I was glad I had a boy first. I had/have a lot of feelings about being The Oldest Girl in the family and I didn't want to assume my oldest was going to be like me and have all those same feelings. I didn't want to subconsciously attribute or assume things about my oldest. I didn't want to INFECT her. So I was glad I had a boy and I wouldn't have to worry about that stuff.
But I think I've done it anyway. Especially because I think - at least, I used to think - Jack is a lot like me. In some ways he is. A friend of mine was asking what to get him for his birthday last week and I suggested a binder for organizing his Pokemon cards. "A binder?" she said dubiously. She printed out some Pokemon graphics and his name, slid them into the plastic cover of a binder she already had at home, and guess what present Jack wanted to look at in the car on the way home and take to Grandma's house the next day? Jack and me, we like to collect, categorize, label, and organize. We are introverts who need a lot of time on our own doing our alone things. We would rather die than misbehave at school and we think we know everything. (Although, is it really a matter of thinking you know everything when you really do know everything? I mean.)
Probably the biggest place where I've assumed he's like me, and treated him accordingly - and am now suspecting I am wrong - is in the Being Good At Everything Department. Which isn't to say that we ARE good at everything. No, it's not actually being good at everything so much as cultivating the image of being good at everything. I mean, you don't fully come into this place of crazy until you are a high school senior being awarded Outstanding Female Student at the end of the year assembly and smiling for pictures while inwardly thinking you might die before you can escape to the land of Anonymous Average Student Who Could Flunk Romantic Lit And No One Would Care, ie: the ginormous state university. Wait, did I reveal too much?
But it starts when you're little and everyone tells you how good you are at this and that and so mature and such a good example and always the helper and omg, what if you don't get 100% on the spelling test and no one loves you anymore?
So I have made a point of telling Jack, "You don't have to do that." "You don't have to like that." "I am okay with you if that's not something you want to do."
I am the OPPOSITE of a Tiger Mom. And I've done it on purpose. And especially with Jack, in whom I see so much of me.
But then we started piano lessons.
Jack, as we have observed and as we've been told by his teacher, has a lot of potential to be Quite Good at piano. Phillip and I, being people who think being Quite Good at the piano is something that will only be a wonderful fantastic positive in the rest of one's life, think this is excellent news. And while I have mostly left the teaching of piano to the piano teacher, Phillip has become a bit of a Tiger Dad about it.
It's funny, because Phillip and I are hopeless wusses when it comes to discipline (I'm sure you're shocked), but not only does Phillip nag and nitpick and criticize and fuss and insist and drive our kids half insane, I am 100% behind him. I have found something that I am NOT okay with them not liking. At least not now. He's going to learn this and he's going to improve and if he still can't abide practicing piano when he's 18, he can quit and go to therapy like the rest of us.
And as we've become more tiger-y about piano lessons, I'm becoming more aware of how things I've said to my kids, and Jack especially, I said out of fear or anxiety that they would end up with my... fear and anxiety.
My junior year of high school I took trigonometry. And by then I knew I wasn't good at everything. Like trigonometry. I worked so hard, harder than I ever had at any school subject, and probably harder than I ever did at anything in college where I knew no one cared. And I STILL couldn't get an A. One day my teacher, who I loved, listened to me as I desperately asked her what I could do to improve. And she said, "You know, Maggie, maybe a B is the best you can do and that's okay."
There are probably a lot of people who think that is a scandalous thing to say. I've told this story to some teachers and they all disapprove. But MY GOD that was the most freeing thing anyone had ever said to me. It was the best thing you could say to someone with my particular brand of crazy. I didn't hear, "You don't have to work so hard anymore because you're never going to get better," I heard, "Getting a B is not the worst thing in the world." I heard, "Maybe you DON'T have to be good at everything." I heard, "Maybe this just isn't your thing."
(Trigonometry is SO NOT MY THING.)
And because that mindset, that people only valued me for Being Good At Stuff, had so much to do with my early 20s anxiety breakdown, I really pay attention to how I talk to my kids about what THEY'RE good at. And what I expect from them and what we want them to do. I tell my kids over and over how much more I care that they are kind, generous, empathetic people than being smart and talented. I see how lit up Jack gets when we praise him for school work well done, and I purposefully counteract myself with praising something about his character too. Of COURSE I want them to be smart and "mature for their age" just like everyone said I was. But I am terrified that that's how they'll begin to identify themselves. Good kids who make everyone pleased and impressed. ACK
Just like I have to tell myself that God will not love me more if my pants size gets smaller, I am compelled to tell my kids that all the good stuff they do and how much other grown ups are pleased by them is not why I love them.
And then I also have to remember THEY ARE NOT ME.
I suspect Jack cares significantly less than I did about impressing people. I can tell from all the times he says, "Well, I'm just really not that INTERESTED" in whatever I'm trying to get him excited about. And if anything, our job as parents might be to knock his abundant self esteem down a notch. No need to fear Jack doesn't feel loved. (We were watching some PBS show about a piano prodigy and said, "Jack, if you work really hard you might able to do something like that!" and he said, "Well, I can kind of already do that." OOOOOOKAY.)
And as I sit here typing and listening to Phillip berate one of our children at the piano - "No, start over, come on, seriously?, again, start again, why is this so hard?" I feel a snicker coming on, not a tenderhearted urge to stop him. Because those kids WOULD play computer games all day if we let them and it appears that Molly just spent half an hour practicing the wrong song because... she's Molly. You guys, I think I DO have some unsympatheticness in me after all!
Hopefully the right amount, and for the right things. And at the very least they'll take themselves to therapy for different reasons than I did.