I always thought of blogs as being narcissistic, business related, or as my sister's, a way of keeping in touch or memorializing.

But, by necessity, I am learning a lot about myself. I find I need to get my thoughts out, and it helps me to know that someone else will read them. So I have created this little space for myself, to express the things I have trouble saying (be it emotional or physical trouble), to share what I'm going through, and what I'm learning through it.

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Monday, 25 April 2011

About My Son, Hope and Pride

I know every mother thinks her children are special. I'm no exception. Except that everybody else seems to think so too. I am constantly flooded by validation from outer sources, so I feel less like a braggart and more of a realist. I hope this is how I seem to everyone else, but really, whatever. My kid rocks :)

Last week, I had several opportunities to see him in action in different, out of the ordinary circumstances, and what I saw - well - it moved me. Deeply. It confirmed what his teachers have always told me, and made realize just how much he's grown up in the last little while. It also made a bigger Montessorian (if that was possible), and increased my appreciation for the immense effort I, my co-parents, and my own parents make to work together on his behalf - his village is as active as can possibly be.

As a teacher myself, I know that children at home and children at school can be two entirely different people. I also know that children of split homes tend to have more emotional issues, as they have to adjust to different expectations, not only at home and school, but between homes as well. In each setting they have different roles to fulfill, and different relationships to play out.  I remember once telling the parents how wonderful their daughter was, and they were shocked, because she was so demanding and difficult at home - at school, she and her sister switched roles. Completely.

So when the teachers tell me that my son is a confident reader, for example, I take them at their word, even though he refuses to read to me at home. I don't push him to do it, because I know he does it at school. He reads chapter books - our favourite new pastime is reading together - we sit together, he reads his books, I read mine. I love it. But he never reads aloud at home, beyond cereal boxes and such things. Now, this is a child who started reading late - he was almost 7 when he really got going, and there was concern that he would not read well. 

Imagine please then, my shock when my nephew, who's 3 years younger, showed my son a book about looking for the afikoman, and my son offered to read it for him! He proceeded not only read fluently, but with beautiful inflection and expression, and I was blown away. A bigger shock came at the second Seder, when I casually asked him if he wanted to read a portion of the haggadah, and he just did. I fully expected a shake of the head, but he just jumped right in, nice and loud, and confident, and again with the expression and inflection. Wow! And this is at the very formal table with adults he had never met. Wow.

I know this comes from example - from the way we read to him - he is blessed (?) with a family full of dramatic people on both sides and in all homes. But I know it also comes from some great work being done at our school, with a very special woman who teaches our children how to perform, among other things. But back to the point - do you understand what it is to hear your child go from sounding out words to reading like that? It was amazing, and vindicating and validating. I knew at that moment I had done the right thing in not pushing him to read to me, or with me. That letting him move at his own pace and trusting his teachers (because I can, I know them all too well) to do right by him, even when he was 'lagging', and even if he was among the last of his peers to start.

Reading is all fine and good, and very very important, but honestly, it is way down there on the list of things I want for my child. It's behind morality, respect, well adjustedness, adaptability, personal fulfillment, confidence, resourcefulness, sense of humour and all kinds of other things. These are things that are hard to measure, and are even harder to see objectively in people who are close with us.

When we are with people we trust and love and see every day, we tend to be less than our best selves. We all do this; we take for granted their unconditional acceptance and love of us. In our own lives, as adults, we most often quibble with our greatest allies - our spouses, parents, siblings, children... We also let them see us with our guard down - no make-up for some, PJ's for others. How many people have ever smelt your morning breath? Probably only those you knew wouldn't run away. For me, nowadays, it's the people I allow to come over when I'm tired and cranky. Whatever it is we have to offer of ourselves that's not beautiful, we know they will love us anyway. And those aspects of us need expression. It's important to have places we can let them be and people with whom we can share them. It's crucial to our sanity and well being.

