Many years ago I wrote a post on how disappointed the OA and I were that our son didn’t have a sense of rhythm and music. I faced a lot of flak for it. But hey, I’m human and the entire point of this blog is to share or overshare, as the case may be. We didn’t want him to crack math or rock football – we just wanted him to find joy in music the way we do. And he does – but when he dances.. err.. lets say its not a pleasant sight. He looks like he is getting a series of electric shocks. And when he sings.. .oh God, the less said about it, the better.
Anyhow. For the last 6 months I’ve been grappling with another problem that I haven’t had the chance to write about. I’ve been wanting to put the Brat into some sort of extra class – music, art, sports, anything. Some way to figure out his talents and then hone them. As a child I was sent to a couple of classes to figure out where my interests lay. I went to Kathak (and hated it and quit) and finally ended up playing the harmonium (hated the piano) and singing Rabindra Sangeet. The brother played guitar and learned taekwondo and learned to use the Nunchaku. We both also sang in the choir. That was not considered extra or optional. We just did and loved it. I plan to get back to the choir once the kids get on with their lives and allow me a life of my own.
So sometime last year when the Brat turned five, I began to worry that I was being neglectful. You know, what if my son woke up at 18 and said ‘Hey Ma, how come I’m not doing anything other than school? Have I no talents?’
Now I love my son and if you’ve read this blog for even 3 weeks you’ve probably figured that out. But even at my most doting, I can’t claim that he has a great talent of any sort. He has no talent for drawing, singing, dancing or any sport. Wait a minute, did I say sport? Actually he has fantastic balance and coordination as I have seen time and time again. He was walking beautifully at ten months and never fell over like other kids. He also has a natural caution that he inherits from his risk-averse banker father. So where the Bean and I step blindly and blithely into nothingness, both father and son dip their toes until they feel solid ground. It was amusing to watch a 9 month old child slide off the high bed, reach with his toes until he felt the ground and pull up if he didn’t.
He’s just never shown any interest in doing anything on his own. The OA spends weekends taking him cycling, playing football, basketball and whatnot, but the Brat loses interest if left to himself and falls back on his dinosaurs and animals. Now the OA is a jock – I remember I once got a comment on the blog that sounded almost sarcastic, saying – ‘Investment banker, good looking, dances well, boxes, plays sports ; this sounds like a Harlequin romance.’ Now the truth is that the OA has his failings that we won’t get into in this post but all of the above, he is good at. Choose to believe it or not, it doesn’t matter. So for him it was an even bigger disappointment that his sturdy little son showed no interest in any sport.
Sometime last year we also decided that if he is going to be meek and mild and not hit back, the least we can do is teach him the skills and let him take it from there. So I began to take him for the neighbourhood taekwondo class every week. I just took him to watch and suggested that he might like to join. He shrugged and walked away. I tried it many a time. Cousins K and J who stay with me over the weekend tried in their own ways to take him there, mess with him and wrestle in the grass and generally encourage him – no dice. After 4 months of this gentle suggesting, the OA and I decided this was it. It was now or never. Our son was going to learn to defend himself, if it killed us.
So armed with the Bean, we headed off to the class again. The Brat refused to go near the teacher – a sweet young guy who was really patient. Before we knew it, the Bean who is as flexible as a pipe cleaner, jumped in and began to do splits and warm up with the rest of the class. The Brat by now had two fat tears rolling down his cheeks. The OA and I stood firm. On the one hand was this crying child. On the other hand the knowledge that if he didn’t begin to learn to defend himself, he’d be crying for the rest of his life.
We begged, we cajoled, we bribed, we threatened, we gave up. He turned a corner, sat under a bush and cried. I lost patience and went off to proudly watch my daughter kick butt at twisting herself into a pretzel. The patient OA followed his son to reason with him. The Brat looked up at him and said – “Whether I hit first or second, fighting is bad.”
What do you say to a 5.5 year old who has non-violence so strongly ingrained in him? And the best part is that if you mock wrestle with him, he has so much strength that he ends up hurting me. The OA often nurses aches that the Brat playfully gave him. And the moment he realises that he is hurting you, he stops wrestling and begins to kiss the pain away.
Father and son talked for a while and finally the OA emerged from under the bush saying that the Brat did finally voice a desire. He wanted to learn skating. I fell to my knees and thanked the Good Lord. Because this is the other problem with the Brat – he won’t voice a desire and he has very few interests. Digging them out of him is near impossible.
So we bought the skates and I didn’t even buy the knee pads and helmet the teacher suggested because I wasn’t sure if the Brat meant it. He started his class and as we got ready to leave he looked at me and said – Mama, will you stay and watch me?
Of course I will, sweetheart.
Okay – then I’m going to skate nicely and show you.
I laughed to myself, sure that the only thing he’d do in the first month was land on his butt. It would be a long time before he reached ‘nicely’.
But he started and with typical Brat caution took a few hesitant steps. And then another few and before I knew it he was running around the rink, without falling over. I sat there wide-eyed in awe. The child has brilliant balance and such amazing motor skills. The Bean and I tend to fall over our own feet even while sitting still (I promise you – last night she fell off the bed and hit her head on the OA’s bedside table, all for no reason. And of course you know I just went down a flight of stairs and broke my butt).
I can’t begin to describe the sense of relief and the weight that lifted off my chest. A few days ago we were discussing Amy Chua and only a couple of weeks before that I was asking Ro what I should do with a child who won’t do anything. She said I had to be firm and figure it out. I am glad I talked to her because I insisted that he come up with something more useful than lying in the lawn 7 days a week, talking to dinosaurs.
He is only a child with no knowledge of what is important. But he does know his own mind and as I watched him walk around the rink, faring much better than kids who have been at it for some weeks and months, I was so proud of him. His movements were smooth, his face unlined as he moved his body from side to side, his arms naturally taking the angle they should – he was almost a natural. I called the OA who smiled down the phone and then laughed happily. And made an OA comment – ‘Why doesn’t this boy realise that he might have brains but it is his body that will really make him a star?’
And so a chapter ends here – the one where we think our little Brat is a sunshiny but useless child. And the one that begins is one that reminds us that the possibilities are endless. We just need to help him find them. So if it takes us the better part of a lifetime, that’s okay. No one’s going anywhere in a hurry and this is what we’re here for. As a child – he is one big mystery wrapped in an enigma and he needs help unraveling himself. It might frustrate us, but everytime he does something like this and shows us where his natural skills lie, that one moment of realisation, pride and relief will be worth it. Sometimes I forget that as a parent, it is my job.
And oh – so what if he won’t hit back when another aggressive kid goes for him. Maybe this is the answer – he will put on his skates and zoom away!