From Wikipedia: Object permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, heard, or touched. It is acquired by human infants between 8 and 12 months of age via the process of logical induction to help them develop secondary schemes in their sensori-motor coordination. This step is the essential foundation of the memory and the memorization process.
I was thinking about this this morning as my dog, who clearly has a strongly developed sense of object permanence, scratched and scratched at the stove attempting to retrieve the ice cube she had hurled underneath it.
The idea that the ice cube might not be there anymore, that walking away and finding another toy was the most reasonable alternative, was clearly not on her radar. There was an ice cube. Under there. And she wanted it.
As I dragged stove out from the wall so she could rescue her half-melted, lint-covered ice cube – something I have done many times in the past (she is very persistent) – I wondered if there was some way to un-teach her about object permanence. Convince her that once she can’t see it anymore – it’s gone. Poof.
Because certainly although I can’t seem to train her that the dining room is not, in fact, outdoors – and that kitchen tables are not, in fact, edible – surely I could teach her false abstract philosophical concepts. If you can’t see it. It’s gone.
Now of course this opens up a whole flood of thoughts related to my recent life…um…alterations.
Because sometimes it is true. Once you can’t see it…it is, in fact, gone.
Once there are no offers of assistance, no expressions of concern…the desire to assist, and the concern are likely to be gone. As much as you want to believe they are there and you just can’t quite get to them.
Once there is no evidence that someone is listening when you talk…they are probably not listening. Although you want to believe they are – but the words are not quite getting there – perhaps stuck under the stove with the lint and half-melted ice cubes.
Once the things that made you feel special and whole and part of something start to make you feel boring and broken and alone…something is probably gone.
Of course the flip side is that there is probably stuff that you didn’t realize was there…stashed away for a rainy day. Permanent.
And then you see that there are offers of assistance and expressions of concern coming from all over the place. And then you know who the folks are who really give an “F” – who always did.
And suddenly there are a multitude of ears listening when you talk…and (if you are lucky) reading what you write…and support is everywhere. Lint free. No need to move appliances.
And then you realize that you ARE special…and whole…and part of something. And all that is actually gone is the stuff that was blocking you from seeing that.
So yes, ice cubes (and lint) are still there until you move the damn stove…and it’s probably better to let Dixie continue to know that. Because some things should be permanent.
And everyone needs something to believe.
(But I am still going to try REALLY hard to convince her that the dining room is, in fact, indoors.)