Children are the same. They do not present their best behaviour when they are truly 'at home'. Our own children trust us to love them through their tantrums and are comfortable enough with us to show us their true feelings. They are also far more honest and not at all adept at hiding their feelings, especially from those they know love them. For my child, this extends to his cousin, with whom he rides to and from school every day, and spends many afternoons, as well as days off school. So their interactions are not always loving and caring - like any good set of siblings, they do their fair share of making each other angry. These are the social interactions I witness most with my son. Not his best, but overall and more deeply, quite lovely.

For years, teachers have been telling me that my child is exceptionally well mannered, that he does not take part in cliques but is a friend to all, that he is kind and patient and understanding with his peers. That he is looked up to, and is popular, but does not take advantage of the other children's admiration. I saw that clearly this past week, when we visited friends with children just older and younger than him. It was the first time I have really seen it for myself, in a purely social situation. He showed me, through his actions, that he is indeed developing the personality and traits that belong to the kind of man I have always hoped he would and continue to hope he will become.

He was polite and engaged in dinner conversation with both adults and children. Said please and thank-you. Was unembarrassed to ask for more, or say no-thank you. Before and after dinner, he negotiated turn-taking gracefully. The dynamic is interesting, because this is a family we see two or three times a year, but we go camping together, so the interaction is intense. The parents are old old friends of mine, so the relationship has been there practically since birth. The older girl likes my son well enough, and being close to his age is more at his level, but the younger boy looks up to him, and actively seeks his approval, just like my nephew does. The three of them were playing blind connect four (don't ask, but it was funny) and my son was judging. I could see in him that he could sense the younger child was cheating, but he couldn't figure out how, so he didn't call him out on it. He watched carefully, taking his role seriously, yet enjoying himself immensely, and screaming out the code words in such a way as to make the other two laugh uncontrollably.  It was a beautiful interaction between the three children. Later, when it seemed to us adults that the younger child was hogging a toy, my son was quick to defend him, assuring us that he was getting enough turns. I love this protective sense in him, this fairness. It was amazing and fascinating to see how he has generalized his behaviour from the classroom into social situations with children he sees so rarely.

At home, we have the typical issues over TV and video games. He is reluctant (ahem) to turn them off, and would love to spend all day every day attached to a screen (hmmm... kind of like I do when he's not around...) and yes, sometimes it causes - shall we call it tension? More like screaming. But the other day, when my grandmother came to visit, all I said was come say hello, and he immediately paused the game, gave her a hug, and then went back to turn off the TV. He came and sat with us, and talked, and only when she asked about it did he go back to playing - this time, with her at his side. Um. Wow. Seriously. Wow.

All of these little things last week reminded me that I have to reassess how I perceive his actions when we're on our own. I need to remember when he whines about turning off the TV that he can, and he will when it's really important, and it may not be truly important in that moment. He's not growing up to be a spoiled brat because I tend to give him more freedom than most parents - just the opposite. A true Montessori Mom, I've given him opportunity to make his own decisions from a very young age, encouraged him to be his own person, taken his desires and ideas into account when making decisions that affect us both, and given him all the time and space he needed to become his own person. People (my dad) think my mom and I are crazy for asking him where we should go for dinner (within certain parameters), negotiating the amount of time spent gaming, or for letting him choose the outfit he will wear to a special occasion (again, parameters). But by making him a willing participant, rather than a pawn, we hope to help him take responsibility and strengthening his understanding of his role in this world.

He is mature, and bright, and thoughtful, and moral. And it is a relief (not quite the right word, but close enough) to see it, rather than just believe it, because like any good parent, I do question myself often. But he has shown me beyond any doubt this weekend that my faith was well placed in following the Montessori philosophy so fully, that my patience and lack of pressure are paying off, and that he is growing up to be a truly beautiful person - the kind of person I would want to be friends with.

To say I'm proud is not quite right. It's more like I'm impressed, and happy, and even more hopeful.

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is that I'm not surprised by any of this - you are awesome and so is he, thanks to all the times you choose the more difficult path because it's what's better for your son's development. Big time kudos to you and Happy Mother's day, love you! :)