A friend from high school has moved into town to do her residency. She and her husband recently came over for brunch, and I have to say my kids were so, so incredible. Well-behaved, said “please” and “thank you”, cleared their dishes, answered questions. It was astonishing for everyone involved. Naturally, I told our guests that we were superior parents and claimed all the credit. I don’t know what their ideas and plans are for family life and if that includes children or not, and it is no place of mine to ask. They did say they have nicknamed our kids “Gateway Children,” though. Ha.
I went to their housewarming party a few nights ago and admired their beautiful, toy-less apartment with lit candles, open-cabinet kitchen and wine glass shelving. My friend’s husband, let’s call him ‘Salar’, apologized to me for talking up our son at brunch and being so amazed at the young scientist, for not paying much attention to my daughter. I hadn’t noticed and in retrospect I thought it was probably good for both of them. Everyone talks about how beautiful my daughter is, and my son can get shaded out I think. Salar had a really smart older brother and apparently heard all about that all through his childhood. He didn’t want to propagate that and I can appreciate that.
What is interesting is that we all know my son is very smart. I don’t think he is “gifted” per se, just bright and self-directed and confident. I don’t think we say it very often, though. I don’t think it is harmful to tell a smart kid he is smart, or for him to hear it from someone else. I also don’t think it is wrong to tell my daughter she is beautiful….but this is where my inner train starts to go off the rails a bit. What happens when you do say “You’re so smart” to Child A and “You’re so pretty” to Child B? What happens when you say it over and over?
Maybe you don’t say anything at all. And then you find out the smart kid wants to know you think he is smart. And the other child wants to know she is beautiful. Also, Child A has these unbelievably gorgeous eyes and eyelashes, and Child B is incredibly smart and you don’t want to short-change either of of your gorgeous, brilliant children, and why haven’t they been discovered as Mensa Models, yet, huh? If how we speak to our children becomes their inner voice, what does confident but not overly self-assured sound like? I’ll do my over-thinking here and hopefully it will wash out well in real life.
What are your first memories? Mine was when I first tied my shoe by myself and my mom didn’t believe me. Salar remembered making “pieces of garbage out of scraps of wood and two screws or something, and adults said ‘Oooo! Look what you made. You’re so clever. It’s a remote, isn’t it!?!’ and you know inside that it’s just garbage.” He also listed off a handful of injuries, like when he got hit in the back of the head with a Romper Stomper, which reminded me of the time I fell off the picnic table.
“Of course you remember that,” he said. “You don’t remember the day-to-day stuff, like that you meowed at everyone for four years instead of talking.”
I mentioned I thought my daughter did that as a sort of buffer when interacting with adults. “Meow” is a response (as one is often demanded of her), but it doesn’t offer any information. It is self-protection. She was starting to talk to people, even adults in the last few months, but after her gym walk-out stunt and the follow-up to that, her meowing has come back. I pointed out how aggressive adults got when they saw her, getting closer and louder and more ridiculous and intrusive.
Salar: “Oh, yeah. I can see that. Here’s this adorable little thing and all you want in that moment is their approval. ‘Look at ME!!! I can be funny! Please think I’m funny and great!’ Because when they smile or laugh at you, it is just the best thing in the world.
“You know what is great, is that kids probably know the game. They’re thinking ‘Look at this idiot. I smile at him and he acts like the circus came to town. Wait until I show him this garbage I made out of scrap wood. He’ll lose his mind.’
Ha! Thanks for the perspective, Salar! I hope I haven’t misremembered this! I’ll come and sit with you and your lovely wife at your clean bar anytime!
(I think this is a ‘Romper Stomper’. Unless we’re talking about the Russell Crowe movie.)