I have a very clear memory of the day I learned to read a calendar. By this time I understood the concept of measuring time and how the days of the week went. My young brain had easily accepted how the months of the year were made up of these weeks, and all the reasons behind why there were more days in some months than others. The whole thing came together for me in a nice little package that I could reason out.
But something about that calendar really bothered me.
I remember sitting in the kitchen, staring at the wall calendar with my parents. I asked them how they knew, just by looking at the calendar, which week it was right now. I mean, sure it’s Sunday. But how do we know which Sunday it is just by looking at the calendar?
We just know.
We always stay aware of time, and we just know what day it is. So, when we look at the calendar we already know if it’s the third week of the month or the fourth week, and which day it is.
This answer was unacceptable to me. What was the point of a calendar, then, if we had to already know what day it was before we could read the thing?
I was thinking about this the other day as I was explaining the days of the week to Teghan. She is older than I was when I first learned the hard truth about calendars- but she is pretty far away from understanding the concept of time. Obviously she is not asking questions, but I try to answer the questions I think she might have to the best of my abilities. It leads to a lot of scenes of me rambling on about random things as she runs back and forth across the living room floor.
Once in a while she stops and seems to really hear me, so I keep it up. I know I sound crazy. Also, I am not really great at explaining the things I haven’t needed explanations for since I was a preschooler. My mind accepted the logic so long ago that it all sounds foreign to me now as I break down the details. And you know what I figured out? I never did find a satisfying answer to that calendar question. It just stopped mattering one day.
I suppose experience led me to the conclusion that we didn’t really use calendars for reading time. We use them for scheduling our future plans and organizing our knowledge of time in a visual form. I now know that this type of explanation would have suited me better, but how on earth could my parents have been expected to work all that out about me? And I could talk.
It’s fascinating when you can pull up memories from your youth and really grasp how your brain worked at that time. I get glimpses of just how little I knew, and I feel overwhelmed at the responsibility I have with Teghan. I also find it interesting that there has never been a time when my brain didn’t require formulas and complete understanding.
What really bothered me about that calendar was how there was no exact formula for reading it. There was no calculation that I could use to always be able to determine the date- it was dependent on me just knowing things. This made me nervous. I required clear directions for coming to conclusions. Almost everything else had worked that way, but this calendar thing left room for mistakes.
What if something happened and I didn’t already know what day it was? What if I suffered some brain injury and was alone with no memory and nothing but a calendar? My little mind thought up all kinds of pointless scenarios like this in search of a formula that would make sense. But it was no good. That calendar was worthless.
I am like this with everything. My husband….not so much. Which makes me wonder about Teghan. Do I over explain things? I think the answer to that might be kind of obvious. One thing that has come from my over-thinking ways and Teghan’s autism, is the knowledge that I need to be more aware of how crippling (and automatic) it can be to live under the assumption that everyone thinks alike. I don’t really know how else to be, but I am certainly capable of having moments of realization now and again. And really, that’s the best scenario for any of us.
Maybe she does understand the days of the week. Maybe she accepts that today is Sunday and tomorrow is Monday just because I said so. Maybe it doesn’t matter to her how we as humans decided to measure time and how we came to these conclusions about that measurement. When I was her age- it mattered a lot. It still matters. So I get overwhelmed when I think about explaining it to someone who provides no feedback or follow-up questions. And it makes me wonder if I may be the wrong person for this job.
But I am starting a new plan on this. My new goal is to tell her how things are without so much elaboration to confuse her. I mean, she isn’t even asking the question in the first place, right? I want to believe that one day she will ask me questions. Any question at all would be amazing. Then there will be plenty of time for elaboration.
(And I do hope she asks me about reading calendars.)