One of the fun things about seeing your baby develop is how they can surprise you. One of Archie's first, and best, toys is a baby gym that's occupied the middle of the living room floor since he was born. Always a good place to pop him down to give him some exercise and his mum and dad a break, it has a number of dangling toys as well as lights, music and different textures to keep him occupied. In the early months it was 'Captain Monkey Face', a soft toy monkey with simple, clearly defined eyes and mouth, that held most attention. In more recent months he's mostly played with a blue elephant we called Ganesh that has a spinning rattle element and a red parrot with a similar spinner.
I was watching him play with these this week, when I saw that he had perfectly mastered the art of spinning the spinners. He would hold the toy in his left hand and with a deft flick of thumb and the first two fingers of his right he would produce a perfect spin. He repeated this several times and with both toys. What was most surprising to me was that his level of dexterity and control far exceeded anything else I've seen him do elsewhere. Picking up objects and putting them to his mouth (something I'd expect him to be more adept at) is still a clumsy, whole hand affair in comparison. I'm not sure how proud I should be that my son has mastered a skill that has almost no real practical use but it's great to see these things develop. And I guess if I have a wing nut that needs tightening then I know who to go to.
Still, the mastery of seemingly useless skills is one of those archetypically geeky things. While I've never been the sort of geek to practice, practice, practice a skill to absolute mastery I've definitely come across a few in my lifetime. A colleague of mine, who is as wonderfully geeky as they come, was a former state Yo-Yo champion and once competed in the World Championships. He now coaches instead of competes but I was fortunate to be treated to a display of his skills. If you've not seen Yo-Yoing at this level it's really something to behold.
Another example is the comedian Demetri Martin. Back in 2003 I was very lucky to see his brilliant Perrier Award winning show "If I", at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. If you're not familiar with him, Martin is a real geeks' comedian. Fortunately, the BBC had the wisdom to record a version of the show for posterity and you can catch it on You Tube. I was reminded of a particular segment on 'useless talents', where he shows, in quick succession his mastery of rolling a coin across his fingers, juggling, unicycling, yo-yoing and more. He also beautifully puts these skills in the context of his school and college life - a story that I'm sure many of us can relate to. I'd urge you to check out the whole show.
I think there's two character traits that you need to be a geek of this type. One is that you need the creativity and imagination to see that an end result is worth achieving. The other is that you need to have the dogged determination, perfectionism and patience to achieve that result. I think the world of magic is the epitome of this mix of traits and nobody personifies it better than the great Penn and Teller. This article about Teller's Red Ball Trick gives some insight into the brilliance and effort involved in just one of their tricks.
Speaking of effort, I came across two really interesting articles on parenting this week. The first discusses how you should praise effort and not intellect, the second discusses the value in teaching your kids to argue with you. I thought they were both great and insightful reads and I shall be trying to put them into my parenting toolkit.