Thursday, May 8, 2008

Confessions of a house-husband

I've stayed at home today, working on a novel and cooking pasta carbonara for the returning troops: Isaac from nursery, Athena from school, and Lizzie from a day's toil at the university. We are just settling down for dinner when Isaac wonders: 

'Do only mummies work?'

'No, darling,' his mother replies helpfully. 'Daddy works too. But he works at home a lot of the time. He doesn't go out to work in an office like Mummy does.'

I went through this with his sister, of course. She had ideas about what I did for a living, but little in the way of tangible product to point to. In the chapter 'Believe Me', I look at some of the connections between language, imagination and children's theory of mind (their understanding of the mental states of themselves and others). Some have argued that children's theory of mind is really like a theory, a set of hypotheses which can be tested out through the gaining of more and more information about how people think and behave. Another view, known as simulation theory, holds that children come to understand other minds by learning how to project themselves, through imagination, into the point of view of another person. In the chapter, I argue that Athena must be doing something like this, as she tries to  imagine my lonely hours of writing:
I try to think what that means to her. To do that, I have to project myself imaginatively into her shoes; I have to perform a quick mental audit of what she understands (the long walks, the hours spent hunched over a notebook) and what she doesn’t. For that brief moment that I am trying to get into her head, I have to enter her perspective as I would try to enter that of a character in a work of fiction. I have to novelise her. Perhaps that is what she is trying to do as well. In order to read my mind, she has to novelise me as I am novelising her: work out where I am coming from, and then run a sort of mental simulation of my point of view, asking herself what she would do if she were standing where I’m standing. Some have argued that this is precisely what mind-reading requires: the simulation of another person’s thought processes on your own mental apparatus. In which case, theory of mind is a misnomer. It has more to do with fiction-writing than it does with science.
Back to the novel, then. Anyway, I can tell Isaac that I've earned my keep this week. There are launches to plan, publicity materials to work on, and emails to send to Lindsay, my brilliant publicist. It's been great fun thinking about the big themes of the book in new ways and in different modes of presentation. Check back soon, for The Baby in the Mirror: The Movie. 

1 comment:

  1. I find your subject matter to be fascinating! We have been dealing with extreme tantrums from our daughter (from the age of 1 to as she is now - 3 1/2). Through the parenting manuals ('taming the spirited child', 'the incredible years' etc. we have learned some useful stuff (about dealing with kids as well as taking a good look at our own behavious) but we feel that NOTHING has been written that specifically addresses behavioural problems/ development of such small babies and children (especially ones with exceptionally independent and 'need to be in control' natures such as our daughter has.)

    I have always sensed that the best way to help my daughter is to try and understand the frustrations of being so small in comparison to us. We now have a 9 week old baby too and I am astonished just how different he seems to be from his sister. My daughter at this age - just stared and stared at everyone. She rarely slept in the daytime - just observed. Our baby boy is interested in people, but doesnt seem to be 'analysing' them in the same way our daughter did (and still does according to many others who are involved in her life!)

    I do wonder if our daughter's frustrations comes from a personality that just wanted 'to DO' as soon as she could (as opposed to 'being done to') I suppose this goes right back to the 'nature vs nurture' argument. I am no expert but it seems to me that none of the parenting 'experts' allow for the fact that even tiny little babies have their own personality and particular preferences. So many of the parenting tips seem to come in 'off the shelf' packages, that just do not apply to our little girl.

    Its v interesting to hear how you look at the process of how your daughter tries to put herself into your shoes. (NB - a similar situation before I went on maternity leave elicted the following response from our daughter 'Mummy goes out to work and Daddy stays at home all day doing silly things'!!)

    One of the things that we found has helped our daughter to think about others/ to put her frustrations into words was an idea I had after seeing a 'feelings chart' in a therapy setting. So many adults are crap at saying how they are feeling (I am for one) and I felt that maybe all of our family would benefti from it. So my daughter and I drew our own big chart with faces that showed different expressions, and with the 'feeling' underneath. She takes a real interest in the chart and often asks us to point at which one we are feeling (though by the time she is on a full-scale paddy, she would probably tear the thing off the wall rather than say 'hmmm - I am feeling grumpy!')

    I found it amazing that one day she asked me to point to what I was feeling. I chose 'contented' (I was in rather blue mood but didnt want to explain that to her and I was trying to be cheery). When we got in the car to go to nursery she suddenly told me off and said 'Mummy - you said you were in a good mood but I think you are grumpy!'

    I do think that the work that you and your wife are doing is invaluable! I wish I had read your book before my first child!