Friday, September 22, 2006

Hep

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We took Bub to the fair last weekend, where we happened upon a live Birds of Prey exhibit. Bub and I slipped into the back of the auditorium just as the trainer was unveiling a desert hawk. "Look!" I exclaimed, kneeling down and pointing with exaggerated enthusiasm. It has always been difficult to direct Bub’s gaze – pointing gestures do not come naturally to him – but on this occasion he saw immediately what I meant and took off down the centre aisle, legs pumping at top speed, shouting "It’s a bird!" I dashed after him and managed to snatch him up about five rows from the front. As his outraged howls rent the air (met with mostly sympathetic glances), I noticed that instead of struggling in my arms, he was leaning back against me. It wasn’t the restraint of his freedom or frustrated desire that prompted his wails – it was the realization that he had done the wrong thing, that he had somehow failed to discern the rules governing this unfamiliar environment and had made a public spectacle of himself. (I should note before moving on here that Bub calmed down in time to thoroughly enjoy the tawny owl and red-tailed hawk, and he forgot his embarrassment sufficiently to leap from his seat in excitement every time a bird swooped overhead.)

It has always been important to Bub to do things correctly. He responds delightedly to words of praise and is liberal in giving praise to others ("Good boy!" he’ll exclaim when his sister fits a puzzle piece into its place, his tone one of warm congratulation). On occasions when he knows that he’s broken the rules, he promptly demands a hug as if to reassure himself that he is still loved and accepted even though he just threw mommy’s Napoleon Dynamite DVD into the kitchen garbage.

And yet, for all his addiction to praise and approval, he is still fiercely independent. I considered using the adverbs "sturdily" or "staunchly" in that sentence, but they fail to do justice to the ferocity with which he resists any attempt at guidance or correction. To the best of my knowledge he has no Dutch blood in his veins, yet he often reminds me of my best friend’s favourite Dutch-man joke: "Wooden shoes, wooden heads, wooden listen." Bub is a child who will spend twenty minutes trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and he’ll slap away any hand that tries to show him a better way.

Since the Pie has started to acquire language, I’ve been startled to see how naturally she does things that Bub has learned only after a long and sometimes painful process of instruction on our part and conscious effort on his. When Bub points at something, you can see him carefully folding down his fingers, struggling to wave his hand in the right direction. When the Pie points at something, all her energies go pulsing down her arm and out the tip of her index finger – you can almost hear the pop and the word "Alohomora!" After much demonstration, Bub has finally learned that he can use the word "Help!" to summon parental assistance (in preference to screaming in rage and frustration); hot on his heels, the Pie has picked up the word from her brother and now uses it even more frequently than her previous favourites, "mama" and "kitty."

The first time the Pie brought me a closed container and held it out with the simple instruction of "Hep!" I was amazed and delighted. That was a week ago. Since then, I have learned to fear and respect the tyranny of the word. No longer will my daughter sit happily with a toy while mummy reads the newspaper; now it’s "hep hep hep" from dawn until dusk. What has startled me most, perhaps, is her lack of stubbornness, how readily she gives up in the face of difficulty. She will take three, maybe four stabs at getting the oval into her Tupperware shape-sorter, and then she’ll unfold my hand, place the oval on it, and command, "Hep!" This is something the Bub would never do – he would sooner eat a roast beef sandwich or voluntarily get out of the bathtub than invite parental interference in the sacred realm of his toys. "Help" is something he solicits only when absolutely necessary for things like opening the piano or moving a heavy chair – adult tasks that lie outside the sphere within which he expects himself to do things perfectly on his own.

Perfectionism is not necessarily a desirable trait, of course, but I’ll admit that I’ve been a bit alarmed at my daughter’s lack of persistence. "You can do it!" I’ll say encouragingly, putting the Tupperware square back into her hand, only to have it thrust back in my face with a wail of protest. "Hep!" she insists stubbornly (she’s more stubborn than she looks, this one), so by way of a compromise I decide that we can accomplish this task together. We both grasp the yellow square, her small hand in my larger one, and manoeuver it through the hole. And as the Pie applauds appreciatively, I realize that this is the point of the exercise for her: not to do it correctly, or quickly, or easily, but to do it together. It’s a lucky thing that our children teach us how to parent them, I think, because I’m not always that quick on the uptake and sometimes I need a little help.

23 comments:

Emily said...

Not quick on the uptake? I beg to differ. I think that one of your finest qualities (of the many I've gleaned from your wonderful blog) is the marvelous ability you have to understand the inner worlds of your children. Insight plays a part in this, as well as your ability to parent 'in the moment' and see things as they truly are.

"It wasn’t the restraint of his freedom or frustrated desire that prompted his wails – it was the realization that he had done the wrong thing, that he had somehow failed to discern the rules governing this unfamiliar environment and had made a public spectacle of himself."

Case in point.

Christina_the_wench said...

I agree with emily. You got it goin' on, girl. That's easy to see.

mamatulip said...

Uh...what they said.

Seriously, I think being able to realize that children in fact do show us how to parent them separates mothers like you from the rest. It's a very admirable quality.

kittenpie said...

