December 07, 2004

drum practice

I yelled at Damian today. I'm not proud of it but there it is. Yes, it happens sometimes, parents yell at their kids, but this was a particularly egregious instance because I was theoretically trying to encourage (note the word, connoting warmth and nurturing) him to practice his drumming.

We do this every day; I sit on his bed with the book of practice rhythms all written out in musical notations. He sits at his drums wearing red headphones, the kind that block out sound rather than transmitting it, saving his eardrums for old age. I too wear earplugs, but the kind that fit in your ear canal. I am, after all, a grownup. Or at least, I'm supposed to be. Though grownups keep their tempers when trying to teach children to learn patience. So maybe I don't qualify. Maybe I too should wear red earmuffs signifying my lapse in maturity.

Here's the thing. Damian is very good at the drums. For a six year old, he's phenomenal. He has a natural sense of rhythm, he picks things up amazingly fast, he looks at a bar written out and then sort of spaces out for a moment, looking dreamy, hearing it in his head. Then he just plays it, nearly perfectly. He loves it, too. He's told me he no longer wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up. Now he wants to be a drummer. Not just any old drummer, either. The best in the whole world, with his picture on the front page of the paper. No, I don't know where this notion came from. I was amused and slightly appalled. It's great to aim high as long as you don't mind the arduous climb.

Which brings me back to where I began. Because yes, he is very good at the drums. Natural talent, great ear, good memory, all that, yes, yes and yes. But that doesn't mean he's superhuman. Doesn't mean he can just magically achieve all the complex changes in beat and notes that he needs in order to progress. He has to actually, y'know, LEARN this stuff. But if something feels a little tricky, he says, "Let's do it tomorrow," or "I want to do it one time only." He whines, he fidgets with his drumsticks, he tries to argue and negotiate and cajole me into letting him do only the easiest grooves.

Part of me says hell yes, he's only six years old, this is not work, this should be fun, give the kid a break. And I would, but this is not just about the drums. This is about Damian. He never wants to do anything if it feels hard. If he can't do it easily and well right off the bat, he won't do it at all. Or at least not without a whole lot of coaxing (or, ahem, yelling). I could blame it on the remnants of autism, I know that a lot of skills have been harder for him to acquire than most children could ever comprehend. Like, say, talking. And going down slides. And walking across a jungle gym without panicking. But his friend Corey is also borderline maybe-no-longer autistic, and Corey's the opposite of Damian. If Corey can't do something, he'll keep trying and trying and lo, he's got it mastered. Damian, not so much. Some of this may just be his nature, this unwillingness to stick his neck out, to fail, to be less than perfect. But it's a deadly trait. Because you can't achieve anything much in your life if you're not willing to fall flat on your face a dozen times, to brush off the dirt, put band-aids on the cuts, and do it again. And again.

So I see this drum practice as a challenge. Not just for him but for me. I have to learn to teach him. I have to show him that it's not only okay to make mistakes, it's important. Crucial, even. And I do tell him all of this. I even point out that he balked at trying the paradiddle at first (right-left-right-right, left-right-left-left) and now it's so easy he can do multiple iterations while carrying on a conversation and pulling up his sock in between beats. I thought he got it. I thought he understood from experience, that he could feel it in his body, how much easier a groove gets when you keep at it. And he did for a while, he'd dive into the hard stuff and smile with his eyes alight and happy when he finally nailed it. But he's been slipping lately, he's been in a recalcitrant mood. And I didn't expect it this morning. Wasn't prepared. Responded badly. I too need to remind myself it's okay if I make mistakes, I donít always get it right every time. I too need practice.

Tomorrow. I will be calm, I will be proud of him (which I am), I will coax gently and warmly and talk about all of this with him, that drum practice is practice for life. I will be a better mom tomorrow.

Posted by Tamar at December 7, 2004 01:02 PM

Ya know, Tamar, your brother (Damian's uncle) was the same, often wouldn't do anything unless he knew he could do it well, didn't walk until he was two because he thought he might fall and when I insisted he walk, finally, he was shocked but did it and there was no problem after that. So maybe he's just following a family tradition (i.e., family trait) and he will outgrow it like Aaron has (for the most part). And I really don't know a normal mom who hasn't lost it more than once!

Posted by: Leya at December 7, 2004 06:18 PM

Oops, looks like my comment got lost :-) Rebecca is exactly the same way- perfectionistic to the max. If you find a way to ameliorate the perfectionism, please share!

And as for yelling- stuff happens :-) A child growing up remembering the few times a parent yelled at him will have a much different view of childhood than the child who grows up remembering that yelling was the norm. Our kids have no concept of real yelling- Rebecca will run to her room in tears saying one of us yelled at her when all we did was express extreme disapproval. The people across the street, OTOH, exchange obscenities with their teenaged grandson on a fairly regular basis (and at the top of their lungs). That's what I grew up with, so a little lost temper seems really innocuous to me.

Posted by: Ambre at December 8, 2004 10:21 AM