Unleashing the Tiger Mom’s mighty roar

Cute Husband and I have agreed to split the duties in helping The Boy practice guitar, at least for the time being. Right now, he is learning to read music, which means understanding the different symbols (whole note, half note, quarter note, etc.) and being able to decipher the note based on the symbol’s placement on the scale. This is all in addition to learning to actually play said notes on the guitar.

Yes, it’s a lot for The Boy to process. I’m well aware of this.

Since Cute Husband bought himself a guitar this weekend to learn beside The Boy, I asked him to take on the responsibilities of drilling him on technique (actual play) while I drill him on theory (sheet music, using the metronome, etc.). I suppose I could drill him on both, but Cute Husband suggested (and I agree) that it’s better, at least right now, to separate the two.

Anyway, this morning’s practice was rough. I set the metronome on my phone (because, of course, there’s an app for that) to a very slow tempo, and asked him to read the sheet music with me. After countless pleas of “Listen!”, The Boy put away his guitar and informed me with a pout that he didn’t want to practice anymore.

“Why?” I demanded. “Because it’s hard?”

He nodded, tears welling in his eyes. “I don’t want to play the guitar anymore.”

I froze and pursed my lips. (This is my “Mommy is not pleased” look. I learned it from my own mother, and The Boy knows better than to argue with me when I make this face.) “Who wanted to learn to play the guitar?” I asked.

He looked down at his feet. “I did.”

“Who asked for this?”

His eyes still wouldn’t meet mine. “I did.”

“And who knew, before we even signed up for lessons, that this would be really hard?”

He finally looked up at me, and I noticed his eyes were dry. “I did.”

“So who needs to practice?”

He nodded once, and I could see that familiar spark of determination returning to my little boy’s face. “I do,” he replied.

“That’s right.” I opened my arms and invited him to sit in my lap. “Now come here and let’s review your notes again.” Once he sat down, I wrapped my arms around him and held his music book so the two of us could view it together. “Now listen to the rhythm of the metronome and count with me. One, two, three, four…”

It made me think of the excerpt from Amy Chua’s book that appeared in the Wall Street Journal early last year. Though I’m American-born and not Chinese, is it possible that I, too, am a Tiger Mother? I mean, I’ve taken him to baseball games!

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt like I’ve been really hard on The Boy. I do the same thing when he’s reading one of his books or when we’re reviewing simple addition concepts. And yes, I’m fully aware that he’s barely 5 years old, but if I relent now, what’s to keep him from thinking later that it’s okay to quit when things get too hard? If I make excuses for him now, what’s to keep him from making his own excuses later? (And I can’t stand excuses. Yoda had it only partially right. “Do or do not. There is no try.” He should have also added, “And no excuses.”)

You know, I really don’t care if he learns to play the guitar well. I’d prefer that he does, of course, but if he’s a mediocre player at best, I’ll be pleased. Why? Because the real lesson he will learn after a year of guitar lessons is perseverance. The real gift I hope I’ve given him for his fifth birthday is not a guitar (and amp and the rest of the accoutrements) but dedication and a sense of accomplishment.

Practicing guitar in Daddy's car before Saturday's lesson.

I want him to work hard at this. I want him to achieve it. I want him to learn that if he works really hard at anything he wants to do, he’ll be able to do it. I want him to develop that kind of confidence. And I want him to know that you simply cannot quit just because something is “too hard”. After all, very few things in life come easy, and those that do are things we tend to take for granted. (When was the last time you really thought about the mechanics of breathing?)

I also have to step back and remember that he’s his own person, that he’s still just a little boy, that I’m asking him to do things most of his peers don’t have any interest in learning right now.

But when it comes to guitar practice, at least I get to remind him of whose idea this was to begin with. While I may very well be a Tiger Mom, that’s the Filipino Mom in me coming out.

One day he’ll thank me for this.



2 thoughts on “Unleashing the Tiger Mom’s mighty roar

  1. We all have to go through this – how tough is too tough? I think it all depends. Some kids can take more than other. I think the thredhold will go up if we train them well and at the right pace. Just like training athletes, if they never felt uncomfortable or had always felt the training being easy, they probably were not improving as much. Parents are children’s first coaches. Good coaches know how to bring the best out of an athlete, and how much they can push before they break. Good job!

  2. It’s been a few days, and it’s gotten easier. I think he was a little taken aback by the theory part of music, if I was to hazard a guess. Tonight, he practiced for more than 10 minutes with Cute Husband, even after some flash card drills with me.

    He may never be the next Carlos Santana, but he’ll learn to play the guitar.

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