Monday, September 25, 2006

Reading His Mind

Since reading all your lovely compliments about my mothering skills in response to Friday’s post (with more than a hint of disbelief and panic – "Don’t they know how often I neglect the children?" I wanted to ask), I’ve been second-guessing myself a little bit. How do I know that my suppositions about my children’s thoughts and motivations are correct? What if they are simply a projection of my own personality or – worse – my preconceived ideas about who and what my children will become?

Case in Point #1: I picked up a new toy yesterday, a wooden kitchen set with red- and blue-painted cups, plates, bowls, and cutlery. I was particularly thrilled with this purchase for two reasons: (1) it encourages pretend play (one of my latest Bub-related projects), and (2) the smooth, sturdy pieces are so appealing I want to play with them myself. There’s even a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers as well as two little green-and-white gingham napkins to tuck into the little cups. We’ve already had several impromptu tea parties, and the pretending abounds. This morning, Bub was playing with the salt and pepper so I asked him, "What letters do you see?"

"P and S" he replied in that lilting, high-pitched voice that is always like a little arrow in my heart.

"P-p-p-pepper," I explained, "and s-s-s-salt."

And then Bub did what I knew he would do: he gave the vocal equivalent of that little "zip-it" hand motion Dr. Evil uses when he wants Seth Green to stop talking.

He does this, I believe, because he has an innate hatred of learning, one that is surpassed only by his deep desire to already know everything. Bub evinces less curiosity than any child I’ve seen, but he thrives on demonstrating his full command of areas already within his realm of competence. He delights in counting to 39, but he cuts me off quickly if I attempt to tell him about the number 40 (especially if he’s already triumphantly ended with "thirty-ten!").

This, at least, is my totally unproven supposition. Alternatively, he may simply have found my impromptu tutorial to be an annoying interference in his project of liberally salting and peppering his imaginary food.

Case in Point #2: I’ve been working on a ludicrously kitschy dance-hits-of-the-’80s CD in response to Bobita’s "The Best of the Worst" contest, so I put it on yesterday as a break from our usual Sunday-morning fare of old-time hymns. No modern choruses for us – we like the real oldies but goodies, and hubby occasionally adapts the lyrics to suit our family: "Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, / Where’er I turn my eye: / If I survey the ground I tread, / Or gaze upon the Pie!"

So when "Hymns We Love" was replaced by Twisted Sister, Bub unleashed a torrent of protest. It’s not unusual for him to scream in rage when I put on a CD, and I typically assume that he is angry because the music in question was not personally requested and selected by him. I paused yesterday, though, wondering if I’ve been unjust: perhaps I have underestimated his sensitivity, his enjoyment of the peaceful quiet that had been so rudely broken by that intolerably peppy ’80s beat.

I decided to go over the evidence to test my theory that it is tyranny rather than genuine sensitivity that provoked this particular outburst. Bub has always loved music. Even in the womb, I could always coax out a kick by sitting down at the piano (unless those were kicks of agonized protest – how would I know?). I'll concede that the pre-natal evidence is inconclusive, but the post-natal evidence is a bit better: there were several months during the Bub’s infancy when "Baby Beluga" was the only thing that would make him stop crying. And one of the highlights of our trip to the fair last weekend was Bub’s overt enjoyment of the Johnny Cash cover band playing in the bandshell while we ate supper (Bub kept scrambling down from the picnic table to get his groove on in the grassy clearing between tables).

Having demonstrated to my own satisfaction that Bub does not consider music to be some kind of parental torture device, I left the CD in and gave him a hug, careful not to offend his sensibilities by singing along, clapping my hands, or tapping my feet (and you’d be surprised at how difficult it is to refrain from tapping something when you’re listening to Dexy’s Midnight Runners). After a few minutes, I started to see a smile lurking in the corners of his mouth. Then I caught him tapping his fingers to the beat of the Pointer Sisters and skipping and hopping in time to Quiet Riot. It was a bit surprising to see how few of my favourite ’80s hits are actually suitable for small children – music from that era always seems innocent to me because it’s so upbeat and reminiscent of my own childhood innocence. My nostalgia was not unmixed with a certain degree of parental horror, though, as Bub and I joined hands and danced around the living room shouting, "My blood runs cold! My memory has just been sold!"

When the CD was done, Bub met my eyes, grinned, and said appreciatively, "Songs." And I nodded in return and carefully refrained from saying, "I told you so."

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's funny I think, they seem to reach a sort of learning capacity space. I sometimes think that motion is an indicator of brain fullness, information digestion needed.

