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How I Missed My Son

I envied Jean Piaget because he was able to observe the growing up of his children while developing his cognitive constructivist view of learning. I did not have that privilege because I was always overseas working during my son’s four stages of cognitive development.  However, I was present in almost all of his special occasions.

I was there during his sensorimotor stage – his first cry was like music in my ear, his first crawl was slow like a wagon but became like a bullet train when his muscles in the arms and knees were developing. It was during this stage that he was constantly experimenting with tasks such as shaking, throwing things and putting things in his mouth. He seemed like a zombie when he made his first step but you could not catch him when began to run. “Ma” was his first syllable and became my wife’s name when he combined the two. I was not “Papa” but a “Daddy”.  At this stage, he was already aware that things existed even if they could no longer be seen.  When we were playing “It! Bulaga!”, he knew that I was there inside the towel or the blanket. He was afraid of the “momo”, although he did not know how it looked like. Piaget referred this “important milestone” as object permanence indicating that my son’s memory begins to develop.

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I was there during my son’s first birthday. The occasion was simple and yet full of memories. When he was about sixteen months old, I taught him the names of the different things that he saw and feel. He mimicked the sounds of the different animals in our barangay. One day, we went to his grandmother’s house and I shown him a mother pig and told him that it was a pig. I asked him what it said and he readily voiced out “oink! oink!” in Tagalog. In the adjoining corral, baby pigs were walking and licking and playing. I told my son that they were pigs. He looked at me with arched eyebrows and surprised in her eyes. Then he looked at the mother pig at the left pen and the baby pigs nearby. He was silent as if he was deeply thinking. Once again, I told him that the big pig is a pig and the little pigs were also pigs. Seeing my son’s bewilderment, I explained to him that they were both pigs. It was only when the baby pigs cried “oink! oink!” that my son accepted that the little ones were indeed pigs.

Remembering that instance now, Piaget suggests that babies already had a basic mental structure that was inherited and evolved. He describes this as schema or schemata, “on which all subsequent learning and knowledge is based.” When my son saw the mother pig and it grunted “oink! oink!” he developed a schema of a pig as I shown and told him. A disequilibrium took place when he saw the baby pigs and I told them that they were also pigs. It was only when the little pigs oinked that he assimilated the information to his prior knowledge and accepted that these little ones were indeed pigs. His expanded notion of a pig included big and little pig and they both grunted “oink! oink!”

I did not mind this incident for a month or two. One Sunday morning, we were just leaving the church and passing some small shops lining in the vicinity when my son pointed somewhere and blurted out “baboy!” My wife and I directed our attention to the object and realized that it was indeed a pig, a plastic toy pig. To make the story short, we bought the toy. We were inside the jeepney going home when I noticed that my son kept on hitting the mouth of the toy pig. After a while he handed me the plastic toy and disappointingly said that it was not a pig in his own two- syllable phrase. Surprised, I asked him why. Without blinking an eye, he said “’di oink! oink!” Some passengers laughed for his innocence. I told him that the toy was a pig although it did not grunted “oink! oink!” He looked at me amazed. His schema of a pig that oinked was under attacked. He was again in a state of disequilibrium. I explained to him further that the object that he was holding was only a toy that’s why it was not grunting like a real pig, but it was still called a pig, a plastic toy pig to be exact. Silence. Silence. After a while, he said “ba-boy!” This is what Piaget now describes as accommodation. My son was once again in equilibration when he accepted the fact that there were also some objects which were called pig because they looked like pig but did not grunted.

My son was about 2 years old, just entering his preoperational stage as Piaget called it, when I had to leave overseas to provide him a “better life.” My wife often sent me pictures of him as he entered nursery school and rode his tricycle. My wife wrote that he talked fast and very talkative. He began to imagine things and engage in make-believe. However, his thinking was often based on intuition and not at all logical. It was only when he entered the first grade when he demonstrated logical and concrete reasoning.

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I was with my son when he celebrated his 7th birthday. All his classmates and teachers, relatives and neighbors were there to celebrate his special occasion. There were three birthday cakes, spaghetti, pancit bihon, fried chicken, ice cream, balloons and parlor games for the kids. It was indeed a happy occasion. During this period, I noticed that he already understood some kind of rules of addition and subtraction. But this logical thought was only for physical objects. Piaget describes this as concrete operational stage. He knew that when I gave him two bottles of soda and he poured them into 2 glasses, one tall and one short, the amount of the liquid in the two glasses were the same although the tall glass seemed more. Piaget called this conservation – the appearance of the matter changed but not the quantity. In this case it was specifically called  conservation of liquid. My son also understood that if he sliced the cake into 6 equal pieces, the whole was the same as the 6 pieces. This is conservation of number.

I also attended the elementary graduation of my son. I walked up the stage and pinned to his shirt his medal for being in the top 10 of the graduating class. The day after, while collecting all his textbooks to be put in the box, I browsed through his math books. I was surprised because the lessons were advanced compared to our lessons way, way back. I noticed that they were already introduced to abstract concepts in algebra. His science textbooks were also advanced in scope with such concepts as matter, motion, mass, energy and force – combination of things that could and could not be seen or touched. He could do some simple scientific experiments and investigations. This beginning of his adolescence stage is referred to as formal operational stage by Piaget.

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I was out again when my son was growing into his adult life. Nonetheless, I was there when he finished his Year 10 and Year 12 in Australia. I do not know if my son understood and understand the way it was and it is. I feel guilty knowing that I was not at my wife and his side when he was growing. As a father, I failed to teach him many things. I missed his innocence. I did not know how he grew up. There was no father to son talk, not so many conversations for that matter. He is going to be 21 years old in October but I was only with him for about 5 years of his life. I missed by son. He was just a baby when I left him and now he is a man. I hope he forgives me for my shortcomings.

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 References

McLeod, S. A. (2009). Jean Piaget | Cognitive Theory – Simply Psychology. Retrieved fromhttp://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html

McLeod, S. A. (2010). Concrete Operational Stage – Simply Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/concrete-operational.html

Piaget Stages of Development. In WebMD. Retrieved from http://children.webmd.com/piaget-stages-of-development


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