Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Recording Reflex

Our 18 month old has erupted with language. When he doesn't effectively pronounce a word, he becomes frustrated that we don't understand what he says and this has led to some tempestuous encounters. Following in the footsteps of his elder brother, water ("voda" in Serbian and "nero" in Greek, which are the other languages spoken at home) eludes him and we understand his intention more from the context and fury of his intent rather than from his somewhat mangled attempt at pronouncing the word in one of the languages spoken at home. Since the three words for water used at home do not appear to be difficult phonically (with the qualification that "nero" may be communicated without rolling the "r"), for after all M, as L before him, annunciates all the necessary phonics perfectly in other words, I have begun to speculate that the wiring mechanism of early language may prevent some connections during periods of stress or excitement. When my sons ask for water, they don't appear merely parched, but as if they've been exiled in the desert and just spotted an oasis. We can perceive this as adults too, for aren't we at times so impassioned and overwhelmed that we may not grasp the right word so that our surroundings become ineffable and our lexicon is reduced to a succession of emphatics and insertions of onomatopoeia?

Social media has brought amazing benefits (for instance, we face time with the grandparents regularly and the children can develop a sound relationship with them despite the geographical impasse)  but it has also somewhat corrupted our experience. Every time M says a new word, such as the name of his best bud yesterday as he ran towards his house, or the construction of a simple sentence, we brim  with pride as parents and are relieved at one less communication kerfuffle. I also have a keen desire to share my joy with the grandparents, whom I know would appreciate to see it.  Even without Facebook and other social media, I nevertheless have fallen prey to the posting reflex, posting pictures and videos to the grandparents on a shared stream. The reflex is not only to share, but to record. I have by far fewer pictures of my childhood from my parents than my kids have of theirs. This of course has its benefits, but I also wonder of the corrosive effect of having an itch to record every ebullient experience. Was it really proper of me to record my increasingly exasperated 18 month as he yelled "pasta" while earnestly rummaging through the pantry for his favourite, rotelle, and then proceeding to throw it in front of me to effect his purpose (on a side note, M loves to direct- if I ask if he wants me to read a book, he always says yes and then rattles of which books and in what order before proceeding to bring them to me)? We wouldn't think to record our spouse, or anyone for that matter, in such a manner and yet we record some delicate moments of our children (for I believe I am not the only one). We also lose some of the magic of the moment.

The other day M, who like L, is an earnest drawer and likes to form scenes on the sketch pad as if creating a mandala in a meditative trance, drew a definitive figure of a fish. I gasped and asked if it were a fish to which he responded in the affirmative, beaming with pride, "da, fish" (he had been at the Academy of Sciences the entire day with his grandma and it seems was inspired by his adventures at the aquarium there). I could discern the body, the fin and the tail of the fish and my pride percolating to a boil, I reached for the phone to record M with his drawn fish. Later I pondered why I didn't simply enjoy the moment with him - in an attempt to record it, I failed to really enjoy it and I might have deprived him of his own enjoyment.

We must resist the pervasive recording reflex...

Attached to the recording reflex, is the need parents have (attributing our idiosyncrasies to others) to affirm their kids' milestones which also has a somewhat corrosive effect. When M turned 17 months and started counting to two, utterly flabbergasting us when he interrupted our count, we became so excited that we started counting anew so that he would repeat it. M refused to do this, as he does at times, keenly aware that he must assert himself against such parental transgression. Kids are not pets that you teach tricks to and it may be somewhat disrespectful and exploitative to elicit a display of your child's latest milestone, as if we were merely tracking tricks.

Parenthood is as difficult as rewarding - how do we know that we are really practicing the best form of pedagogy? We have been following the positive discipline approach, which on the whole works wonders. My elder son responds very well to a timer, for instance. When he refuses to do something, instead of barricading ourselves into a brawl, we simply physically move him away from a danger/temptation or to where he needs to be. Affirming what can be done rather than stating what cannot be done has also worked wonders for both our sons. Rather than saying "no pinching", we have found that sanctioning "touch nicely" and showing what that means has slowly effected a gentler response from our piccolo pincher. One place where positive discipline has not aided us and where we have gone back to our earlier tools of time out, distraction and bribery, is food. Our elder son can be quite picky at the dinner table and no amount of speaking calmly gets the broccoli down. I have resorted to bribery in an effort to increase the green quotient of my son's diet. Indeed, bribery works, and works too well. It effects your limited purpose, but it entrenches you within its method so that you find your kids expect to receive some tangible benefit in the proper exercise of their appetite. L is an expert negotiator and liberally offers deals for his vegetable intake. There needs to be a better way. Positive discipline does not advocate forcing nutrients down and its authors have pointed out that children's own subconscious eating habits tend to provide them with sufficient nutrients. I have noticed that my picky elder son will refuse strawberries one day as if he were certain they contained cyanide but will gorge on an incomprehensible number the next. Perhaps this is the right approach, but whether it's my Southern European mindset or no, I can't help but think that this allowance is somewhat of an abidcatfion of my parental duty.

It is amazing how different my sons are. My elder son is a gentle, artistic soul who while socially enthusiastic and extroverted, has certain trepidation in the physical realm. "Oh, that's dangerous mama" he resolutely replies when I try to coax him up a ladder at the playground. My younger son, conversely, is an intrepid adventurer that has resulted in wonderful experiences and attendant injuries. All you can do sometimes as a parent is nudge. My older son needs a nudge to take a leap. My younger son needs a helmet.

The other day when I was picking L up from preschool, one of his schoolmates was recounting all the different classes his parents took him to - karate, soccer, swimming  - there was one more I can't recall. Apart from playing Playball at school and starting swimming lessons soon, we haven't signed L up for any sports or other activities. This doesn't mean he hasn't experienced any of it, for instance, we play football (soccer) with him and teach him how to kick and I teach him yoga and meditation, which he earnestly attempts and has enthusiastically adopted, but I wonder whether we are providing sufficient guidance not being professionals in either arena. A multitude of lessons on the other hand is problematic, and not only due to the monetary complications if done concomitantly, but the temporal limitations. If my son goes to preschool full time and a number of lessons outside of this time, when do I get to see him? What is the correct formula in providing access to all these varied experiences and providing sufficient time to simply be with your children? If your child is not participating in all these extra-curricular activities, in lesson form, are they missing out? Perhaps there is no right answer...
















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