On my way out to water the tomatoes this morning I heard the unmistakable sound of an electric sander coming from across the street – the steady mid-range pitch of the thing spinning before it makes contact with a surface, the shift up to a wobbly whine when it touches, the drop when it rounds a corner or slips off an edge.  There are several handy folks in the neighborhood, so this sort of noise is not unusual and many of us recognize by ear the variation from saw to sander to shop-vac.

When I actually emerged from the house I discovered that what I’d heard was not an actual sander but a three year-old neighbor imitating a sander.  He and his brother were sanding a birdhouse manually, and he was adding the soundtrack, presumably to make it feel more like they were using the power tool their dad would. Or maybe he was just doing it for fun, because he could.

Even as I stood there watching him do it, I had trouble believing it wasn’t actually a sander.  He was that good at it.  It was like he was singing.  Which, of course, he was.  Not singing a song, but singing.  He’d figured out how to match exactly the wandering pitch and tone of the machine, he’d chosen a duration for each level, and he’d decided where the loop would start again.

When I talk to parents about what their children could do when they were very young, they almost always have a story about something quirky and unexpected like this.   The things kids do with astonishing skill and commitment, without being told and without being taught, the ones that seem odd, that another person might never have thought or been inspired to do, can be just the ones to lead us to their specific genius.


2 Responses

  1. This is our son!!! Our 10 year old has an amazing ear — imitates a siren so well sometimes I think I have to pull over. Talks to the red tailed hawks with incredible accuracy. We comment all the time about his uncanny ability to imitate sounds.

    • I’m so glad to have the viability of this experience confirmed! Since I posted the anecdote, a friend raised an eyebrow at me about it; she didn’t believe it could have sounded real enough to trick me. But it really did. And there’s something about this particular capacity that I think illustrates especially well how little we know about the diversity and scope of human potential.

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