Thursday, January 29, 2009



Our Saturdays now largely belong to lessons.

Though The Boy is only 5, we've been resisting organized lessons/activities for some time now. Our kids' friends and acquaintances from the building and the neighborhood have been in music and tumbling and ballet and pottery and Taekwondo for years now, but my wife and I have kept Q & The Boy mainly to the loose activities that we can think up. We've got lots of reasons for that, I suppose. My wife and I are both a little stubborn (wonder where Q gets it?), and so we're constitutionally primed to resist the New York City Parent Pressure to turn our kids into highlighted calendars. We're also both not that loose with the buck, and classes can really set you back in the City: taking Taekwondo in our neighborhood costs around $700 a month. You can go as much as you want, they say, but come on. Add to all this the simple difficulty of signing up for something. With all the kids and all the money around here (at least until the recent Wall Street implosion), most slots for most things get filled six months out.

Besides, it's not as if Q and The Boy have been totally free range. Both of them joined in the excellent free summer soccer program sponsored by the Parks Department. At age 3, The Boy enjoyed his music class, and we kept him in it until he went off to Montessori. (Q not so much; she only made it through two music sessions until none of us could put up with the pain of it all.) We've also encouraged both of them to like some sport or other and not tried to foist our own likes upon them.

But The Boy has changed, and we want to endorse it. Not that long ago we struggled with getting him to try new things, primarily because of a chronic perfectionism (again, thanks mom and dad!) that pretty much choked anything new he went into. He's worked through a lot of that somehow since starting Kindergarten.

Perhaps it has something to do with his body finally catching up a fair amount with his mind. Philosophers of mind often talk about "direction of fit" when it comes to beliefs and desires. We (usually) aim to have our beliefs "fit" the world as it is — be accurate or true, in other words. Desires, though, are the other way around — they represent the way we want the world to be at some future time. (Hopes lie somewhere in between, I'd say.) Desires are usually the things that make us get off the couch or off jelly doughnuts (or onto either, for that matter). Perfectionists, though, run into problems because they want perfection, which doesn't come easy or at all. Sometimes this amounts to expecting to produce or do something beyond what's possible right now, and I think that was The Boy's problem.

Nowadays, The Boy seems fine with meeting his mind halfway a lot of the time. For example, we make a lot of paper airplanes these days, and he can fold just about any shape on his own after just one or two tries. Then he designs his own, working through different combinations of creases, launching them from the table and noting their distance and grace. Most don't make it that far and look pretty ugly coming down. A year ago he probably would have dissolved into sobs, but now he just asks for more paper.


So our Saturdays now belong to lessons, and The Boy loves it. When he finishes tennis in the morning, he wants to keep hitting. After an hour of intense swim class, he still wants to jump into the 12-foot end of the pool and swim on his own to the side. Now Q talks about which lessons she wants (ballet, predictably), and we're looking into something for her. We do, after all, have an hour or two free on the weekend.

I suppose this is the part of the post where I talk about lessons I've learned from all this. There are some to report, of course. That stuff about perfectionism above counts, I think. And I continue to be surprised and amazed by how growing older simply changes the landscape of possibility, slowly and imperceptibly like some ancient glacier. Which I suppose it is.


Nadine said...

700$ for two months!!! That's INSANE.

But RM: beautiful post, as always.

I could not agree with you more on the social calender things. My niece (9y.o) gets to do 4 after school activities. FOUR. Like children theatre, hockey, art and ballet. Oh and swimming. That's 5. And people are surprised children show stress symptoms.

But Monkey has his lessons too on Saturday. He goes to toddler soccer. Which is really not soccer, but more like an hour playing with balls and other things with other toddlers and the parents while listening to happy children's songs.

teahouse said...

My tae kwon do school on the Upper West Side is MUCH cheaper than that, and it's got a big kids' program.

It's good that you don't overstructure your kids' schedules. My Husband teaches music to kids, and he's seen it all - the insane rich parents all the way to the kids in East Harlem who are happy to be able to borrow an instrument from a school, to the kids who are so rich only the nannies accompany them to lessons.