Christina said...

Cordy has similar issues with learning the next step in a process. She will count to ten, but dislikes me trying to teach her eleven.

She's also the world's smallest yet most vocal performing arts critic out there. If you're not a professional, she'll scream if you try to dance or sing. (Oh, and she used to kick in the womb when I'd play music, also. She was a big fan of, or hated, Evanescence.)

Mrs. Chicky said...

I picture Bub's negative response to Twisted Sister as his own "We're Not Gonna Take It", without the anthem music. Just wait until he's old enough to really know what it means. ;)

metro mama said...

Cakes likes ACDC.

wordgirl said...

The stories about Bub just make me laugh. You write very well.

Jennifer said...

My 3.5 year old daughter likes hip-hop. Because she likes to "shake [her] booty". I'd take the 80s -- minus Like A Virgin -- over that, I think. It's been tough to find age appropriate hip-hop (*rolling my eyes*) that doesn't drive me insane.

Mary-LUE said...

How old is Bub? I'm trying to remember Colin when he was two to three years old. I realized all these other kids knew their colors and letters. Colin knew zilch, zippo, nada. I started trying to teach him everything I thought I had neglected but he wouldn't have it. Then, when he was ready, he knew every color, could count to whatever, etc.

Even just trying to encourage compassion and empathy in him was so difficult. I wanted this sweet little boy and I had this it's-all-about-me kid. By the time he was fivish, I was worried. Then one night, I was watching Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel. He was profiling a man who had lost one foot in an accident. Twice before he had attempted to climb Mount Everest only to have something prevent his succeeding. On the third attempt, all the students he worked with--all with various disabilities--came with him. They all journeyed to Base Camp, an amazing feat for them. The man became sick and his sherpas didn't want to take him all the way to the summit. He had to go back down a camp or two and really fight for doctor's approval, sherpas' cooperation, etc. But he did it. He made it to the top of Everest.

Colin watched all this intently. Suddenly he announced, "I think I'm going to cry when I go to bed tonight." I had two responses: 1) yeah, my kid does have a heart in there; and 2) my heart feeling for him as he experienced this emotion. It was also quite an insight into his personality. He needs to process these kinds of emotions privately.

Um... okay, I've gone off track. What was my point? My own experience tells me that some kids choose their own pace of learning. Obviously Bub is one of those.

Also, I admire you methodology. You are very persistent and clever.

Julie Pippert said...

First, I ADORE Nick Hornby.

Second, sugah, don't YOU know how often WE neglect our children? ;)

Third, oh my word did you ever capture my sweet Patience in a nutshell with, "an innate hatred of learning, one that is surpassed only by his deep desire to already know everything."

Fourth, great scott if I had two dollars back for every dollar I spent on a Fun! Educational! Interactive! toys that I thought the DDs would love, love, love? I could remodel my kitchen.

Fifth, you might be right, you might be wrong...but I guarantee you if you don't know what's going on in their heads, then neither do they. Did you listen to Bill Cosby?

You know they can't even say why. It's just a feeling at 3, not hardly even a thought. And then, just when you get comfortable with this? They pop out something like my DD did to me the other day, "Mama, I have decided that Friend is just how she is," big sigh, "And I forgive her. Yes I do. And I love her anyway."

laura said...

My girl jams to Bob Marley and the protest/punk/folk of Billy Bragg - hee hee! But she also loves asking me to sing, so I'm somewhat skeptical of her taste in music :)

Suzanne said...

Just as long as Bub doesn't actually have to LOOK at Dee Snyder during his Twisted Sister heyday....

I'd love to hear about your cheesy 80s CD. I am all about the 80s, unfortunately.

Christy said...

Such a perfect description of my daughter..."innate hatred of learning...deep desire to already know everything!" She absolutely cannot be rushed or pushed into learning, or doing anything really. Funny post!

penelopeto said...

Bumblebee likes Jack Johnson and the White Stripes.

Bub is priceless, and so is your telling of his stories.

Minnehaha Mama said...

Ha-ha, I can see Bub doing the "zip it mommy" move. I think I've gotten that gesture once or twice myself.

Jack Johnson's Curious George soundtrack is a good one for moms and kids. I'll also confess to having living room dance parties to"Hey Ya" by Outkast. Tooootally innapropriate lyrics, but very danceable for the preschoolers.

Aliki2006 said...

Oh, Liam used to *hate* it when we sang along to tunes. Now he'll allow us to, but he always insists that the singer is saying something different from what we *know* he/she is saying. He just won't concede, even if you play the same spot in the song over and over again, he'll still insist he hears a different version.

nomotherearth said...

