So it burns me up to see how my son eats dinner: arms propped up on the back of his chair, back curved, legs resting on his mom’s chair. To get them there, he has to turn his body at an odd angle to the table, which looks like the exact opposite of comfort. During the meal, he bends and squirms and has all the rigidity of undercooked jello.
“Sit up straight,” I tell him.
“I am,” he says. But I can hardly hear him, because he’s resting his head on his hand, his fingers muffling his words.
“No, like this,” I say, puffing out my chest.
Felix bends back, pushing his belly into the table and letting his head roll back. “I’m doing that,” he says.
“Is that what I look like to you?”
“Yup,” he says.
How do you teach a child something that comes innate to you? I remember my dad telling me to sit properly at the dinner table, but I don’t recall him having to stretch my body into position like I was Gumby. I just knew what he was talking about — I come from a line of straight-sitter-uppers.
So maybe it’s genetic. Aside from a slight sway at the bottom, the vertebrae on my back stack in good order, while my wife’s spine twists and turns and causes her all sort of trouble in humid weather. I’m also really neurotic, my cells dialed up to eleven, buzzing with nervous energy. Often the trouble with me is relaxing, not poise.
Or, maybe it was my attitude toward my parents. Whereas Felix hates being told what to do, I had no qualms followed the good posture models my dad and mom provided.
Whatever the case, my son doesn’t get good posture, and I’m at a loss of how to teach it to him. Oh, I know, I know. Gresko, get a grip! This is a very small thing to worry about. But follow me here: because really, I think what I’m talking about is a metaphor for much of what we deal with, when we deal with kids.
One day, Felix will sit nicely at the table on his own. Not because he’s unable to now, but because he hasn’t decided to do so. There are things that kids’ minds can not grasp, and then there are things that they grasp but that they lack the conviction to do. Many kids, for example, understand words before they begin using them. My wife and I witnessed my son walk between us long before he decided to get up and take a spin around the room on his volition. More recently, he seems to have figured out how to read a few words, and yet if you try “teaching” him to read he clams up. No amount of instruction helps when the child has put his foot down and says, “No. I won’t do that.”
There’s little we can do as parents to plant that desire. In my case, I’ll continue to remind Felix about how we sit at the table, even though this makes me feel like a horrible nag, and his failure to comply frustrates me. I’ll provide praise when he does sit nicely at the table, and reprimand or punishment when he melts to the floor in a spineless puddle, an egregious disregard for the rules of civility.
Otherwise, for the majority of the time when he’s in the middle zone — a resistant little curly cue in his chair — I will take a deep breath, sit up a bit taller, and let it go.