miniature man stared at the flash cards with an open eight-toothed smile, gobbling up the diverse stimuli shot his way. This had to work! Perhaps indiscernible for a few months, the results will manifest themselves in more rapid brain development and reading skills at a much younger age than what is currently considered normal or expected. At this time, little doubt exists in my son's future ability to read at age three at an average six-year-old's level, so long that I keep practicing with him. After all, my own mother was able to read at four years old, taught by her father who in his unquestionable wisdom allowed her to pick her own books at the local city library. In the Soviet era- it would have been mid 60s- that choice meant a great deal to a little girl who now looked forward to every trip to the magical place with an unlimited, it seemed, choice of literary artworks. 

That admiration for words and their unique combinations was lovingly nurtured in another young child two decades later, whose favourite pastime was spelling with small plastic letters on a white magnet board at the age of five. I must have learned to read at least a year earlier and practised the newly acquired skill ever since! Speaking of practice, its connection with talent appears obvious. Having read The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born, It's Grown. Here's How. by Daniel Coyle just a few short days ago, I learned about developing talent through deep practice- the activity directly responsible for production of the mysterious, although perfectly explainable by neurologists, compound called myelin. It turned out, certain cells called oligodendrocytes, or simply oligos, produced myelin in response to repeated firing of particular neural circuits- practicing of the same mental or physical activity- and wrapped it around each neural fibre in the circuitry as a way of improving the strength and the speed of electrical signals. The more such insulation, the better the performance of an athlete, a musician or a scientist. 

The attitude of this sort has got to be considered irrationally optimistic, the aspirations for my son's future monstrously outlandish. After all, an average child is spared from reading lessons until the age of six for a good reason. Unless our common understanding of intellectual capacity is incomplete or altogether fallacious and we as species are capable of functioning at an extraordinary, unphathomable level- our fate in our mighty hands- so long that decency, compassion and overwhelming kindness rest in the foundation of each and every one of our actions. [The dark has fallen, giving way to quiet thoughts of a hopeful mother and a faint sound of a pug's steady breath. All have succumbed to a night of restful sleep, productive no more... until the sun rises.]

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