January 18, 2011

I am really proud of my son, Jacob. For years, I have struggled to get him to do anything that he didn’t want to do, but I’m learning that by pushing just a little harder, he can really deliver.

He had his class spelling bee today. It’s over now. I still don’t know how he did, but it doesn’t matter because I am really proud of him. He learned 150 difficult words over a three day weekend–words like curmudgeon, millenium, lugubrious,and aborigine. He’s only eleven. We studied and studied. 

Yesterday, we studied hard in the morning. We went to Carl’s Jr. for lunch, and I gave him words while I was driving. Jacob told me how unsafe I was , but I gave him words anyway. By the way, he was right. Do not give spelling words while driving.

When he would start to complain or say, “I’m done,”  I pushed just a little bit harder before letting up.  It’s similar to the feeling I get in my yoga classes when I’m already feeling maxed out, and I stretch just a little bit deeper, hold fast just a little bit longer–that is when I know I’m getting stronger. 

Our family had a spelling bee last night. My mom came over (aka “ace speller”) and competed in the bee with Jacob, the Professor (my husband), and Sam and Neil.
Jacob quickly won the first bee.  We had another and he won that bee too.  The most satisfying part was watching him concentrate.  When someone misspelled a word, he wanted to respell it correctly.  When he got a hard word, he was slow and methodical, focusing on each letter he said.   

When the family bees were over, I pushed even more.  I told him I would give him two chocolate cupcakes if he would learn the last twelve (and difficult) words on his list.  He agreed.  We studied hard for twenty minutes, and when he knew them, we went down to get his cupcake.  I still gave him words.  He totally rolled his eyes at me, “Mom.”

So I pulled out my change jar and told him I would give him a quarter for every word he spelled right.  I gave him only the words he had struggled with–and in fifteen minutes, he earned $5.25.  I feel that Jacob’s mind has gotten stronger this weekend. He has learned what he can do. He has learned that he can focus and do hard things, even unpleasant things.

This morning we went over all 150 words.  He spelled most of them right, although we had to review some that he still stumbles on.  And the last twennty words, well, we’ll just hope they don’t get that far in the bee.

I must say thank you to Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. While I didn’t agree with some of her tough Asian parenting decisions, one of her ideas really helped me. She calls it the “virtuous cycle,” and explains that often we have to push our kids through difficult things, (i.e. piano practice, studying math) and they may get angry with us in those tough moments, but once they have the break through or the pay off, they’ll be grateful you pushed them.  This pay off will motivate them to practice harder or study longer in order to achieve another pay off.   

Ms. Chua told of her forcing her daughter through a very difficult piece of music and sitting with her until she finally got it right. They stayed up late at night, and her daughter was very frustrated, but finally, magically, the piece came to together. She played it again, and again, faster and more confident each time. 
Her daughter  played it a few weeks later at her piano recital and nailed it.  The pay off for the daughter of mastering something so difficult gave her the passion to continue pursuing piano.  As Amy Chua says, “Nothing is fun until you’re good at it.”

Now while I don’t agree with all of the tactics Ms. Chua uses to push her children, I do see value in pushing our children a little more and showing them how committed we are to excellence.  This one on one time also strengthens the relaionship as our children see how invested we are in them.   For that reason, I must admit that I hope my son did well today. It would be a pay off for him.  He could see just what he can accomplish when he works hard.


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