The State Of The Boy

My son woke me up at 5:45 this morning to tell me that his second very loose baby tooth had fallen out during the night. Apparently he woke up, felt it was missing, and immediately looked under his pillow for his coin. I think our wake-up had more to do with the fact that he couldn’t find his tooth and didn’t have financial proof that the Tooth Fairy had taken it than excitement about the tooth falling out. (He found the tooth in his sheets later.)

Although since we were awake I switched the TV on at 6:00 and we watched the royal wedding, which I hadn’t seriously planned to do. I listened to him make interested comments about the male guests’ hairlines (?), all the shiny medals on the uniforms (he was most impressed by the Duke of Edinburgh, although he kept calling him the king and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t the king if he was married to the queen; we missed a lot of the ceremony trying to explain this, as well as the concept of the Commonwealth and how the queen was technically our queen as well, even though Canada is an independent nation), the abbey layout, and the ceremony itself (this was, I believe, this first Christian ceremony he’s ever observed, so there were lots of questions about why they were saying certain things and who was who and what they were each doing, and so forth). He was very pleased that the prince was called William. “It’s a very special day,” he said. “I lost a tooth, and they’re getting married!” Then I got to remind him that we could watch the Endeavour launching this afternoon when he gets home from school, and I thought he was going to burst.

He’s such a cheerful kid. He drives me to distraction sometimes, but on the whole I’m horrendously proud of him, and what’s more, I like him as a person. There’s a world of difference between loving your child and liking him. I like how he thinks, how he experiments, how he talks, and how he laughs. He’s an interesting, likeable person.

He is genuinely excited about the baby, makes suggestions about things to buy for her or plans for things to do with her, and hugs her a lot. In fact, there have been several times lately where he has thrown his arms around my waist and I put my arms around him to hug him back, and he has said, “No, Mama, I’m not hugging you, I’m hugging the baby.” A couple of weeks ago I said that the baby’s hearing was getting so good that she could hear us talking now. “Really?” he said, then leaned over close to my abdomen and said, “Hello in there!” I thought HRH was going to choke on his laughter in the kitchen. The six-year gap between them initially concerned me a bit, but I think he’s really at a wonderful age to help take care of her, and also to understand that we’re going to be a bit preoccupied this summer and fall. Understand does not equate like, of course. And I recognise that the reality of a new baby may be different from whatever it is that he’s envisioning at the moment. But overall, the general consensus is that he’s going to make a terrific big brother.

He turns six in six weeks. All the long-sleeve t-shirts we bought him at the beginning of the school year are now two inches too short for his arms. In order to get pants that are long enough for his legs we have to use styles that have the adjustable buttoned elastic at the waists and cinch them as tightly as we can. His weight doesn’t seem to to have budged; he’s just stretched all over instead. I know his shoe size increased by one this winter. I think he’s hazily planning three birthday parties: one for family, one for school friends, and one for his grown-up friends. His actual birthday weekend will consist of the family party, and then the next day is his very first recital. We didn’t think he’d be doing a solo, just playing in the ensemble pieces, but our teacher is considering having him play his most recent exercise, and I think he’s quite excited about it. (He reserves the right to change his mind, though, which I am also fine with. I’m the one who lays out the programme, after all.)

I stopped by the luthier to renew the rental for his cello for another two months, which will take us a couple of weeks past the recital. I am, I have to say, very proud of how conscientious he is about sitting down at 7:30 each morning to run through at least three exercises, and how much he generally looks forward to it. I’ve noticed that it takes him about two weeks to process a new exercise: the first week he’ll refuse to do it each day, then the next week he’ll try it the first day, attempt to propose an alternative arrangement or adjustment it on the second, then settle in to do it properly the last few days. We’re working on stopping the D string with fingers now, which is huge, and his resistance has been more stubborn than usual for this exercise because it doesn’t make a nice sound yet. Stopping the strings is hard: it takes a lot of focused finger strength without clamping the neck between thumb and fingers, which is especially hard for young fingers, and when you try to combine it with pizzicato or bow movement things fall apart very easily. I have the deepest respect for Suzuki parents who don’t play an instrument, because practice sessions with the child are very involved with lots of supervision. I have no idea how I’d be handling it if I didn’t play the cello already. A while ago my online friend and fellow cellist Michael Tuchman said that if you’re discouraged about your progress, try showing a beginner how to make a simple sound with your instrument and you’ll see how much you’ve already internalized about the minute adjustments and balances required to play. When I have my cello out with the boy, I remember how hard it was to keep all my teacher’s instructions in mind at the beginning, how I couldn’t coordinate the bow and my left hand at the same time (I played pizzicato for at least three months before learning how to use the bow), and now I can do all sorts of things. I see this in orchestra, too, as we play orchestral pieces I played in the earlier years: I now fly through pieces that had me totally stumped at the beginning. (Strauss’ Kaiser Waltz is one of these; it was such a headache because it was so high when I first played it, but I sight-read it without much trouble at all the other week.) It’s hard to communicate that to a child who’s encountering hard basics, though.

