Sunday, January 23, 2011

My cunning linguist

Capacity for grining aside, LGO is an unusually articulate and comical 2-and-3-month-old, as evidenced this week.  You never know what he's gonna come up with.  It's kinda what I imagine living with Jim Carrey must be like (although I'm sure his ex-wives would beg to differ).  Lately I wake up to the sounds of him crooning in the next room.  He's got quite the repertoire, must be gearing up for Vegas:  These Boots are Made for Walkin', Jumpin' Jack Flash, I am the Walrus, as well as the usual kiddie fare (mainly, if I have anything to do with it, Sesame Street and Co.)  And his new favourite -- after he received a Spidey watch for Christmas, and I made the fatal mistake of playing the original cartoon theme song for him via You Tube -- 'Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can...'  He can sing most of the song, note for note, bar for bar.  Rote repetition, sure, but so unbearably cute.  Of course now, after countless viewings, I also know the words by heart, too.  We all have our crosses to bear.

Guess it spells the end of an era
We're leaving behind In the Night Garden, et al.  Everything has a time and a place, after all.  It's just funny to think how quickly these little people grow and evolve.  They are in such a race to move on.  You want to tell them to slow down already, take in the view, lap it up. You'll be wanting botox before you know it...  Even though I'm clinging to the crib for as long as my sanity will allow (and for as long as it takes for him to plan a break-out, Shawshank-style), I did convert his room recently.  It was high time to banish the babyishness in favour of a total Thomas & Friends fest.  (Yes, anyone with a similarly aged male is overly familiar with the toddler trainspotting fetish.)  Got some great wall stickers, a poster, fleece and bedding.  We are officially Thomased to the hilt. 

My baby is gone
He's graduated to the next level.  I'm not too broken up about it, because that phase was very painful for me, in the main.  I'm glad to turn a new leaf, even though, as recent posts will attest, this stage isn't always a peach, either.  But because LGO is increasingly articulate, it is getting easier to understand and communicate with him every day.  And that is a great relief, even as part of me recognizes what is lost, the innocence that gets chipped away, bit by bit...  We are progressing on the potty front (stickers notwithstanding).  And he can count to 100, knows his colours, alphabet, shapes, and body parts inside out.  And lately, without preempting, he has startled us by counting to ten, and now 20, in French.  Guess I'd better start pulling out my finger in the bilingualism department.  Clearly, my son has a knack for tongues -- just like his madre, it seems.  Well, I'm all for that, provided he doesn't want to be A Writer. 

He's also something of a yoga bunny...
Spending a fair bit of time in downward dog, then throwing his arms back in a practice headstand, which is more than his mother can manage.  And on the (kitchen) dancefloor he has been known to bust a few original moves.  Unlike his mother, though, he isn't much for arts and crafts.  Can take or leave drawing and painting.  He likes play dough, but only if I'm the one doing the doughing.  (And we've had some recent successes: a Bert with a fetching unibrow, and a good likeness of the Blue the dog from Blue's Clues.)

Children really do say the darndest things
Eating out at restaurants is still a highly skilled military operation, yet we Greens try to manage it once a weekend.  It's nice for us to dine out as a family, and a welcome break for mom.  This past weekend we tried out the Gourmet Burger Company.  No burgies for junior, but a pretty nice-looking grilled cheese.  A woman waiting for her order turned around and said hello.  Not only did he say hello back, our little one piped up: 'Hey my man! Hey my buddy!'  Where did this come from?  His grandfather we suspect.  Sometimes out of the blue, LGO will also say in all seriousness to his father: 'Philip, come here, Philip' or 'Whatcha doin', Philip?' in a voice uncannily like my own.  Cheap entertainment, in the privacy of our own home.  Watch out Mr Carrey, at age two LGO is already perfecting his stand-up routine, impersonations and all.

What uproarious/surprising things has your little one done lately?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The mother of all meltdowns

What's the only thing worse than your child having the mother of all meltdowns?  His mother having one too.  Enter the terrible *ahem* terrific twos.  The Griner, as he's affectionately and sometimes not-so-affectionately known around these parts, is back among us.  All hell bent on making 2011 the year of socialization, I enrolled him in a music class as well as a play group that fosters independence by letting the caregiver 'disappear' for part of the session.  The perfect antidote, said I, to the stay-at-home preschooler afflicted with separation anxiety.  Recently it had gotten to the point some nights whereby my son will cry for 'mommy' when he is going to have his bath (with daddy, I might add).  I can be in the next room, but if I'm not in the bathroom with him, look out. Still, it's not the separation anxiety that I mind so much; frankly, it's nice to feel wanted.  And along with it comes a lot of affection, 'pucker ups' and mommy-love. No complaints there. However...

Socialization is a hard nut
I'm told it's 'a phase' and that 'it too shall pass', but my LGO still cracks when there are loud noises, when other children invade his personal space. (Seriously, and here I thought personal space was something that only came about after you'd worked with the office lech).  But today, throughout his play group -- where, for the record, no one shoved him or so much as grabbed a toy from him -- he just freaked.  Whined, screamed, threw things.  Generally didn't want to be there, and no wonder:  what a hellhole it was, with so many of his little munchkins friends happily ensconced in crafts, songs, stories, and all around kid FUN.  So why couldn't my munchkin get stuck in?  Why couldn't he just enjoy himself like the others? 

