|my genius children|
What a ridiculous thing to say, I thought first. My kids are fine. FINE I TELL YOU!
And then - How dare you, anyway! How dare you say that about my children! How could you be so ill-mannered? I have a good mind to pour my coffee all over you.
Then I thought about all the stuff my children can do, and my mind continued with anyway, my children are doing all kinds of hard emotional work that your precious princess will never have to do. They are learning about families and complications and dealing with talking about how many parents they have, and why they never see two of them. They are facing the fallout of huge, grown-up decisions they had no hand in making, and they are doing it with such grace and good humour for such tiny people - I am so proud of them, every day. They are doing amazing things. EXCUSE ME if we haven't got around to spelling yet.
But this was quickly followed by Oh no, when ARE we going to get around to spelling? Sometimes I don't think they'll ever be ready. They'll be behind before they go to school, and then they'll never catch up and they'll never be able to get a job and I'll have to keep working forever to support their cheerios habit and oh no, she's right, they are a year behind, she's right....
In other words, I cycled through the first four stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression - in under thirty seconds.
I quickly changed the subject, but I've continued to think about it, obviously. I have been thinking how this conversation was actually pretty different from the ones that people normally have about kids' development. Those usually go Oh, your child isn't SPELLING yet? Really? Oh. Okay. Oh well, I'm sure they'll catch up.
I know this stuff is well meant, but it always makes me think Oh yeah? And if not, then what?
Because this is a weird thing about having three-year-olds. People are still talking as if they are all going to achieve equally. Uh, yeah, not so much, I don't think. We don't really know who will do what at this point but I do know some children will be capable of more than others. And if my child is at the bottom of the bell curve, if my child doesn't 'catch up', what happens then? There must come a point where people stop telling mothers that their child is going to catch up, a point where everyone realises yeah, that kid is really not ever going to be like the other kids. Or even if the child doesn't have obvious problems, there must come a point where the teacher realises that this child isn't going to set the world on fire, academically. This child is never going to catch up to Princess Perfect and her gang.
Maybe I should thank Princess Perfect's mother for her refreshing honesty. Or maybe I should just start criticising her kid's development, and see how she likes that. "Oh, Princess Perfect can't sing arpeggios yet? I guess it's like my children are a whole year older. I just mean musically."
But what would be the point of that? Because a) it's rude, b) who cares what her child is doing, c) no, really, who cares, d) honestly? Who cares and also e) it's still as rude as it was at a).
But people talk as if this stuff matters. People tend to say that each child will 'catch up' with whatever imaginary milestone is being discussed, apparently, but if not then what? All this oh, they'll catch up makes me think the speaker feels like the alternative is too awful to even contemplate. If they don't catch up, does that render them unloveable?
Colour me obvious, but achievements and milestones are not what makes kids - mine or anyone else's - precious. I know we don't really think this is true, but if that's the case why do we talk like we do, about catching up, with all this boring competitiveness? Why did Princess Perfect's mother feel like she could be somehow proud of her child's superior development (whether imaginary or not)? I don't want my kids thinking that way about themselves, as if this is what makes them worthwhile. I don't want my kids thinking that way about other people, either. And by the way, I think this goes for the Oh, she may not be very clever but she's very kind stuff too. What happens when our children also have below average kindness? Because even that stuff isn't dished out evenly, is it? Not in my house, anyway.
My point is this - it's not a game. It's not a race. It's not a competition.
My children are unutterably precious to me for one reason, and only one - they are my children. They do not have to be better or faster or stronger or cleverer or taller than anybody else's to earn their place in my heart.
After all, isn't this why kids need families? The strongest, the fastest, the cleverest, the prettiest - they are the kids who would probably survive wherever and however they grow up. Families are what the rest of us need. Families are the places where we clutch our average children close to our average chests and run our fingers through their average hair and whisper in their average ears that nobody, nobody is more precious to us than them, and we say this because it's absolutely, totally true.
You know what? Maybe my children really are developmentally behind Princess Perfect. Maybe they always will be. And I would spare them hardship, if I could. I would like them to be clever and tall and beautiful and a dozen other things that would grease life's wheels for them. But I can't, and I wouldn't love them any more if I could.
I do think that my two are largely fine, developmentally, but that's not the point. And Princess Perfect's mother really was rude, but that's not the point either. And it's also not the point that my two are scaling emotional mountains no three year old should have to climb, or that actually, they may never 'catch up' academically, or that I may need to pay for their breakfast cereal until they leave home at forty-five.
The point is that we're a family, and I love them, and they're precious, and they're mine. And really, that makes the rest of it seem kind of irrelevant.