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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Corners of Minds

Did you ever--if you are female--listen to a boy/man watching a sporting event and wonder how on earth he knew all that stuff about where the player had gone to college and how many touchdowns he'd scored last season and what his RBI was and all that other sports trivia that seems completely impossible to keep in mind?

To me, that stuff always seemed hopelessly complex, relatively useless, and difficult to retain. Like, say, memorizing numerical codes for colors or something else equally mundane.

But here in my own house lately, I can see the process starting. Son has long loved watching sports with his dad.  Last year, his questions were all about the rules of the game.  This year, he's moved on to asking about strategies. But in addition, he is suddenly, without any apparent effort, absorbing the kind of sports knowledge that his father manages to retain without even trying.  Son has known, for most of this college football season, not only the rankings of key teams we care about (mostly Wisconsin's Badgers), but also who else needed to win or lose what other games in order for Wisconsin to move up in the rankings.  He knows not only the names of key players--even on rival teams--but also what numbers they wear on their jerseys, how many points they scored last week, and what the most outstanding plays of the games were then, so that he knows what to watch out for now.

His mind is a font of "trivia" about scores, players, averages, teams, rankings, plays, and who had an easy week.

I no longer find it mind-boggling how men know this stuff because the answer is suddenly crystal clear: they know it because their fathers taught them how to learn it back when they were in first grade, so that by the time they were in high school, accumulating that knowledge and filing it away in the proper places for easy recall was simply second nature.

Sort of like the way that I can talk on the phone, fold laundry, pack tomorrow's school bags for each kid who has different supplies, and log a reminder about the dentist appointments all at the same time.  Or how I can hold in my head who has dance/sports/library/gym/art on what days, and what time I have to show up for Motor Moms the second week of December, and whose birthdays need buying for, and the dates I need to mail out stuff for Hanukkah as opposed to Christmas, and when Son has run out of pants and needs more laundry done, and what size snow boots everyone needs this year, and whether it's time to buy more stamps or not.

It's not that I think men couldn't hold these things in their heads. In fact, unlike me, Husband is particularly good at remembering the random things we need at the grocery story--you know, the things that we only buy once in a blue moon, so they're out of the regular route through the store.  I contend that I have a harder time remembering these things because I am always shopping with one or two kids in tow, so I am distracted, whereas he goes to the store alone, on his way home from work.  But the truth is, I'm a hopelessly bad at remembering the random groceries we need.

On the other hand, I can shop for the holidays and remember all the appointments for a whole family full of people with little trouble--all while doing at least two things at the same time because doing only one thing at a time is a waste of time.

I think, the older I get, that it is simply a matter of priorities: a human brain only has so much space for the leftovers. You know, the things that are tiny and not part of any bigger picture. Stuff like: pick up the dry-cleaning, order Mom flowers, and schedule your annual exam now because you know the doctor always books three months out and you are due for one in March.

And some people choose to fill those corners and crevices of their minds with the tiny tasks that occupy the "idle" moments of the day, with reminders and lists and keep-the-family-running-smoothly minutia, while other people choose to fill those corners with batting averages and running records, scores, ranks and plays.

We could call this a gendered choice, and in some ways in our culture it is.  We are more likely to find women adept at multi-tasking and men adept at sports facts.  But it's certainly not the case that we each wouldn't be capable of the other, were we only interested in it. I know plenty of women sports fans who know all this stuff; I just am not interested enough in sports to bother tucking away those facts into the limited number of brain cells I have available for more important things like which day of the week is the next Drinks Night out with my friends.  And I know men who do the bulk of the family-appointment-planning-detail-oriented stuff (though, admittedly, not as many as I know women who are fonts of sports knowledge).

Still, I do find it fascinating to realize that there is no question that the gender acculturation happens early: Son is addicted to sports, and to spending time with Daddy, while Daughter is more interested in art and would rather come cook with me than watch a game of any kind on TV. And, without meaning to, we reinforce this by taking Son out to play sports during halftime, while keeping Daughter in to help bake the cookies.  And by teaching through example: Mama isn't that interested in sports, so Daughter isn't either.

It would bother me, this realization that I am apparently inculcating gender stereotypes into my children already at this tender age, and despite the fact that I resist doing so as much as I can.  However, I also know that my boy loves to read and is a wonder at sympathy, while my daughter is physically fearless and strong.  So I've decided to let the sports fandom slide.  Daddy and Son can watch their games on the weekend; Daughter and I will do "projects" of every description instead.

But I am determined that somehow, through all of this, I will teach this boy to multi-task too.  After all, why on earth would you spend half an hour on the phone without getting all that laundry folded at the same time?


BusyDad said...

Funny. I have always been amazed at that because I cannot remember ANYTHING sports related. However, you tell me a band member's name once and 10 years later I can recall it. They are both humans, they both have a first and last name, they both play with a "team"... the parameters are the same. Yet, with musicians I can do it, with athletes, I cannot. Yes, I don't watch mainstream pro sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey) and I am not in any way interested in them. But I love music. Interest really compartmentalizes your brain and subconsciously filters it as relevant and irrelevant -- even betraying your conscious self. That is the crazy part! In college, I would try my hardest to remember player names and stats so I wouldn't seem like the loser who couldn't talk sports at the bar, but I failed. Miserably. My subconscious brain betrayed me. Eventually, I just accepted that I have no interest in pro sports and life has been good.

Marinka said...

Well, of course they can multi task. They can watch sports while eating snacks (and when they're older, glugging beer)

LceeL said...

Marinka has it absolutely right. But she forgot "Scratching".

Jessica {Team Rasler} said...

Bless you for trying to teach your son to multi-task. It irritates me that my husband can't do this, and I'm determined that my two boys will someday!!


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