I'm not a conformist, usually
But when it comes to your child, you want so desperately for them to blend.  Now, I haven't had him tested yet because he's so articulate and bright in many respects, but what if there genuinely is something wrong? I don't think there is.  I don't want to think there is.  But I also can't find any earthly explanation for this perplexing behaviour of his.  Has anyone else out there encountered a Griner?  Is this really typical of 2yos?  From what I've seen, not quite.  They all have their foibles, for sure.  And I hate to keep up with the Joneses.  Yet as mothers, we can't quite help ourselves, can we?  Isn't it always the way that when your child seems at his most demonic, others seem at their most angelic?  And they will tell you, 'Oh, they all have their moments;' it's just that you don't remember ever seeing any of theirs even come close to what you've been dealing with for, well, always.  Even at snack time (a perennial favourite of my tot's) the Griner was still at it. 

Then.  I lost it
I couldn't help the tears, the pent-up frustration that was like a dam breaking the levee.  I took a deep breath, but it was like once I started I couldn't stop.  All that trying to be such a great mother.  And that added salt to the wound because here I am, writing publicly about what it means to be a great mother and about all things mothering... And here I couldn't get my shit together.  And my kid had turned into a Tasmanian devil.  All the friendly words meant nothing.  They fell on deaf ears, for when your kid acts up, you're on your own raft, mate.  You are that shipwrecked Tom Hanks kind of alone. 

And it feels like...
No other kid in the history of the world acted up like yours, ever. And that rare golden moment when your child dons his halo (like no other kid in the history of the world, of course), oh, don't you just lap it up?  Smug as anything.  So today I'm having a devil day, but hopefully tomorrow will bring with it a halo.  Then I can forget and lap up all that golden cherubness and tell some other poor mam that 'we all go through it'.  Not that she'd believe me for a second.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Are Chinese mothers superior?

In her book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", recently excerpted in The Wall Street Journal, Yale Professor Amy Chua boasts about all the things her daughters were not allowed to do, ever. The list --by no means exhaustive, I’m sure-- includes having a sleepover or play date, being in a school play, watching TV or playing computer games, choosing their own extracurricular activities, getting any grade less than an A, not being the top student in every subject (except, mercifully, gym and drama), playing any instrument besides the piano or violin.

Chua claims her strict and regimented 'Chinese-style' parenting is more successful than that of most (permissive) Westerners, who stress individual happiness over achievement. So, who’s right? Who’s wrong? While I don’t doubt that Chua’s daughters are hugely talented, highly precocious youngsters, I feel sorry for the means by which they became so. I find Chua’s methods questionable at best. She claims to love her children so much that she doesn't expect less than perfection from them. But I wonder whether she hasn't raised the bar impossibly high.

Rote repetition may well be underrated here in America, as Chua claims. Perhaps as parents we let our children off the hook too easily at times. Perhaps we allow them give up without first putting up a good fight. After all, what’s most worthwhile in life rarely comes on a silver platter. It’s a question of balance, however, and this is where Chua gets it horribly wrong. Practice and effort are right to be applauded, but not at all costs. There are circumstances in which failure is, and should be, an option, and one for which children are not rebuked or humiliated. (At one point Chua fondly recalls how her own father once accused her of 'disgracing' him when she came second place in a contest.)

When loved for her abilities rather than for her intrinsic worth, a child’s emotional and mental welfare is compromised. A child should not have to earn a parent’s pride through achievement alone. Chua claims she drives her children to succeed because she loves them too much to watch them fail. But isn't failure a crucial lesson in and of itself? How much is too much to expect from our children? In Chua's vision, parental love isn’t a given; it has to be earned through blood, sweat, and tears – not merely through valiant effort but through overachievement. In my understanding, parenting shouldn't be based on a points system. A child should be loved, first and foremost, for himself, not for what he can or can’t do.

If a Chinese child came home with a B grade (not a likely scenario, according to Chua), therein would follow ‘a screaming, hair-tearing explosion’, followed by the most intensive, grueling regime until a 'B' became 'A'. It goes without saying that this failure-is-not-an-option model creates unbearable pressure on children, and though the results may be close to perfection, innocence and fun are sacrificed just so the parent gets to play the brag card. The children learn discipline, sure, but they also learn less favorable lessons, too.

And what happens down the line when the classically trained pianist or figure skating champion burns out at age 15, or ends up 'dissing' the prodigious talent his entire young life has been based upon? What happens when the student grows to resent his parents and rebels against their influence? Or, in extreme cases, ultimately cracks and commits suicide?

I may never have made it through high school calculus, or even chemistry for that matter. And I’ve never so much as picked up a guitar, let alone a violin. By Chua's standards, I’m a worthless loser. But more importantly, I’m a happy and deeply loved loser. And that is far more precious to me than being able to play a sonata in b minor or to work out the value of x.