I totally get the "zip it" vibe. The Boy is not that advanced - he justs starts to whimper and moans "no!" whenever I sing. I'm starting to be a little insulted! Sniff. I guess I should appreciate his discerning ear...
Total non sequitur -- in response to an earlier comment, I think that you would like Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. It had a lot of "teachable moments" in every day life. Very useful, but it focused on older kids, and I was reading it when The Boy was a wee babe. I'll have to go back and read it again to truly assimilate all the pointers.

Em said...

Ah the joys of learning! As my "all knowing" seven year old would say whenever I try to teach him something new (with a look of disdain on his face and in an exasperated tone):

"I already knooooowwww, mum!"

Becky said...

Kai's favourite song right now is "The Distance" by Cake. At least the insinuations are subtle!

Mommy off the Record said...

I'm cracking up at imagining Bub imitating Dr. Evil and telling you to zip it.

allrileyedup said...

Songs of the 80s are definitely fun. I wasn't old enough to go clubbing until the 90s, but 80s night at a place in Jacksonville called the Milk Bar could always be counted on to play "Come on Eileen"

sunshine scribe said...

My guy loves "mommy music". I sometimes forget his age and listen to the radio in the car and then a few days later I'll catch him singing the words to some terribly inappropriate tune.

Bub sounds like a boy who knows what he likes - whether it be music or that there is nothing after 39 until he decides he wants to learn it. There are alot of wonderful things about that kind of certainty and single mindedness that will serve him well later in life.

Bobita said...

I can't wait to get your CD!

So many of your Bub stories remind me of my Lobito. My boy counted using thirty-ten, forty-ten, etc for a loooong time! One of my favorites is his insistence upon using the word "also-ly." When he was 3-ish, he confused the words "also" and "actually" and created his own little word. What is so adorable is that, in spite of the world around him full of people using the two words separately and correctly, he persists with his "also-ly!" I think he is secretly planning a coup d'vocab! Soon we will all be running around shouting, "also-ly, also-ly, also-ly!"

Girl con Queso said...

Any four year old who likes the J. Geils band is okay with me. The Hurricane loves Ben Folds and Sheryl Crow. Go figure.

DaniGirl said...

I know it was only a drive-by statement in your post, but I know exactly the bandstand that Bub was grooving in front of at the Fair (the Western Fair! Be still my heart!) and it brought back a flood of childhood memories. Oh how I miss the Western Fair...

And, Simon (my 2.5 yo) becomes very offended when I try to sing along with him. Sheesh, I know I can't carry a tune, but you'd think I'd get points for trying.

Kristen said...

Bryce almost always resists learning something that he doesn't directly ask me first. This is the same with new music, new shows, new crafts, and new skills. If HE is interested on his own, then I am "allowed" to instruct him. Otherwise, no digs.

TrudyJ said...

I totally relate to what you said about the inappropriate lyrics in 80s music -- I blogged awhile ago about my husband playing some of his old faves and my daughter walking in saying, "Your love is like ... BAD medicine?" in an incredulous tone of voice. I have had to give detailed explanations of the lyrics of "Maneater" (the Hall and Oates one, not the new Nelly Furtado one). "Well kids, this is a song about a girl who doesn't treat boys very nicely -- they all want to go out with her, but she's not kind to them." My 6 y.o. daughter's response: "Oh, so she's like the girl in the other song -- she ain't pretty, she just looks that way!"

So that's how you know you have the "oldies" station on TOO MUCH!

My kids both find "Centerfold" ever so catchy, but I try to change the station before it gets to the tag line because I do NOT want to answer, "Mommy, what's a centrefold?"

Rock the Cradle said...

Once the Hub dug out Thomas Dolby, I knew we had started something and there was no going back...

Emily said...

(continuing from my comment several days ago) It's also your grasp of the details, your attention. That's part of what I meant when I said that you have the ability to 'parent in the moment.' And it seems to me that your particular personality allows you to observe things dispassionately. Bub has this ability too, no? A great gift for a writer, wouldn't you say? I would.

I have to say, I'm attracted to people who spend countless hours second-guessing themselves. Self-examination, gotta love it. I do. Much better than self-confidence, though it's difficult and often painful.

lildb said...

Oh, Bub. You remind me of a Cars song. Uh-oh, it's magic, when I'm with you.

(well, "with you" in the sense that I feel near through the relation of your mom's tales.)