The Fine Line Between ‘I can’t’ and ‘I can’t – yet’

To a second grader, grownups are magicians. We can reach stuff in the high cabinets. We can make toast. We can drive a car. We can produce endless LEGO sets out of thin air. We can do things their developing minds consider mini-miracles.

I kind of like it. Makes me feel useful and smarter than I actually am.

Our younger son got frustrated at breakfast trying to open one of those applesauce pouches. You know the kind, and come on; it’s the easiest thing on Earth to do, right? Grab the cap in one hand, hold the pouch firmly in the other hand, apply counter-clockwise pressure to the cap, and voilà! One of your oh-so-vital servings of fruit, ready to inhale at your convenience.

He could not figure it out. So, he threw it across the table and yelled, “I can’t!”

I retrieved the pouch and placed it in front of him, unopened. I bent down to his level and smiled. He crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip.

I ducked my head to look at him eye-to-eye and asked, “Can you fly a rocket ship to the moon?”

He said, “No!”

I asked, “Can you drive a car to the movies?”

He said, “No! No! No!”

I asked, “Can you ride your bike without training wheels?”

He said, “No, and I don’t want to!”

I asked, “Can you determine the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

He looked up at me and said, “What?”

Then I backed away a bit and, smiling, asked him quietly, “Can you put on a shirt by yourself?”

He uncrossed his arms and said, “Yes.”

He reached for the pouch and I gently swatted his hand away. He laughed and waited for the next question.

I asked, “Can you take a bath by yourself?”

He said, “Yes! A shower.”

I asked, “Can you go to the bathroom by yourself?”

He laughed again and said, “No!”

I looked at him sideways and he said, “OK, yes!”

Then I said, “You can’t drive a car … yet. You can’t ride a rocket to the moon … yet. You can’t ride your bike without training wheels … yet. You can’t cure cancer, or make a plan for world peace, or feed the world’s hungry, or invent a flying car. There are a lot of things you can’t do. Not yet. But that’s because you don’t have the experience you need to do those things. Your mind and body are still growing. You’re still learning. Everything is still new to you. You aren’t unable to do these things because you’re seven; your age is just a number. You are unable to do these things yet because you haven’t had the time to learn how to think, how to allow your intelligence to work on a problem until you find the solution.

“Plus,” I said, “you’re just too short to reach the cabinet.”

Then I said, “The answer you give when someone asks if you can fly to the moon is, ‘Not yet.’ ”

I asked, “Does that make sense?”

He shrugged and said, “I guess.”

“OK,” I said. “Good.”

Then I asked, “Can you open your applesauce pouch on your own?”

And he said, “No.”

Then he added, “Not yet.”

He smiled, reached for the pouch, and turned the cap with all his might.