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Conquering the “I Can’t Do It” syndrome

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published Dec. 4, 2007, thehive.modbee.com

I am about to enter the Mommy Guilt Hall of Fame, first ballot, unanimous vote.

I tricked Big Guy about his letter to Santa, and it’s bugged me for a week. How’s that for pathetic? I’m remorseful over deceiving a kid who was writing to a mythical character.

It was his first letter, you see, and I’m a sentimental schmuck about such things. It’s going to lead to an ambulance crew one day finding my body among piles of cake pans, cookie cutters  and memorabilia from the guys, but that’s the price I’ll have to pay.

At least, I thought at first it was about it being his first letter. I realized later that it’s about a mom learning something important about her child, something I’m really glad I figured out now rather than years down the road.

He and I sat at the computer the Sunday after Thanksgiving and composed it. We made a gingerbread man border, and he picked the Santa Claus clip art. We painstakingly edited his list from 10 items to four – much dickering involved there – and  I printed the final version.

Then he sat down and signed his name. His full first name, with a pen even, because something like this is too important for a pencil. All seven letters – well, one letter’s in there twice, so it was actually six letters.

Lesson complete!

The curriculum, though, was not penmanship. It was about not giving up. This is the same child who whined just a few months back that he would never  learn to write his whole name in time to send Santa a letter.

And being the cold-hearted wench that I am, I reminded him of that after he finished the letter.  See what you can learn when you try, I asked, playfully mocking the “I can’t do its” of the past.

For a while there, I wondered if he’d make it. He had nailed the first letter long ago and added a second in early September. But then he stalled, content to sign his school papers with the two letters.

A funny thing started to happen, though, as he learned to write more and more letters. He figured out that it wasn’t all that hard. On fire now, he nailed the final five … er, four … in a matter of days.

It bothered me a bit that his reaction to new tasks was “I can’t do it.”  I’d always assumed that confidence is an innate human characteristic that some lose as life beats it out of them. I’d always believed that Big Guy, the life of the party ever since he’s been old enough to go to them, had confidence in spades.

Now, though, those are looking like two bad assumptions. Maybe the outgoing goofball clowns to cover something that bugs him about himself, even at this young an age. And maybe, just as you work with them to learn their letters and numbers, confidence needs to be cultivated.

We’re making progress. Lately, when I ask him if he could do something, he’ll say, “I don’t know if I can. But I can try.”

Which is why, when he asked me to get an envelope for the letter, I sealed up scrap paper and hid the real version. He took the fake to the mailbox, over-the-top pleased with himself at having crafted it.

I’m probably guilty of mail fraud, but that was the least of my worries. I’m also guilty of lying to my kid – heck, it even bothers me some to tell the Santa Claus lie.

But I’ll let myself off the hook on this one – and I hope the feds do, too. Because I need the reminder, not only of this “first,” but also of the fact that things are not always as they seem with Big Guy.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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