Lynn MacDonald is new to blogging but she brings her opinions, her humor and her infinite – and yet somehow limited – wisdom of parenting and life to her blog, All Fooked Up. She considers herself an underachiever and her ultimate goal is to be a “professional talk show guest!” She feels that her philosophies on life would put Plato to shame. So read her blog. Your life will improve and you’ll thank her for it.
It’s really difficult not to get too tied into this blogging thing. Watching the numbers like a hawk; how many hits today, how many returning followers, how many new people have read it? Where are they coming from? Twitter? Blogger? Stumbleupon? Facebook? The entire mechanics of the situation can take you over to the point that you actually forget why you started the whole thing in the first place.
Parenting is like that too. Competitive and anal. You find a mate you love (hopefully) and at some point, you decide “wouldn’t it be great to ruin our perfect life and throw kids into the mix?” So, you have your kids and it begins. The innocuous little comments that make you look at your children differently:
“My kid crawled at 6 months and walked at 9, how about yours?” (OMG! What’s wrong with my child? She’s 13 months and she can barely pull herself up)
“My kid is watching Masterpiece Theatre and follows it closely.” (OMG! We watch Sesame Street and sing Disney sing-a-longs! Have I ruined their IQ forever?)
It only gets worse. Tumblebees and “The Little Gym” at 2. Kindermusik at 3. And then there’s pre-school. PRE-SCHOOL: the realm of competition.
“My kid is reading at 3” (my kid plays I Spy with me, mainly because I LOVE I Spy. He/she has no interest in the words)
“My kid knows all the colors and can count to 100” (WTF is wrong with my kids?)
“My kid is playing soccer and gymnastics and tennis and …” (I put Keely in soccer and she sat down in the field and picked daisies. Then she broke her arm and we were done with soccer)
Finally, your kid is ready for real school. Kindergarten: the ultimate challenge. My kids are in private school so, of course, Keely had to go take a test. Boy, was I nervous. What if she didn’t get in and was doomed to a life of being “second best” or even “third best?” It’s just such ridiculous thinking, but I didn’t realize that at the time. However, she did get in and paved the way for her siblings. But in first grade, I was at a teachers conference and I was panicked. “Why can’t Keely read? Everybody else is reading!” The teacher said to me, “Lynn, everybody develops at their own pace. Keely WILL learn to read when she’s ready.” So, I took a different approach and decided that I couldn’t worry about all these so-called geniuses that were surrounding us. I could only deal with my kids as they were. But it’s easier said than done.
We live in a society that lives vicariously through our kids and their achievements. It starts early and it’s fiercely competitive. These children grow up with more homework in middle school than I had in high school. They compete for places on sports teams, extracurricular activities and then the ultimate battle, for acceptance to college. The sheer amount of stress in their lives is overwhelming and many kids are near the tipping point of stress way too early in their lives. The push for achievement is never ending and I often wonder “what does it get you?”
Keely did learn to read. She had an “Aha” moment in second grade and began reading and never stopped. She is still an avid reader and managed to graduate at the top of her class. When Andie came along and wasn’t really reading much in first grade, I didn’t need to have a talk with her teacher. By then I realized that when she was ready, she would read too. Now, Andie never did become an avid reader but that certainly hasn’t slowed her down. She also graduated at the top of her class. They are both in college now so they survived those years and yet, the stress is still there.
I won’t say that I don’t live vicariously through my kids. I do. When the kids got academic awards, I felt great. As a stay-at-home mom, your job is your kids so obviously, when your kids achieve you’re going to feel a great sense of pride. But I never said anything out loud. Keely was a swimmer and she made All State. Yeah, I was thrilled but if you had waded through as many tears as I had during her swimming career you can’t help but put it all into perspective. Andie was a starter on every sports team she was on since she was a freshman. She played little League Boy’s Baseball. She was a great athlete. There were moments of incredible pride but there were also so many moments of frustration, anger and with Andie, completely out of hand rants. So living vicariously is often a whirlpool situation. It sucks you in and drowns you.
But it wasn’t until I had Daniel that I really had some perspective. I’m not going to get into details now but Daniel was kicked out of pre-school at 4 and then diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome which is a high-functioning form of Autism. They only took him at the school because I signed a contract with them that they could kick him out at will. For 5 long years, Daniel attended this school on a “trial” basis. The year they told me a contract would no longer be required was a banner year in our life. But the point of this story is that when Daniel was in second grade, he took a standardized test and scored in the 1%. That’s right, the first percentile. As a person whose kids usually scored in the high 90’s percentile wise, this was a shock to the system. I always got those tests back and thought, “I wonder what that person in the first percentile thinks.” Well now that person was me. It really makes you realize that you need to look at the “person” as a whole, rather than each specific set of skills. It was almost worth it just to think about the situation in a different way.
So, living vicariously through your kids. It’s a roller coaster of pride and emotions because, at least for me, for every peak there’s a valley. I have learned not to compete with people when it comes to our kids. My kids are great BECAUSE THEY’RE MINE AND I LOVE THEM. Sure they’re smart, funny, attractive and the like. But they have weaknesses and shortcomings, just like I do. I think the definition of a non-competitive mom is a mom who can, while admitting that their child has strengths, also acknowledge that the child isn’t perfect and has glaring weaknesses as well.