The Cornstarch and Water Experiment

Did you ever make that cornstarch and water experiment as a kid? It was one of the most poignant parts of our DIY science kits that I come back to every once and again. I was thinking about it recently because my daughter is prematurely entering the "Terrible Twos." Like in the experiment, the more we apply force, the harder she fights back, yet when we guide her flow, she acquiesces quite easily. Of course we can't always figure out a way to work with her flow. There are times where we just can't let her learn for herself. I'm sure you can think of the moments yourself, mostly as they apply to dangerous situations like walking on the sidewalk, trying to climb the rungs of the kitchen chairs, balancing on the rolling toys, etc. But there are other times where I question if I just need to be more creative or patient. 


My husband is from Cameroon and while our daughter is clearly American, we are trying to find a balance between the cultural norms so our daughter does have the option of living there some day. Also so she doesn't mortify my in-laws. We have chosen to live very close to my own parents (a decision that I think is not so American), but sometimes this seems to get in the way of our hybrid parenting style. 


When I think of Cameroonian kids, I think of quiet, well-behaved and deferential little beings. When I think of American kids, I think of loud, entitled, articulate and out-going children. I like some aspects of each but I'm not sure that we can cherry-pick those qualities without getting the whole set. Parenting, despite whether you believe it or not, comes from a whole society. Even if you are the type of American parent who has moved far away from your own family and don't give other people permission to "parent" your children, your own child is formed by a million interactions over their early years. It's the people in the grocery store who smile and coo and comment what a good baby he/she is. It's the day-care staff who say "Good job!" or "What a smart boy you are!" when you leave them there for work. It's the books and television and radio programs that set an example for the outspoken and precocious child we praise in this culture. Even if I wanted my kid to never speak without being spoken to, I would be fighting an uphill battle because the messaging is everywhere and coming even from silent sources (covert smiles and waves from strangers). 


I don't think this is bad thing necessarily, I like American kids for the most part, except when it comes to the "Terrible Twos." In my own observation, this period of independence and testing boundaries is the result of the first two years of our kids' lives where they are coaxed and rewarded for any display of interaction. Once they are equipped with a vocabulary and gross/fine motor skills, it makes perfect sense that they would take of in a million directions, isn't that what we've been trying to make them do up to that point? Explore! Discover! Interact! And yet, we have not had to discipline our six, twelve, and eighteen month olds so we have no idea how to handle this. 


Back to the cornstarch experiment, in our culture we have been staring at the cornstarch in the bowl for the first two years of our children's lives, waiting for it to be cohesive enough to handle, yet when we take it out of the bowl, it's trickier than we thought. We can't just stare anymore, we have to really interact with it and it's exactly OPPOSITE of how most substances behave. This disconcerting fact about children leaves the parent stumped, and yet how clever is the universe to play this cosmic trick on all parents, reflecting back to them the very same behaviors they tortured their own parents with. I was the same way (I AM the same way), every time my parents try to make me do something (including suggestions about parenting), my inclination is to do the opposite. Is this cultural? I think yes, but as I said, there's nothing I as an individual can do about it. Either I choose to surround my family with a different cultural norm (be that IN Cameroon or just surrounding by Cameroonians in America), or deal with it as so many other American parents do.