The Parent Trap: Confessions of a Competitive Parent
by Wilson Diehl
We just returned from a mini-vacation with friends who have a daughter the same age as ours wherein we drank some wine, played in the sand, ate tons of berries, sang many rounds of “Take me out to the ballgame,” polished off an entire marionberry pie, and saw a bunch of animals at the county fair.
While our friend’s daughter ran around saying impressively complicated things like, “Sheep too loud. Go outside.” and, “Go see alpaca again!” my daughter who is technically slightly older, merely said “Poo” over and over again.
This is what she said a few weeks ago when we stopped by the side of the road after picking raspberries to admire some cows, too.
“Aren’t they big?”
“Do you see that cow drinking milk from her mama?”
Apparently my daughter has inherited my sensitive nose and/or my distaste for the scent of animal dung. Apparently, too, I’ve been mis-judging her verbal prowess lately.
Here I’d been going around thinking (quietly and to myself only!) that my child was a little bit advanced because she now calls Eliot, her best stuffed feline friend, Ya-yat instead of the far more babyish Ya-ya. But maybe she’s actually a little slow? Or maybe we should get some friends with less genius children?
I know I’m not supposed to compare my kid to other kids, but it’s SO HARD. I attempt to soothe my ragged, competitive edges with pleasant mantras like “All children develop at their own pace” and “The differences even out eventually” and “So long as she’s happy and healthy” and “Oh my god, Wilson, get over it!” But they all ring a bit hollow. The only way I could truly stop comparing is to stop letting my kid be anywhere any vaguely near other children, which is problematic in its own obvious ways.
My husband is even worse about this than I am, which I mostly cope with keeping him in the dark about the actual children in my mom’s group are doing and just telling him what the handout from the pediatrician’s office says a child our age should be able to do—the basics.
“She has way more than 50 words!” I enthuse. But neither of us has ever settled for—or been able to tolerate—“average.” I mean, average is fine for other people, it’s just not for either of us.
It’s motivating for sure—our collective academic résumé is impressive—but it’s a sickness, this perfectionism thing. I genuinely believe that my kid is awesome and amazing and super smart and attentive and sweet and silly and has the capacity to do anything she wants in life (save for being a professional athlete, which does seem pretty unlikely, given her lack of innate physical prowess—e.g. when climbing the stairs she has to be reminded to move her hand forward on the railing before ascending the next step—says her mother as she trips over her computer cord on the way to the bathroom).
I don’t want to fret about what my daughter can’t do yet relative to her peers, nor do I want to secretly gloat when she can do something her peers can’t. (No, I don’t really do that! Totally kidding! I wouldn’t want to do that if I did. But I don’t, so let’s not even talk about it!) But the tendency of the human brain—this human brain—to perform a quick little compare-and-contrast when presented with two vaguely similar items is unavoidable.
“Can you say AL-PAC-A?” I ask my sweet little curly-haired girl as I cross over into the realm of the obnoxious stage mother, shellacking my child’s hair with spray and her face with Vaseline (that’s what stage mothers do, right?) chastising her for tossing her baton a moment to late—on the beat, ON the beat, dammit.
The baby shakes her head no, buries her face sweetly in my shoulder and says, “Poo.” Then she points to the nearest exit and gets us the hell out of there.
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