You may recall that the kindergartener is taking Suzuki Method guitar. I know about as much about the Suzuki Method as I do about anything important, meaning very little to nothing at all. I do know that it seems to be a very precise method of study, daily practice is strongly encouraged, and it is the parent’s job to motivate the child so he will enjoy practicing correctly at home. And that practice should be productive, and fun.
I’ve also commented before that the Suzuki Method is like a giant metaphor for parenting. I am still trying to figure out this whole parenting thing, don’t you know. I think that might even be my entire bio on Facebook, at least it was when I joined with good intentions (paving the road to hell) of being an active, contributing, liking, commenting, sharing participant several years back. FAIL. On the Facebook part, that is. I don’t think “still trying to figure this out” eight years into the parenting thing means I’m failing. It’s more like the definition.
So, without overstating the obvious, I don’t really know the best way to encourage/make the kindergartener practice his guitar, because I don’t know the best way to encourage/make the kindergartener (or myself, frankly) do anything.
My dad, who was in sales for a good deal of his career, used to say that the way to get someone to do something they don’t want to do is to a) make it fun, or b) make it easy. Which sounds reasonable enough if you’re trying to get someone to, I don’t know, volunteer their time, or donate blood. There will be cookies! The Bloodmobile (could have picked a more fun name, people) will be right there in the parking lot of your workplace! But I worry about using these motivational techniques in a parenting context, because you run the risk of mistakenly implying that “Everything in life ought to be not just fun, but super fun (do it more times!!) and easy!”
Which probably explains my whole resistance to embracing adulthood, which sadly, involves doing a lot of things that are sort of easy but are not really all that super fun. Or they’re sort of fun, with the potential to be super fun at times, but the repetitiousness of it all just kills it. Things like cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, doing dishes, opening the mail, washing clothes, taking your kids to and from school. I’m feeling itchy just writing about all the things I’m supposed to be doing right now and am not doing. And here I want to send you on a short detour over to Hyperbole and a Half, which was one of the first blogs I ever read, and which sums up so many of my feelings about life so very nicely. With cartoons.
It’s not like I’ve never done anything hard, of course. How else would I have ever learned Calculus? But I feel as though I can’t take any credit for that. I never thought, “Oh this is so hard and so uninteresting but I am going to challenge myself anyway to understand differential calculus then move on to inferential calculus (or whatever it’s called—integral? It’s been awhile . . .) just for the character buildingness of it.” No, I just happened to find calculus interesting, which is another way to say fun, I suppose. Some people might say that’s messed up, but I would just say quit judging, and I don’t judge you for liking hockey or liking the Mall of America (well, maybe a little bit I do, but I am trying to be less judgmental so I am at least working on it).
I could have saved all of us a bunch of time by just writing this: I just don’t like doing stuff I’m not interested in doing. Couldn’t that be said of many of us? Isn’t it, in fact, a tautological statement? The very definition of a tautological statement? (And wasn’t that last sentence tautological as well? And so on, and so on, and so on?)
Here’s where you’re probably thinking, but the kindergartener is interested in guitar, isn’t he? Why yes, of course he is. In the very same way I am interested in it, meaning I want to be good at it instantly without the boring, repetitious be-disciplined-and-do-it-every-day part of it.
So, part of the recommended (not required) reading for the Suzuki parents is The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle. I have a whole bunch more to say about this awesome book, about brain chemistry and myelin wrapping circuitry, and how talent develops, but some of that needs to wait for another day. It’s fascinating stuff. The only thing I need to say right now is here is what Mr. Coyle wrote a couple of days ago on his blog, which explains why nobody likes to practice:
“The main problem with practice is that we all have a powerful instinct to avoid it. There’s a perfectly good reason for this: your unconscious brain. Practice involves spending lots of energy struggling for an uncertain payoff, and your unconscious brain really, really dislikes spending energy for uncertain payoffs. After all, evolution built your brain to behave like an ultra-conservative banker — investing energy only when there’s a clear, tangible benefit. As a result, we’re all natural-born geniuses at coming up with excuses not to practice, or to cut corners, or to skip it and hope things work out.” You can read more here: How to Stop Being Allergic To Practice
So perhaps it is for this reason that I so often find that my go-to motivator for getting the kids to do something they aren’t enthused about, like practicing guitar every day, is immediately dangling a reward. No clear, tangible benefit to doing something? Well, I’ll just offer up a clear tangible benefit of my own making.
My parents never dangled rewards like that. There was never any bargaining, any “If you make your bed, then you can get 5 points on your chart/watch a show/have 25 cents/pick out a new toy at Guitarget” kind of nonsense. Maybe it was just semantics, but there was instead a calm expectation stated, with natural consequences just incorporated into the statement without calling attention to them: You may go outside to play after you make your bed.
