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Saturday, January 8, 2011

In Which I Beat Myself Up for Setting a Bad Example

Parenting is, among other things, a periodic and unapologetic teacher of smack-you-in-the-face humility. When your children embody your better self, whether by exhibiting your strengths or by echoing your good/moral/admirable qualities, that's validating for both You the Parent and You the Person. But when you hear something negative/ugly/unfortunate come out of their mouths in your words, or when they show a tendency to react poorly under stress and you have one of those sudden "mirror" moments of OMG he learned that from me, well that's downright humbling.

It's important to remember that we're all human, we all have the ability to change and improve, and that no parent escapes this crazy ride without at least one fleeting thought of "I have screwed them up just by being a fault-ridden, not-completely-evolved person with weaknesses and a tendency to occasionally have a Bad Day."

So. Aherm. I'm not really stressing over this anymore, but it figured into my week and I decided to blog it if for no other purpose than to admit to myself that this is a process, not a perfected skill. And that it's okay to be imperfect. And for them to be, too.

Setting: post-Christmas
Players: 7yo boy, 37yo mother
Motivation: Pokemon. Specifically a new deck of Trainer cards
Trigger: "Mom, let's battle Pokemon!"

Let me preface this by admitting that although I entered the lives of my stepchildren around the year 2000, when the fad was still super-hot and they (the stepkids) were into it, I managed to keep my adult-sized blinders on and successfully avoided absorbing anything beyond the most basic details. I can recognize the major characters, and have watched enough episodes of the show to generally understand what's going on. But the cards? Not so much. To the dismay of gamers and collectors everywhere, I am That Mom. The one who pitches the cards when I clean up the floors. I've thrown away (and given away) probably hundreds of dollars worth of these damn cards.

And now my seven year old likes Pokemon. Figures. One of his Christmas gifts was a "Trainer Pack", which promised to teach the basics of battling and gameplay. It included player guides, reference sheets, the works. Surely I could figure this out and I'd have my son well on his way to becoming a Pokemon master.

Or, not so much.

Maybe it's just me, but I found the "sample game" (with stacked decks and scripts to be followed by each competing player) to be incomprehensible. And I was a technical writer in my pre-Mommy life. Let me repeat that. I was a technical writer. It was my job, my special skill, to take relatively complicated concepts and distill them into concise, simple, bullet-point instructions that can be followed by novices.

And I couldn't figure this out.

T just wanted to play, already. Blame it on my starsign (Virgo) or my birth order (eldest) or just my control freak tendencies, but damn it, we were going to learn to do this the right way!! I stubborned my way through it. Forcefully. I was going to make this make sense if it killed both of us. And it felt like it just might.

He did not care. He pleaded with me. "We don't need to use their rules, Mom. We can just play!"

No! No. We. Can't. I will NOT let the Pokemon beat me!! I shuffled through the deck, cross-referenced the player guides, and looked in vain for Meaning. At this point it was no longer about playing a game with my son. It was about my own frustration at the fact that I didn't "get" it. Small children understand this. What is wrong with me??

I finally descended from stressed-and-huffy to downright belligerent. In my finest toddler fashion, I slammed down the cards, declared the game to be Stupid, and refused to engage any further in the exercise.

Ahem. Mother? Here's your mirror.

Egads, what kind of example am I setting for my little self-led learner, here? I had hoped to show how you can teach yourself, and instead I'd shown how to be impatient, rigid, and a big wet blanket. I'd also given him a great reference point for throwing a fit and for being a sore loser. Lovely.

I took a deep breath and a five-minute break. I came back to find T and C happily dealing out face-cards only in an improvised game of War. They graciously dealt me in.

We had fun. And the Pokemon powers-that-be did not come by to cast aspersions on our bastardization of their game. Imagine that.

Sometimes, in our weakest moments, the kids are the ones who teach us.

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