Thursday, April 21, 2011

James Matta, chicken behaviorist

I read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project a while ago, and she mentioned the idea that what we liked to do when we were nine or ten years old is probably a good indicator of what we truly like to do. This made me laugh, as all I could remember at first was how interested I was in primatology. This is me, as Jane Goodall, in our class wax museum. That's Sarah Henderson behind me, as Cleopatra. You don't mind, do you Sar? :) This may explain why I pause every time I see an opening at the nearby Gorilla Foundation.

So, James has always been extraordinarily interested in animals. His signing, for example, didn't take off until we started teaching him the signs for all the different animals. (Who cares about, "more", "eat", or "drink"?) It was fun to see him today at Hidden Villa. He just squatted next to the chicken coop, and watched. And watched. We watched those chickens for about twenty minutes, almost without moving. Thinking I had finally convinced him to move on to the pigs (the same piglets we saw, I believe, on an earlier visit), I led the way with Isabel only to see James immediately drop behind to squat, yet again, next to the chickens looking for bugs to eat over by the manure pile. So gently he observed them, signing and quietly approaching, fingers outstretched but never touching, cocking his head and looking. Next time we'll have to harvest a miner's lettuce leaf or two to give them--Isabel was so anxious to give them one like all the school groups were doing. I especially love that the kids look so ecstatic and enthralled throughout, but when you ask them whether they like the farm they say "no". Somehow they always interpret that question to mean whether they would like to get out of the car and revisit it immediately.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

James, Isabel, and the inevitable number six

James has learned to move the mouse where he wants it to go, and to keep it still while he clicks the left button. I'm looking forward to showing more of what he's learned later. We get kind of mesmerized watching him. For now, though, here's James on the number six page of the "x" section on For those of you who know anything about James' sister Isabel (author of such luminous phrases as "cute little baby six" and giver of birthday presents containing a small school bus, a large bus, and, you guessed it, a foam number six "Happy birthday, Mama!"), you'll have guessed that she's the impetus for repeating this particular page multiple times. If you listen closely you can hear James making some distinctions in the vowels here. Unfortunately, by the time I took the video, we had entered the Great Number Confusion, so you won't see him sign "six". Isabel, for a few days, was convinced that six, seven, eight, and nine went the opposite way from the way they really do in ASL, and James is now imitating her instead of us, as you can see in the middle of the video, where  you can see him practice 9, 8, 7, 6 instead of 6, 7, 8, 9 while he waits for the page to load.