Sunday, June 06, 2010

On Being Wrong – Again, and Again, and Again

Being Sweet M's parent has taught me to embrace being wrong. I'm not sure if that's because she's on the spectrum, or if it's just part of the whole parenting package.

Take this morning for example. Sweet M wasn't running a 2K, she was running a 5K. She was running more than twice as far as I had anticipated. So I was pretty far off. On the other hand, I have to think of all the things that were right: she was running in a race, the race was this morning, and the distance was measured in kilometers. But still, being 3K off is pretty far off.

I used to loathe being wrong. Needing to be right is an occupational hazard. In my line of work, higher education, we all have to pride ourselves on being right. We have to care about not only the broad swath of a thesis, but the page number for a footnote. Being right, being certain, that's our business, our stock in trade.

Professors and others in the expertise business profess to having some sort of knowledge that is not readily available to others -- some kind of specialty or know-how that took years of study or practice to acquire. The internet is making pretty short work of this model of knowledge, and I think that's basically a good thing. Most information, and the knowledge and understanding it makes possible, ought to be widely available, not squirreled away for a knowledge elite.

But the politics of knowledge aside, Sweet M's parent has taught me a lot about being wrong. The errors that we've made — at least the ones we're aware of — seem to fall into two general classes, errors of the head and errors of the heart.

The errors of the head are fairly common, and usually easily resolved. One lacks information, or forgets something, or puts some information together in the wrong way. Examples might include my mistake today: thinking 2K instead of 5K. Or forgetting that she was staying at school for an after school program. Or thinking, as we did for a short time between 2003 and 2005 that we could leave much of her education to her school because they were the learning disability specialists, they had the superior knowledge.

Errors of heart are another matter. These are harder to live with. "Errors of heart" sounds as though it would include being mean-spirited, wicked and nasty. Or violent or neglectful. And errors of heart could include those, but fortunately, in our case, I think those sorts of errors of heart have been rare or non-existent. As parents, both Fathersvox and I are pretty good-natured, though we can fall into the occasional lapse brought on by exhaustion or illness.

But the more insidious errors of heart come not from a lapse of love, but from a surfeit of it. Among our worst errors of heart is one that I've fallen into again and again: the seductive lure of the normal.

Early on I called it "oughtism." My first real encounter with my own "oughtism" was when I fell prey to the idea that she ought to be able to keep her bed dry at night because she was old enough, enough already. That lead to a horrendous period of sleepless night, and anxiety, and loads of laundry. In the end, because Sweet M is always learning and always growing, she figured out how to keep her bed dry when she was ready.

Now it's easier for me to detect the onset of an episode of oughtism — the telltale signs are any sentences that start with "By now she should . . . " or "She really ought to be able to . . . " or "Most kids her age . . .". A recent episode included "wow, she oughta go to summer camp" even though she's never liked camp and never expressed any interest in going.

Fathersvox has developed an finely-tuned oughtism detector — when he sees me entranced by the siren call of everyone else does it, he pulls me out of it with a "Why should she?" Or a "Who says so?" Or, on less patient occasions, "You've got to be kidding."

So I'm enjoying being wrong today. This was an easy one. She went more than twice as far as even I had expected. That's another kind of error I'm getting used to.


Anonymous said...

I think your being wrong about the 5K vs 2K is the most delicious kind of wrong there is...

Anonymous said...

oy, the oughtisms have crept over here as well, from time to time. and we've certainly had our share of being wrong!

but sweet m! running a 5k! hip hip hooray for her! that's ASTOUNDING!

MothersVox said...

@ASDmommy, You're so right . . . it's the very best flavor of being wrong. @kyra, thanks for the cheers -- I'll pass them along!

Onward to day 8 of 30-in-30!

Club 166 said...

We constantly fight against others stereotyping and pigeon holing our kids. Unfortunately, sometimes we fall into some of the same traps. But as long as we realize it, we can prevent the bulk of it from happening.


MothersVox said...

Hi Joe, welcome back over here. On my side, it's so great to be back!