My husband recently came up with a piece of parenting wisdom that I am trying to live by. “Most of what we do is going to be wrong,” he said, “so let’s try to do as little as possible.”
It was brilliant. It was also shorter and simpler than the advice from all those parenting books I was reading.
He came up with this aphorism while I was engaged in a power struggle with my oldest son, Ari. I am often engaged in a power struggle with Ari. To say that Ari is stubborn is putting it mildly. He came out of the womb with his own agenda and there hasn’t been a moment when his persistence and determination (read: stubbornness) is not fiercely asserted.
This one was over piano practice. Doing the practice, practicing long enough, practicing with concentration, practicing without complaining. Nothing worked—not asking nicely, not threatening, not keeping him from doing anything or going anywhere until the practice was completed. The one thing that did seem to work, at least occasionally, was if someone rubbed his back while he practiced. This didn’t really figure into my daily schedule.
So my husband said his piece and I saw the wisdom in this, and now Ari doesn’t play the piano. Is anyone happy about this?
I’m not; I don’t even think Ari is, but that is the way things stand. Clearly, I am not a Tiger mother. I sometimes would like to be a Tiger Mother, would like my children to be wildly accomplished and to be developing their talents to their fullest, but at the end of the day—I mean this both literally and metaphorically—I just don’t have the energy to put up the fight. And my children will fight. That I can count on.
Naturally, as their mother, this all this is my fault. I ought to have started the music lessons when they were still in preschool, a la Suzuki. Put that guitar in their hands before they are big enough to handle it! Sit them at the piano when they still need hoisting on to the bench! Train those ears early! With love and joy! I wish I had; I didn’t discover the Suzuki method until my kids were already in school. I was too busy trying to get my head around my own piano playing, focused on the attempt to reclaim some vestige of creative and intellectual space for myself.
I had also thought that I would begin my children on foreign language instruction early. I even briefly entertained the notion that I would speak Spanish to the children when they were babies, to train them in hearing that language. Though I am fluent in Spanish, it is not the language of our home, not the language I would turn to first and like so many things, I found the effort of this to be out of step with the rhythm of my days.
Okay, that’s only part of the truth.
The real truth is that I forgot.
So many things I had planned to do have gone by the wayside simply because I couldn’t recall what it is I set out to do. I’ll blame that, like so many other things, on sleep deprivation.
All those great ideas! All the missed opportunities! All the squandered hours, spent re-reading “Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom” and playing hide-and-seek, and taking them on bike rides and teaching them to swim when I could have been teaching them Spanish, or familiarizing them with the scale of G, or drilling them on geography, or math facts. What had I been thinking?
Quite likely, I had been thinking of nothing at all. There were many, many days in which I thought about dinner, or what I was going to do with the children for the next five hours, or just how long it was going to be before I could: 1. Take them to the pool/park/storytime, or, 2. lie down and close my eyes.
There are a lot of things I forgot to do while parenting. My hair, for example. Checking my clothing for stains went by the wayside, as did checking my children’s clothing for stains, holes, and general disrepair. I forgot to water the houseplants and I forgot about entire segments of my former life as a childless person, in which I adhered to a workout schedule, maintained a certain level of body fat, and thought critically on a regular basis. I also pretty much neglected to pursue any career goals during those early years of parenting. I really just wanted to lie down.
Now that the kids are a little older, I’m starting to remember things again. I am also noting what we did do, while seemingly doing nothing. We went to the beach and the pool and taught the kids to swim and bodysurf. We took bike rides and went to the park and played. We cooked dinner nearly every single night, often for family and friends. We talked politics. We listened to music.
And now? My children like to be outside and exercise. They also like to cook, and they love music. They both possess a strong sense of justice and are good at parsing political rhetoric. Maybe what I thought of as doing nothing translated into something, after all. Maybe it’s okay that I am not a Tiger Mother. Maybe less really is more.
I can only hope, because I certainly won’t be doing anything about it.
Adrienne Pilon is a teacher, writer and traveler. She lives with her family in North Carolina.
Photo: Moyan Brenn