My dad asked me a few questions about the Suzuki method while we were visiting last weekend, and I didn’t quite get the drift of what he was aiming at until I’d slept on it for a few days. The Suzuki method isn’t designed to produce professional musicians; it’s designed to introduce music into daily vocabulary, to communicate the basics of music theory and technique, and instill a love for making it in people. There’s the common misconception that Suzuki kids don’t learn how to read music but just reproduce what they hear on recordings, which is entirely untrue (otherwise there wouldn’t be Suzuki music books, now, would there?). The Suzuki method urges listening to music of all kinds, making it a part of daily experience. It also teaches methods of application and focus, which are kind of the same reasons why a lot of employers write up job listings and ask for people with a degree of some kind, any kind: they want to know that you’ve learned how to schedule and concentrate and apply yourself in a structured environment. Music lessons of any sort teach that kind of discipline, and I think we’re already seeing the benefits of the few months he’s had of lessons in the boy’s approach to things in general. In the same way that registering your kid for community soccer doesn’t mean he’s training for a pro career but is great experience anyway, the Suzuki method gives a child the chance to explore a whole bunch of stuff, including cooperation and learning to follow instruction and how to work on specific techniques to accomplish certain goals, all with the bonus of fostering a love for music. Applied to adults, it’s a different but not-unrelated kettle of fish. There’s a reason why the method is also described as a teaching philosophy: there’s the noted absence of negative feedback, with support for what you did right instead, then looking for a way to improve what can be improved. I beat myself up enough about getting things wrong; I don’t need a teacher to add to that. What I need is a positive, constructive environment that points out what I did right, and that’s one of the tenets of the Suzuki philosophy. The reading I’ve done on the method reminds me that as a parent, pointing out the negative things often isn’t as constructive as reinforcing the positive things and then reframing what needs improvement. Is it more work? Yes. Is it more beneficial in the long run? I certainly think so. I also find the theory that children can learn music by being exposed to it the same way the learn language fascinating, which was one of Suzuki’s original concepts when designing the method.

When I get my delivery cheque for the bird book, one of the things we will do is find him a secondhand cello, because that will be cheaper than continuing to rent. He is quite excited by this idea, too, and said, “Thank you, Mama,” when I mentioned it to him the other day. Have I mentioned that I like this kid? I think we’re doing okay with him. I suspect that any parent who has managed to produce a kid who requests broccoli on a regular basis has a reason to pat themselves on the back.

ETA: Drat, the Endeavour has been delayed 48 hrs over failed heater somethings. Boo.

8 thoughts on “The State Of The Boy

  1. Lu

    It’s true that children do not often request broccoli. Congrats!

    He’s a great kid, and you guys have done a fantastic job.

    Reply
  2. Bodhi

    Ben and Claire have bonded since she was still in the womb. Sometimes, just sometimes we luck out and get siblings we not only love but enjoy. My children did, I bet yours have too.

    Reply
  3. Jan

    The reading I’ve done on the method reminds me that as a parent, pointing out the negative things often isn’t as constructive as reinforcing the positive things and then reframing what needs improvement. Is it more work? Yes. Is it more beneficial in the long run? I certainly think so.

    The reading I did on dog training when we first got Carter made the same general points. Rewards for the behaviour you want to encourage are more effective than punishments for the behaviour you are trying to discourage. It is also more work and takes longer, but it seems to have resulted in a happy, well-adjusted dog, so it’s probably a general truism…

    Reply
  4. Jan

    *grin* Wikipedia tells us that the space shuttle Endeavour “is named after the British HMS Endeavour, the ship which took Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery (1768–1771). This is why the name is spelled in the British English manner, rather than the American English (“Endeavor”). This has caused confusion, most notably when NASA themselves misspelled a sign on the launch pad in 2007.”

    Reply
  5. Autumn Post author

    They misspelled it themselves? Well, that must have been embarrassing! This is why, as a copyeditor, I double-check all proper names in a manuscript I edit, even if I think they look right.

    Reply

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