07 September 2011

Hippie talk

I'm not really lecturing you, you know. I wouldn't presume. 

Ten years of parenting have taught me that it is not possible to force a child to become enriched. They aren't like wheat, you know? You can lead a girl to Latin and you can make her conjugate for hours, but you cannot force her to love Virgil. You can lead a boy to the piano and you can make him practice, but you cannot force him to have a heart for music. You can even lead a child to the twelve times table and you can make her memorize it; you can make her rattle it off like a trained monkey to the amazement of all your friends; but you absolutely cannot force her to grasp that numbers are never cruel, but always clever and often amusing. And so it goes.

What do you mean you don't want to play with the pluperfect subjunctive?

However, hope springs eternal! One of perhaps two things the mavens of child psychology have gotten right is the practice of providing children with enriched environments. There is no real need to force a child to want what is beautiful. A child is a man, and thus the apex of beauty. Give him beauty and he can be trusted to absorb it into his being by sheer accident. I have found this to be doubly the case when a child’s life is filled with what is genuinely, objectively beautiful over and above those things that are educational, manipulative, and loud. If, however, you would like to ensure that your children lose as many their rough edges as they sanely may, there is one thing above all others that you need to do: be enriched yourself.

If you want your kid to love reading the Aeneid in the language of Virgil, take up Latin yourself. If you want your kid to love practicing his arpeggios, take up the piano yourself. If you want your children to feel comfortable around numbers, don’t be shy about what you don’t know; rather, become reacquainted with mathematics and discover again how charming it can be. Learn before your children, with them, and after them all the things you want them to learn, especially when they are little. Let them see you struggling to become a more beautiful person, and they will seek to join you in the struggle simply because that is how love works.

Work with them instead of on them, and you'll both be happier. Then the day will come when they surpass you, which is really what you wanted all along.

11 comments:

Katy said...

Amen. (plus, they may not love Vergil, ever, but there are other Latin writers, you know...). Think of the millions of piano-students who were forced to play for 12 years, left it as soon as they entered college, then realized 5 years later their parent gave them a wonderful gift, and they pick up music again (even if by "pick up" I mean play chopsticks and waltzes while mom makes dinner, and the kids dance).

My husband always tells people--and we're tempted to think this way, too, in moments of exhaustion--who sigh, "when my kids are grown, THEN I can finish x, y, and z project/passion/dream" that they should just keep doing what they were doing before kids. Maybe the pace will be slower, but include them in your interests and passions, and teach them what is beautiful and true by doing what you've always done. (And maybe what you've always done isn't so beautiful and true and you can stop doing it when you realize you don't want your kids doing it.)

For example, we would like to rent a house in Greece for a few months and visit his extended family. Why dream about doing that after kids (when his relatives will probably be dead and Greece will no longer be recognizably Western)? It's no less likely with than without kids. I know that's not exactly what you're talking about, but it's related...

Thanks for the encouraging reminder!

Anonymous said...

YOU can make a girl conjugate for hours; YOU can make a boy practice piano; YOU can make a girl memorize the twelve times table. Once I figure that part out, then I'll start working on beauty=)-- Marie

Melrose said...

"Work with them instead of on them, and you'll both be happier. Then the day will come when they surpass you, which is really what you wanted all along."

Gauntlets, I know this is exactly what we talked about together a week ago, but I never tire of hearing this brilliance over and over again. You really should write a book.

By the way, we should chat, I need to tell you about our Memoria disaster. Thank the Lord I had you in my head the whole time to stop myself before I utterly ruined our entire year.

Rebekah said...

OK, but I don't really like what this implies about my house being clean.

Gauntlets said...

Melrose, get me out of your head. Quick, before it's too late! :D

Kate: I hope with you that you get to Greece in time. :) We're Anglophiles in our house, in no small part because my husband's paternal line is English like crazy. We're really hoping to get over there while there's still some Anglo left to -phile.

Marie: I'm a bit prone to hyperbole. :D

Rebekah: You've seen my house, yeah? HA HA. Yeah. The kids just spend a lot of time outside. :D

Untamed Shrew said...

scary cirrhosis clown. nightmares.

Leah said...

My boys love Khan Academy. They had a contest who could get the most badges and points. They were both up in the millions of points range when they took a break from it for a few months. I've always liked math so I guess it rubbed off on them a tad. :)

Melrose said...

Gauntlets: too late. And now I'm reading John Taylor Gatto's "Dumbing Us Down" and....yes, it's too late for me I fear. I'm now numbered among the nutcases of society.

Emommy said...

"Then the day will come when they surpass you, which is really what you wanted all along." Perhaps this is sacrilege, but this makes me think of John 3:30: "He must increase and I must decrease." An infinitesimal comparison between parenting and what Christ has done for us.

Reb. Mary said...

Parlor tricks: surprisingly easy. Character and cultivation: not so much. Gauntlets, we look forward to you posting more of your practical tips on how to achieve this ;)

Anonymous said...

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