Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pedal Pushing

Nutmeg rode her bicycle up and down the block this afternoon, over and over. No training wheels, no adult "getting her started."

I raised both arms and sang "We Are the Champions" for her. But my feeling was only part pride. The other part was relief.

See, Nutmeg asked to have her training wheels off more than a year ago, right after the end of kindergarten. She tried riding without the training wheels, found it difficult, and has subsequently refused to try riding her bike outside a few isolated occasions.

Usually, I didn't press it. Because we're not supposed to force our children to do things, right?

But today, it was a beautiful September afternoon, and as we pulled the car into the driveway, i said, "Kids, it's a perfect day to grab these bikes and ride."

Toth and Pebbles were all for it, but Nutmeg, as always, said, "No thanks."

She wanted to go into the house and read instead.

For some reason, today, I put my foot down. "Nutmeg, there will not be that many more nice days before winter. Get your bike and get out front."

She pouted, but she dragged her bike out there. A few minutes later, one of the neighbor kids joined them with her bike. Her training-wheels-free 2 wheeler. This was a 6-year-old neighbor.

Then, a 5-year-old neighbor joined them, riding his training-wheels-free 2-wheeler.

I didn't see exactly when Nutmeg turned from sulking to earnestly trying, but it happen. She pushed herself up and down, peddling, veering off to the side, falling and getting back up.

It really didn't take long before she was smoothly gliding up and down the block, and even stopping with confidence. Maybe half an hour.

I didn't even tell her that one of the neighborhood dads told me, while we were watching the kids ride, that his 4-year-old had recently gotten his training wheels off. No sense rubbing it in.

Once I saw how happy she had made herself with that little bit of effort, I started thinking. She could have been enjoying bike rides all summer. She had let that tiny obstacle shut her out of bike riding for too long.

Should I have let her let that happen? Or should I have been more insistent a year ago that she get out there and ride that bike?

I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother this summer, and while I agree with most of "normal" America that browbeating and pushing your children constantly is not the way to go, the book still made me think. The Tiger Mother's basic premise for why she pushes her children to practice their musical instruments for hours every day goes like this: Nothing is really fun until you are good at it. Children never want to work hard at first. Therefore without a loving parent there to override their preferences, children are denied the joy of mastering a skill.

I have to admit that, watching Nutmeg's joy -- she literally said, "I am so happy!" I can see where the Tiger Lady is coming from.

So do I get in the habit of forcing my kids to do things they don't want to do? As luck would have it, I'm facing another such decision right now. Nutmeg had a wonderful time in Spanish class during summer school, and she made great progress during the short class. At the time, she said she would definitely want to join the before-school daily Spanish classes offered at her school.

But now that it's time to sign up, she doesn't want to do it. I know she'll love it if I force her to sign up, but ... I never thought that would be my style.

To Tiger Mother, or not to Tiger Mother*?

Of course, the real Tiger Mother would probably have her getting up at 4 a.m. to add Latin and Chinese to her Spanish curriculum. But if you read the book, you know that one of the Tiger Mother's cub's totally turned on her.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Global Warming and 9/11/2001

The girls kind of wanted to go, too. Toth got to stay at Grammy and Grampy's, which was more than fine with him.

The festival featured some old timey children's games, like the one Nutmeg is playing in the picture, and some people demonstrating 19th century crafts and occupations. One demo that especially captivated Pebbles was the spinning wheel. She got to see just a little spinning, and then the spinner took a dinner break so we went to our campsite and had our own dinner. But afterwards, Pebbles grabbed my arm and hauled me back to that spinning wheel.

The whole family watched for awhile, and the spinning lady entertained us by explaining how her hobby saved her money by allowing herself to make high-end yarn for free when friends give her the raw materials like angora rabbit hair. Then for some reason I made a comment about global warming.

"Oh," the lady said. "Do you believe in global warming?"

Nutmeg spoke up that she did.

The lady assured her that "they" have by now learned that it's all part of the earth's natural cycle of warming and cooling, and nothing to worry about. An awkward silence ensued, before we were able to resume chatting about spinning yarn.

Later, our friend complimented Nutmeg on her restraint in not arguing with the nice old lady about global warming. I suspected that this was not restraint at work, so I questioned Nutmeg about it.

"I was so relieved to find out that global warming isn't happening after all!" Nutmeg said.

Was it wrong of me to set her straight? I hate to think of her little 7-year-old brain stressing about global warming, but after all this is her future world it's happening to and I don't want her to grow up with her head in the sand either.

Anyway, we had already saved the kids from exposure from disturbing fact that we were having this conversation on the 10-year anniversary of a fatal attack on American soil. I'm glad to say that they were not around a single television on Sept. 11, and on the car ride home we changed the station whenever talk turned to remembering the tragedy. The girls are only 7 and 4 -- they have plenty of time to learn about things like that.

Looking back at the past decade, for me, brings into sharp focus how much personal lives can diverge from the broad sweep of history. It's like when you ask someone what it was like to live during World War II or the Vietnam War, and what they remember is that their mother was very sick or that they fell in love and got married. terrible decade, nationwise, one that began in my mind not so much with the awful tragedy of 9/11 but with on Dec. 12, 2000, when the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George Bush. Funny that we -- at least Democrats -- don't commemorate that day and wonder what the 2000s might have been.

And yet, for Epu and I, the past 10 years have been the best of our lives. If I could turn back the clock 10 years and a few days, I'd live in a world that could not imagine an act like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. It would also be a world where I am still young enough to get carded in bars and have the free time to go out and do that, incidentally.

Yeah, and a world without Nutmeg, Pebbles and Toth in it. Life is not fair. I know that thousands of families would do anything to turn back the clock, and my heart goes out to them. For us, erasing the past 10 years would be unthinkable.

I couldn't tell the kids why I was doing it, but I could gather them up in a hug on 9/11, and feel in my arms how lucky we are.