Thursday, November 3, 2011

compare and contrast

[The following is another post I wrote long-ish ago and never got around to posting here. I was trying to figure out a rhythm in this space before I posted these writings. I think I've got it figured it, even if my practice has not been perfect.]

I wonder if it's human nature to make comparisons between people. There are times I feel it's all we do, but I think I'm incredibly sensitive and I have this inferiority complex coupled with a vicious streak of perfectionism (yes, it's fun here in my head).

But, really, right now, I'm thinking about this in terms of being a parent. It seems like, from the start, people are checking 'em out and sizing 'em up*. It's all about when our respective kids rolled over, started crawling, got teeth. How old was your kid when she started walking? How many words or signs did your kid know by the time he was a year old? My kid started talking in complete sentences when he was nine months old. Oh, really? Mine was already reading Tolstoy by then...when she wasn't composing concertos and starting the newest dada revolution.

Or something.

Actually, at first I felt like this was the tenor of a lot of conversations and I tried not to get sucked in, but I wasn't always successful. I can go on and on about how long it seemed to take Pic to finally start crawling. (How old was she? I can't even remember now. Eight months? Ten months? All I know for sure is that she started at some point and has long since moved on.)

I had a nice big freak-out around the time she was four. She wasn't reading picture books on her own by then. I couldn't sit her down with The Piggy in the Puddle and have her give a reading for us.

I've worked really hard to not feel any pressure when it comes to any of that anymore. I've tried to not put any pressure on any others either. I know that I probably still ask those questions -- Oh, is she starting to walk now? -- but I leave my responses to the more general 'oh' or 'uh-huh, well everyone learns/develops at his or her own pace, right?' variety. I really try.

But, back to what I was saying above: is it natural that we make these comparisons or am I so far entrenched in a system of constant evaluation/ranking/hierarchizing that to be without that feels wrong?

The questions I get about Pic now are along the lines of what she's learning and how much she knows. Is she learning? Does she know the requisite very-young-person stuff? Is she finished with kindergarten?

I find my reactions to these questions range from discomfort to amusement. I obsess so much about the reading thing for reasons I won't go into now, that I want to be able to answer that she's reading and comprehending and thinking critically about Hamlet by now. I mean, duh, of course, why wouldn't she be, right, with a mom who has deep roots in literature? I'm striving to keep all of that anxiety bottled up or scribbled in my own writing to keep it away from Pic, but it's not easy.

As far as the other questions, the questions about her grade level? I find those a bit amusing. We're not homeschoolers who are replicating school at home. We're unschoolers. Pic's never been in a grade. She's never been a part of the K-12 deal (although we always called daycare 'school' when she was going). She'd be in kindergarten had we sent her to more traditional schooling**. But, here's the thing: we didn't. We didn't send her off to school. She's not in any grade. If she stays home, she'll never be in any grade. I'll never be able to tell someone what grade she's in. I have no idea how she'll respond to this question when she starts getting it herself.

I know the whole concept freaks people out and I'll tell you, it freaks me out a bit, too. I was all about school when I was there. I'm kind of still all about it. I was good at school. It's one of the only things I've ever been really good at. I was good at the tasks and the tests and the worksheets and getting the right grades. I myself am learning how to exist outside of that. I'm not even really certain we can live completely outside of that as the career Pic has chosen for herself will require a college degree.

I'm waiting for someone to ask if Pic is happy or where her passions are instead of the more focused questions about content and grade-level of her learning. I think we're all so ensconced in the rhetoric of schooling that it takes a paradigm shift to be able to discuss learning outside of multiple-choice and essays and scantrons and report cards.

* I actually have a children's book named this. I haven't ever read the book and I have no idea where exactly it is right now, but really...

** I always find it strange to call public/private school 'traditional' because I feel homeschool was probably more the traditional schooling well before 'brick-and-mortar schools replaced them as the new traditional. I also don't like to always say 'brick-and-mortar' because then I like to mentally shorten that to 'b-&'m' schools and then I just start thinking 'bm' as in 'bowel movement' and, yes, I really do think about everything this much.


11/3: Wow, it's been a whole bunch of weeks since I wrote that. I had almost forgotten about it. I wrote it probably somewhere near the beginning of the summer. I'd like to add a bit:

I was very obsessed with the topic for a while because I was hearing how another's child was doing so very well in the traditional school subjects. I felt like a 'And how's Pic doing?' was implied at the end of each statement. I have definitely calmed down over the last few months. Perhaps it has something to do with entering a new decade in my life and deciding that I need to shift so much of my life, to step back, to calm down, to find happiness in what I have.

At the time of the conversation I just (kind of) mentioned, I decided I was just going to say 'That's really great for [whoever]." I figured this would be a good, general response to these situations in which I was feeling uncomfortable, threatened even. I know that I need to remove myself from competitive situations if I want to accomplish much and feel good about myself. I mean, hello, I am creating competitive situations out of thin-freaking- air, so I definitely need to chill.

After using that standard response a couple of times, I started to really get behind it. Because I really do think it's great that your child is reading (I love reading) or that his child is flying through math or that her child picked up playing the piano like it what the child was born to do. I also think lots of things Pic does are great.

Rationally, I know that others aren't constantly challenging me to prove how fabulous my own child is. I know that I bring this all on myself. I also know that my own child is her very own person and I am not responsible for her accomplishments. I feel that I am responsible for trying to expose her to/guide her to/teach her what she is interested in.

Also, I now know how Pic would respond to someone asking what grade she's in. I'll write about it later, as I've written to much here...without even saying all that I wanted to say. I'll remind myself that I like to think through my writing and that this is definitely bloggy-type writing and that I'm swirling around too much in my head on this topic right now.


Kat said...

I have a friend who "dumbs down" whenever other parents seem to be doing the comparing thing. It is hilarious. When other parent's say things like, "Oh Joey said his first word yesterday." She'd say things like, "Oh well, my daughter eats her own boogers."

v said...

That is hilarious!