What do pianos and broccoli have in common?
Sadly it’s no joke, they both make my son squirm. They’re banished to his Room 1O1 (along with prawns, gherkins and beetroot). But unlike prawns, gherkins and beetroot, we’re going through the rather painful process of trying to repatriate them back into non-squirming territory.
I’ve got the classic torn-in-two-thing going on. My words of encouragement (“don’t give up, you’ll get there in the end”), are a Pavlovian response to an unofficial childhood mantra (“if in doubt, try harder”). However, I also feel uncomfortable with going anywhere near Tiger-Mum-land.
I get that it’s good to establish a strong work-ethic, but when it puts me in conflict with my kids, I feel quite conflicted myself. I know it’s a bit naive of me to think it’s always going to be plain-sailing, but trading-off short-term pain for long-term gain is tough. I know that being an effective parent is not about winning popularity competitions, but faced with a wall of opposition it’s easy to doubt whether I’ve made the right call.
Looking at the big picture, learning the piano isn’t just about learning the piano, but also a lesson in how to keep going when you want to throw in the towel (it’s one of the ‘hard things’ that the proponents of Grit recommend). Great in theory, but the reality is quite another thing. Although my son wants to play the piano, he’s understandably frustrated when he struggles to master a hard piece. However, he’s also been doing it for long enough for us to see a predictable cycle of ‘hate-it, practice-it, love-it’ going on. He likes the outcome, not the process (a bit like me and gardening really). Hopefully in time he’ll grow to enjoy the practice too and not feel like a wrong note is the end of the world.
At the moment though, his approach to learning a new tune has a lot in common with his approach to eating broccoli: painful, elongated, full of histrionics, tragic monologues, and lots of writhing-around. Until he turned two (and decided he hated one of his first foods), I was unaware of the pain and suffering that a broccoli floret could inflict. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I keep putting it on his plate in a bid to go beyond the limited selection of his preferred toddler-style veg. I’ve got the vague recollection that mothers of babies are advised to continue to offer a food up to seven times after it has been rejected. I have no idea if this applies to older children (I have a feeling not…), but the plan is that he’ll become desensitised to it eventually – after all, isn’t that what they do with phobias?
Mind you, I had a taste of my own medicine the other day when he spotted that I’d left the salmon skin on the side of my plate. He was quick to point out that if he had to eat broccoli, I should eat the skin. I hate fish skin. It wasn’t even crispy, it was disgusting, but I channelled my inner ‘I’m a Celebrity..’ and suggested that we could both eat together on the count of three. I thought it best not to faff, but to just go for it. I went through with it and in doing so, ate both the skin and my words with my eyes shut tight. When I opened my eyes, he was still staring at his broccoli skewered on his fork – although by then he had started, rather inexplicably, to talk to it. Perhaps he thought that was going to help. He ate it eventually during what can only be described as an Oscar-worthy performance.
As for the dreaded new piano piece, we just focused on a line at a time. Whilst it was no party, it was the closest we’d get to a win-win. A week on and he’s demob-happy that he’s now able to play it, cue sighs of relief all round (that is until we got the next piece...).