If we rebelled, it was at most a passive whiny complaint of “I don’t feel like it!” And if you were me, you might also throw yourself across your parents’ (already made) king-sized bed for dramatic effect, and just lie there face-down on the corduroy bedspread until you got the line pattern imprinted on the side of your face, waiting for some sort of response, which often never came. Because your mom was too busy doing 8 million loads of laundry and trying to make a dent in the forever-growing ironing pile on the rocking chair and watching some old musical on TV while she ironed, humming along as though she didn’t hear you.
So at some point you just grew tired of lying there in your passive resistence refusal because now you hear the birds singing and other kids’ happy shouts floating in through the open window on this beautiful summer morning, and you are kind of annoyed with yourself because you are missing out on all the outside Laura Ingalls Wilder fun (let’s smash acorns and leaves and grass into mush in this Frontier Tupperware container–go get the hose so we can add water!–and get supper on the table before Pa comes back!), and it would have taken you like 30 seconds to make your bed and you’d already be out there getting the hose if you would have just made your bed in the first place.
Once again, I could have saved you and I both a whole bunch of time by just saying this: my sense is that rewards aren’t the best motivator. Dangling a carrot often feels like a desperate act. Sticks would never be an option in our household, although when my mom really lost all patience with us, I do recall threats of, literally, “I’m going to get the stick!” Meaning, the yardstick. But I don’t recall it ever happening, and I honestly don’t know what she would have done with the yardstick once she got it. It’s too long to slap a wrist, and too flimsy to slap a behind.
Sticks of any sort, literal or figurative, will never work for me as parent, because the kindergartener has a tendency to escalate when threats or angry tones or anything resembling punitiveness is employed. Total backfire. For awhile there he would call me a “sling-shotter” (no idea . . .) if I lost my patience, and lately he has taken to “firing” me when my tone is too sharp with either he or his sister. (Also, public service announcement: Don’t crack up or show even the slightest sign of amusement when you are fired, and don’t sass back, Awesome! I’ll be at the coffee shop then! as this will only further enrage the kindergartener.)
Which I guess is why today I resorted to the reward thing. He had played Twinkle Twinkle once, and did an okay job. But I wanted to positively motivate him to play it again. I know, repetitious. We just did that. Blah blah blah. But we have a recital coming up, so let’s just push ourselves a little bit, all right?
So as you might know, there is a lot of I Dream of BeJeannie (not to be confused with Bewitched) going on around this household, and I’m trying to get the kindergartener to focus and remember it’s cool to play guitar. Dude, this is something you want to do (our parents would never have called us Dude–another failing of our generation of too- casual parenting), and I have this image pop into my head of Jeannie–probably in her bottle–playing guitar.
I really, really hope I’m not making this up, because I just know I’ve seen it, haven’t I? So it was this very carrot that I dangled in front of the squirrel, to say, play one more version of Twinkle, and if you do a really good job, I will find BeJeannie playing the guitar. On YouTube? Yes, on YouTube. And we’ll watch it? Yep. And she’ll be wearing the BeJeannie suit? Yes, she will be wearing the BeJeannie suit.
So he did a really fine job with it, and even chose a new rhythm for the second time through, which would be “motorcycle motorcycle” instead of “Mississippi hop hop,” and did it well.
Well, short story long, I did a Google search for Jeannie playing the guitar and so far no luck. Was it maybe a sitar, or some other stringed instrument that would have been more common in the times of Ali Baba? Or 2,000 years ago, or whenever/wherever she is supposed to be from? (See last week’s post The Buddha is not actually a genie for more on geographic origins/general historical confusion).
So, more homework guys. Can anyone help me here? Can you find an image, or a YouTube clip or anything of Barbara Eden/Jeannie playing the guitar? I guess she does need to be wearing the BeJeannie suit, and have the fancy hair with it. If for some reason you were only able to find the evil sister/ blue green BeJeannie playing guitar or sitar or another stringed instrument (probably not a harp, though, probably needs to be held like a guitar, mandolin or lute) that would probably be acceptable.
But ideally, the pink BeJeannie playing the guitar. In her bottle.
Because everything that is especially mortal-like is so much more exciting when it happens in the bottle. The other day, apparently Jeannie was writing a book, typing on a manual typewriter in her bottle, and I missed it. Everyone in the household saw it except for me. I was like [whiny disappointed voice]: “You guys. Seriously. You know I love all the bottle scenes. You know I love old manual typewriters, and the little ding of the carriage return. I can’t believe you didn’t call me in to watch.” (I know! You can’t believe it either.)
But if you can only find a clip where she is playing the guitar on the beach or something, that might have to do.
Anyway, this is getting long. So, you have your homework, and please let me know if you find anything. There will be a reward, like a cupcake. Or lots of praise. Or, no, wait. It’s just my expectation. You may return to your regular life and important work after you find the BeJeannie playing guitar clip for the kindergartener. This is just my calm, adult expectation for you that I am communicating clearly.
(That wasn’t so hard!)