Maybe its be more useful not to compare my son and daughter, and I know its what the writers of Siblings Without Rivalry would tell me to do. So fine, let's leave Primo out of it. Let me just say Seconda's interior emotional life is a big, wild, tangled mystery to me. As it how to respond to it.
I find myself over and over again feeling like I'm on some candid camera parenting show where some jerko producer has gotten my 6 year-old to set me up for some impossible circumstance where I'll be caught saying and doing the absolute wrong parenting thing. Except its a trap, because there is no right thing. That option does not exist.
I'll give you an example. In Kindergarten, Seconda is learning how to read. Now, when Primo was in Kindergarten, despite the fact that he was much younger than Sec is, I forced him to read to me every night for five minutes or so, even if he only got through one or two three-word sentences in that time. We did this from the time he was four or so. He hated it. I hated it. He protested. I perservered. Learning to do something like reading is hard at first but it will get easier the more you do it, I reminded him. Back then, I had a lot more time and a lot more staying more.
With Seconda, I've been terribly remiss. She doesn't want to learn to read and I haven't pushed it, until recently and I'll be frank here, its because I noticed that alot of the kids in her Kindergarten class are ready to read the Wall Street Journal.
Shitballs, I thought, we're really behind.
So I try to get her to read me to every week night, before I read bedtime books to her. We accomplishe this roughly three nights a week, if we're lucky. She hates it. I hate it. She protests. I have to fealw ith the baby and forget about it half the time. That's where we're at. The funny thing is, she is a fantastic reader. The first time I had her read to me, she whizzed through the book, hardly stumbling on a word. I was shocked and amazed. The trouble is, it comes to easily that if she does encounter a word she doesn't know right off the bat, she gets really, really, really frustrated. Angry, even. She basically throws up her hands and says something like,
"This is the dumbest book I've ever seen in my life!"
"I hate reading and you're the worst mommy ever!"
"Mark my words - I am NEVER READING AGAIN!"
"I want Daddy! I like him better than you!"
All that is OK. its when she starts the self-deprecating stuff that I get upset:
"See how stupid I am!"
The first few times she said this, I couldn't help but make a big deal over it, telling her never to say such unkind things about herself, flooding her with attention about how smart and clever and creative she was, what a great reader and all that. Then I realized it was fueling her self-criticism, so now I just try to be very low key and tell her I don't agree and point out how much she's improved as a reader. So, I've got that under control. Figured that shit right out. THAT is not the complicated bit.
What stumps me is this: As she's reading to me, I offer a more or less unending responsorial of encouragement. When she finished a sentence, I say softly, "great!" or "good job!" This is not something I do intentionally; its really just an instinct. There are a lot of areas in parenting where I need a lot of improvement but providing specific praise and encouragement is not one. Except that Seconda HATES it when I do this. At least, I think she hates it. The reason I think that is she keeps telling me to stop.
"DON'T SAY GREAT MOMMY!" she shrieks, annoyed.
"OK, OK, I won't. I'm sorry, I just forgot."
Then she reads a page and reflexively I mutter, "Good!" and she yell, "MOMMY! What did I say!"
"Oh, all right, I'm sorry," I reply, "I'll just be quiet."
"No, don't be quiet," she tells me, "Say, 'Bad.'"
"Instead of 'Great' say 'Bad.' Say 'Bad job.'"
"Seconda," I reply, "I am not going to say that."
"Please, Mommy! Do what I say! Please!"
I look at her quizzically. Speechless.
"Well do you want me to read or not? Say "Bad Job/"
I look around the room, wondering if there's a hidden camera. This is a trap. I can sense it. But now she's really starting to like the idea and its getting her excited about continuing to read, and soemtimes its just what the doctor ordered, to give the kids a little bit of control over innocuous things, so I give it a try. Can't hurt to try.
She reads a sentence.
"Bad job," I say. I use a funny voice, trying to make a game of it, making it clear I'm joking. Still, alarm bells sounds in my brain. FUTURE THERAPY! FUTURE THERAPY! CEASE AND DESIST!
"No," I say, "Forget it. I'm not saying that."
Instead, I agree to saying nothing, which I feel is a compromise.
Still and all, the whole thing is so confusing, I feel I need a professional to advise me and to clarify what is motivating my daughter. WHY does she want me to tell her she's dong a bad job? I'm sure its a simple impulse but one that gets all kinds of convoluted before its expressed. More importantly, if its this complicated now, what the hell is going to happen when puberty hits? Lawd a mercy, I don't stand a chance.