Why my son is smarter than me

by Wolf Pascoe on January 20, 2012

I’ve been wondering when I got so stupid. It goes like this:

Nick got a new scooter the other day. He took it to a play over at his friend Indar’s.

On the way to picking Nick up, I had stopped by the market and loaded a couple of grocery bags into the trunk.

“I think the scooter will fit in there too,” I said as we prepared to leave Indar’s house.

I picked up the scooter. I’d left the instruction booklet at home, of course. I knew it folded into a compact version of itself but I didn’t know how. It had some levers and other twisty knobs.

Nick grabbed the scooter. It spun around in his hands and became a quarter of its size. He threw it into the trunk on top of the grocery bags.

“Hey, watch it,” I said. “There’s eggs in there.”

“Sorry.”

“Nick, have you ever folded this thing up before?”

“No, dada.”

That’s the whole thing right there.

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BLACK HOLE

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Out of respect to the black hole that is my I.R.A., I subscribe to a financial magazine. In the last issue, I found an article with a disturbing title, “Aging and Investing: The Risk of Cognitive Impairment.”

The article explained the intellectual perils of age. It was geared toward handling money, but it applied to handling scooters as well. There was a graph, reproduced below. Unlike most of the graphs in this journal, this one was intelligible to me. With a few, simple strokes of the pen, it unlocked the whole experience of parenthood.

Age runs along the bottom. Smarts runs up and down.

It turns out there are two kinds of intelligence. The first kind is called crystallized intelligence, which is based on accumulated experience. It’s the ability to solve familiar problems. It’s the intelligence that tells you not to throw a metal scooter on a carton of eggs. I’m not sure, but I think some people call this common sense.

Common sense goes along way. But one must always bear in mind that it is common sense which tells you that the earth is flat.

The second kind of intelligence is called fluid intelligence. It’s the ability to solve a problem you’ve never seen before.

Crystallized intelligence is the gold colored line. It accumulates throughout life, ever rising, bearing people, barring dementia, into the extremes of old age. I find this reassuring.

Fluid intelligence is the red line. It declines without remorse, in that alarming downward diagonal, as you age. Nick’s greater fluid intelligence is why he can fold the scooter and I can’t. I do not find this reassuring. Not at all.

The dotted purple line is how you do overall, counting the two intelligences together. Your overall performance peaks at age 53 and declines slowly thereafter.

I never discuss my age. But in the cause of academic rigor, I will confess to being on the wrong side of 53.

Not reassuring at all.

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CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER

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It’s no wonder that the world seems more and more mysterious and inexplicable to me. My fluid intelligence is leaking away. At an ever increasing rate.

It makes me glad I have a child to accompany me on through the dimming light. I’m sure this is what the prophet Isaiah had in mind when he said, “…and a little child will lead them.”

I explained all this to Nick today. I reminded him about the scooter and the eggs.

“There were eggs?” he said.

“That’s not the point,” I said, “Forget about the eggs. I’ll be counting on you and your fluid intelligence from now on.”

Long pause. He went on eating his cheese sandwich. He seemed indifferent to his new responsibilities.

“Nick, what do you think of all this?” I said.

“Good.”

“Good?” I said.

I’d hoped for more. But perhaps, I reflected, this was the way of fluid intelligence.

“Nick,” I said, “You’re the teacher here. I’m listening.”

“Dada, shoo.” he said,  “Eating now.”

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RELATED POST:

This essay was originally published at The Good Men’s Project

Of birds, bees and body snatchers

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YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

The Disembodied Mind from one of my favorite blogs, Not Just Cute. Turns out, intellectually speaking, leave the kid alone.

Image Credit: The Black Hole by Thelma Smart (lis: Creative Commons). Klein Bottle (Wikipedia)

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EXPRESS YOURSELF!

Behind the curve problem? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen @ Motherese January 20, 2012 at 10:26 am

Although I traffic in words, my brain works in mathematical ways. And that chart? That chart is genius. It explains why I’m starting to “get” things I never got before, and why my two year old is way better than I am about finding the photo I just took on my iPhone.

(Do I always end my comments by saying, “This is my favorite ever post of yours”? ‘Cause I kind of feel that way a lot.)
Kristen @ Motherese recently posted..When the Student is Ready

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Favorite post? Really? This is my favorite comment of yours!

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Barbara S. January 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm

All of this hit me years ago when my not-even-school-age boys could transform their, um, transformers with a few flicks of the wrist and I could only stare in confusion. I totally rely on my kids to help me solve problems like this and I’m not even 53 yet! Yikes!
Barbara S. recently posted..Salts of the Sea

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Are you French? There’s still hope. See BLW’s comment below.

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Barbara S. January 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I do have French in me, so at least I have that! lol Thanks BLW – I needed some positive news about aging!

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BigLittleWolf January 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Oh, I laughed out loud reading this!

And I hate to disappoint, but… my latest reading indicated that it was 45. I think we’re both on the wrong side of that one…

http://dailyplateofcrazy.com/2012/01/07/cognitive-decline-another-aging-arrow/

On the other hand, I console myself with the fact that I’m apparently good at making soup. As long as I can remember where I put the list of ingredients, not to mention my wallet, when I head to the market…

Oh, and of course, there’s the spectacular news that French women over 50 have great sex!

Oh, right. We’re not French, and you’re not a woman. Well, can’t the principle still apply?

😉
BigLittleWolf recently posted..Hot (News) Flash! French Women Over 50 Have More Sex!

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm

45? Really? Oh, this is worse than I thought. Something must be done. Isn’t there a line in Eliot? “I grow old, I grow old. I shall learn to make soup.”

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Sirena January 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm

LOL for this post and all the comments so far! I’d still be laughing except for the depressing news herein that I have no brain function left. Well, I COULD pretend I’m french… And I see the best time to convince a child that he needs to be your intellectual guide is NOT when he’s eating. You are SO funny, and do console yourself that you can write witty and provocative blog posts.

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

The problem was the cheese sandwich. Once I learn to make soup, I’m going to try again with Nick.

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pamela January 20, 2012 at 7:52 pm

This is so great. I feel like this all the time with my kids. Especially my 3 year old. He’s better at jigsaw puzzles than I am. The eggs part killed me.

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Sure, they can handle jigsaw puzzles and scooters, but can they handle eggs?
I DON’T THINK SO.

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Alameda January 22, 2012 at 4:53 pm

One of LaFontaine’s fables message “we always need someones younger than us”

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Wolf Pascoe January 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Then Shaw was probably wrong saying youth is wasted on the young.

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Privilege of Parenting January 22, 2012 at 6:47 pm

And then there’s Trickster Intelligence, aka Bullshit, aka exploiting greed… Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain… he’s way past 53 and he’s got his hand in your pocket. The river has fluid intelligence right from the start, and keeps until it meets the ocean, at which point it becomes vaporous intelligence, and then snow intelligence and then fluid intelligence again. There’s no place like home, and we already have the ruby slippers.

We have to be scared that we’re losing our acuity in order to pay young hucksters to “manage” our money for us.

Our money is a symbol for our fluidity, an indicator of where we spend our energy. We need to create a new reality where fluidity does not decline at 53; here’s to child-mind.

Perhaps we project the archetype of fluidity onto children, confabulating the Puer with Tao/flow.

Check this out with this idea in mind…

http://bit.ly/16R6fz

perhaps flow and fluid intelligence is a state of mind, not an age.

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Wolf Pascoe January 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm

This is a whole post you’ve written here, grasshopper.
I love this fluid river. And the idea of snow intelligence. Did you know the Inuit (they do not like being called Eskimo) have two words for snow?

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