Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Solving Stitch

Stitch is my little riddle. Sometimes I think of him as a wild colt I'm trying to tame. I don't want to break him, but I do need to channel him, focus him, and strengthen him. I read a lot of parenting books; some good, most bad, but when I'm at my most desperate I'll try anything.

I got "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" from the library, and I found a kindred spirit in Amy Chua. I seriously wanted to look her up and call her and thank her for writing the book. As much as the "Positive Discipline" method is working with Stitch so far, I'm not using it in its pure Fluffernutter form. Like Amy, I made a decision that my kid would not be an entitled, spoiled, soft little northshore brat. Amy spoke to my heart when she stated the selfsame thing of her children.

I'm just not a Fluffy parent, which is funny because I thought I would be. In fact, I hate talking about parenting with other moms because I don't want to admit that I sometimes made Stitch cry in agony over homework and chores. Some parents might have fits that I make Stitch help carry groceries up three flights of stairs, or send him out alone into the alley to take out the recycling, or I made him walk hikes into the miles. In the rain. I gave time outs in the middle of museums, standing over a crying child in a corner, looking fierce, daring anyone to challenge me. Raising a tough kid in a fluffy world is a lonely undertaking.

I don't want to say how burstingly proud I am of last week, when Stitch had to forfeit a recess to complete a test properly. He did it and he didn't complain. He accepted the notion that he hadn't taken proper time when the time had been alloted, so now he would lose his time. He scored perfectly on the test.

I can't say that I really do actively force Stitch to do math practice, read for his thirty minutes, that I reset clocks when time is being wasted, and when he says, "But I don't like this," I reply, "And I don't care." When other moms complain about their children's goofy toys, I can't tell them would forbid such useless things from my home. (Fortunately, Stitch hasn't expressed any interest in this stuff. He sticks with his electricity sets, and is now demanding a Chemistry set.) Years of switching off the TV has given me a home of "unless you're actively watching it, turn it off," cutting out the thirty minute toy commercials that pass for kid's TV these days.

For years I listened to teacher after teacher tell me of how smart he was, how capable he was, yet it was motivating him they couldn't do. Stitch would just shut down. It was and is maddening when we'd play spelling games and he would spell out MESSENGER correctly, yet on homework he'd flub SEKRT simply because he "didn't feel like it." And I'd patiently work with him, trying notebooks and diaries and worksheets, searching for some way to engage him in the right direction. Eventually there would be tears and fits and frustration for both of us, and I would feel bad and quit for awhile, only to try again a few days later. This year I told his teacher, "Be tough! Don't let him get away with anything, and he will try!" I think I scared him.

I remember Coach coming up to me after watching Stitch do one of his impromptu Ice Shows, her face exasperated even though she wasn't working with him that day, and saying, "He's wild! He needs to learn to check the movement, to be steady!"

I just looked at her. What else could I do? When Stitch is on Stitch's time, he skates the way he likes. Stitch was and is determined to go by his own rules, go his own way, and he doesn't just have a different drummer, he's got a whole damn marching band. When Stitch is fighting practice, it's not that he doesn't like Figure Skating, it's that Figure Skating doesn't seem to like him sometimes. The sport demands a slow patience that Stitch, either through maturity or physical ability or both, just doesn't have yet.

But we're getting there. Last weekend's victories during Moves and Flow may have seemed inconsequential to some, but for Stitch they were huge. The positive energy generated that morning overflowed when I caught him trying a Death Drop that evening. He started off in a spiral, spun, and flung out that free leg as high as he could, landing unsteadily and scaring himself. He looked to see if I would say anything, but I think I was just as shocked as he was.

I don't know whether to mention the incident to Coach or not. On the one hand, I don't want him pulling dangerous stunts like that, but on the other she may start her lecture about more lessons and I don't want to have that conversation again.

Some day, Stitch's talent and skill will catch up with his ambition. Until then, I will continue to be Positively Pushy. I'll ignore any dirty looks I get for my lists, flash cards, charts, chats, worksheets, chants, counting on my hands and on ice monitoring of practice. I won't record mistakes like Park Mee Hee, but I will continue to celebrate small victories. "Those crossrolls, amazing this week! Looks like you're feeling better about them." I won't call him a disgrace and garbage like Amy Chua. Instead I'll focus on his strengths. "Those jumps are really getting high! Much higher than before!" I clearly see that Figure Skating is having a positive effect on this child, in so many ways. As a weapon in my arsenal, it is a powerful one.

The Chinese Parenting Model as described by Amy Chua speaks of a "Virtuous Circle," wherein the child works hard, practices, gains praise and admiration, feels good, and this motivates him to do more and better. The thing with Stitch is that he doesn't care about the opinions or admiration of others. He only cares about his opinion of himself, so I have to turn that Virtuous Circle inside out.

A few nights ago, after his math drill, he stayed on the tablet for a few minutes more, drilling himself one more time on multiplication and division, trying to beat his time. He did. He smiled at himself, closed the program and stepped away happy. This past weekend he took his favorite competition trophy to bed with him. I asked him, "Are you ready to try for another one?"

"Yes. But the practice will be terrible."

"Probably. But I'll be around to help."

(Comments have been disabled due to the incredible controversy Amy Chua created with her book. If you're looking to say she's a terrible, mean mom and I am, too, you're missing the point entirely.)