Hee hee. This is where I love the oblique version of getting them to do it. "You show me where to put it." And then, "It won't quite go in, can you help push it?"

But I'm sneaky that way.

T. said...

Yeah, the other ladies said it much more articulately than I could.

Your children are very blessed to have you as their mommy. As Christina said, "You've got it going on."

crazymumma said...

I loved this post, esp the last paragraph.

I thank my daugthers almost daily for teaching me to be a better person, a better parent. It is all so humbling.

And isn't it amazing how different they all are?

PS. ABBA Rocks.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing how different they can be and what a mental gear shift this becomes for us parents.

Adam was an early speaker and early walker.
Full sentences at two and walking by like 10 months.

Caity...well we still don't understand what she says and she scooted on her ass till about 18 months.

She will happily yell help..but usually for things she isn't supposed to have or do anyway.

Mostly it is NO and MINE that we hear.

Adam will give up in 30 seconds and move on to something else.

Jennifer said...

They "say" all kids are different, and I do know this to be true. But knowing it and experiencing it can be two different animals. Your Pie sounds a bit like my Tess. And Bub and Pie both sound like lucky kids! :)

nomotherearth said...

Bub sounds a lot like The Boy. If I have to help him do something, then he doesn't want to do it anymore. Period. Then he sulks. Then he moves on. A bit frustrating, but I'm learning how to work with it/around it. You hit the nail on the head though - he's teaching me, not the other way around. Thank god, too, because I need the help!

penelopeto said...

You're so aware - it's fantastic.
It's truly amazing how quickly our children cultivate their own personalities.

bumblebee always wants us to do stuff for her that she has proven she can do on her own. sometimes i think that she just wants us to play, sometimes i think she just wants to boss us around and sometimes i think it is sheer laziness. It doesn't matter; i can't yet resist her calls for 'hep'.

Em said...

Lovely post! One of the things that suprised me most about parenthood was this very fact - not only does each child need something different from us as parents - but each child is able to draw out what they need from us (if we are willing to "listen" - which you obviously are).

lildb said...

yeah, man. do I ever require the pointers my son doles out on a regular basis.

*nods vehemently*

Kvetch said...

Yep, you've got it all right. Our kids do quietlyteach us how to parent them. And usually all they want is our hep ;-)
- and our attention!

Julie Pippert said...

Luckily for your kids you keep listening and working to understand what it is that they are telling you about themselves...and in that is the magic line between the benign neglect and years of therapy. ;)

That had to be one of the most beautiful posts about uconditional love and affection for kids I've read.

Thanks.

Oh er, now glancing to my left...what Emily said.

Kristen said...

Not to be unoriginal, but your kids are very lucky to have a mom who IS so in tune to their cues and their needs, their language (verbal and non). Quinn still tends to ask for "help" when he really just wants my focus. Yeah, these kids are resourceful. :-)

Aliki2006 said...

When Tessa was born I somehow expected her to be like her brother--I'm not sure why, but I did. Having two kids SO opposite in personality is really more univers-shifting than I thought it would be.

Well said.

mad_hatter said...

hey there,
Wonderful post, this. I couldn't help but slot my daughter somewhere neatly between Bub and Pie's 2 personality types. Oh lord have I seen her work for ages trying to convince the green triangle that it MUST fit in the hole created for the blue circle. It doesn't matter how many times I demonstrate the correct way to do things; she must do it her way. My girl will never be (or should never be) a structural engineer.

BTW, thanks for all the reading and kind commenting. It's sorta exhilarating having someone rummaging about in your archive--not unlike finding your daughter mucking about in your underwear drawer.

I've also been sampling your archive (or at least I was last week) but I haven't done a thorough read. Yet.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sweet Pie!

bubandpie said...

Mad Hatter - I'm glad you liked it, because I wrote this post just after reading your archive and I could tell I was being influenced by you in all kinds of ways, both style and subject matter. (I make no pretensions to having an original, incorruptible voice. I'm one of those people that starts speaking an awful hybrid British accent ten minutes after landing at Heathrow. That's why I always enjoyed writing essays about Charlotte Bronte: nothing does my writing style more good than an hour or two of reading Villette.)

cinnamon gurl said...

But British accents are so much fun. I too am influenced by what I read and who I hear speaking.

As I read this post, the thing that most struck me and made me pause was the insight you showed into why Bub was wailing.

I've noticed that my niece has always been incredibly verbal and articulate from a very young age; she has been of the hep hep variety - using language to get things done. My other neice, though, and my nephew are both of the stubbornly do it myself to figure out the mechanics of something types.

sunshine scribe said...

I started to write my response and realize that I was repeating verbatim what emily and mama tullip wrote.

You rock.

Jenny said...

Lady M sent me. She's right. Perfect Post!

Blog Antagonist said...

Congrats on your PP Award! I meant to comment on this post when it was first posted, but I couldn't seem to formulate the words the way I wanted to express why this post resonated with me. So I'll just say...excellent post. Wonderfully well-written and insightful.