Both of my children had a birthday in the last week. My daughter turned 8 and my son turned 18. The fact that my son will soon be flying away from the nest when he goes off to college next year has had me reflecting on many things.
I can’t believe how fast the last 18 years have gone. Aside from the toddler years my son has been a breeze. He is polite, he is respectful, he is helpful and he is clever. He is also smart and though he won’t admit it, he has a heart of gold.
Many of you know that my mother suffered a debilitating illness when I was a young child. I was 4 when she became mentally and physically handicapped which effectively reversed our roles. I bathed my mother, I dressed my mother and I was her shoulder to cry on when I was far too young to understand, or had the ability to deal with, the information she shared with me. My mother and I had a very dysfunctional relationship because of this role reversal. Because I was the one who had to care for her at such a young age I have, as a parent, been reluctant to rely on my son to care for my daughter after her father left us. I wanted him to have a normal childhood and not have the responsibilities of an adult.
While I have not been the party mom these last 8 years, leaving my son to care for his sister while I go out and have fun, I have certainly relied on him to babysit here and there, mostly for work or running to the store but enough that he asks if I need him to babysit before he makes plans of his own. My son is busy. He has a job after school, he is on the robotics team and he has a girlfriend. He spends less and less time at home and soon it will be nothing more than stopping by to get some laundry done and maybe get a bite to eat. At least until he has kids of his own.
My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and it has dawned on me that she and I are very much alike. Last night I was helping her with her homework, something she hates, when she told me she was stupid.
My daughter is a lot of things but she is not stupid. In fact she has been testing in the gifted levels since she entered school. No, she isn’t stupid, but she is stubborn and I told her as much last night.
We were working on math problems, subtraction. I pulled out a jar of pennies to try to illustrate how the whole thing worked and she wasn’t having any of it. She knew what to do but she didn’t want to do it. Subtraction is difficult for her and she needs to think to solve the problem. She has not memorized the simple subtraction problems nor am I able to explain how some of the simple tricks work.
It was a losing battle and we were both getting very frustrated with one another.
When she called herself stupid I was taken aback. Where did this come from? She said one of her classmates had called her stupid and my daughter, who is so worried about what other people think of her, took it to heart.
I tried to explain to her, without calling this classmate stupid, that kids say dumb things sometimes. I explained that this kid couldn’t possibly know if she was or was not stupid, that he was not qualified to assess her intelligence. When that didn’t convince her I talked to her about all the things that make her a wonderful person, things that show she is indeed very smart.
She has an amazing sense of humor for an 8 year old. She might not be able to remember the punch lines to a joke but she can tell a story, with perfect timing, and have people laughing. She tosses out these hilarious quips when watching TV shows such as Hannah Montanna, and the inconsistencies of Sponge Bob are not lost on her. When she doesn’t understand how something works she is the first one to Google it.
Like my son, my daughter has her own style and is happy to walk to the beat of a different drum. She will be called ‘quirky’ and ‘complicated’ when she is older because she does not and will not fit into a predetermined mold. She is a square peg.
As was I.
I was (and still am) quirky, complicated and goofy. Like my daughter I also thought I was stupid. I had a hard time with math and would go to any length not to do it. I didn’t listen in class and I most certainly never bothered to memorize any tables. My grades were not good and I was convinced I was stupid and that my prep school was only humoring me because my father paid such outrageous tuition. I was also convinced they felt sorry for me because of my mother. And I suspect to some degree they did.
It’s funny because like me, my mother told me over and over again that I was not stupid. She also told me I was not funny looking and that I was in fact beautiful, another conversation I have with my daughter often enough. I didn’t believe my mother when she tried to reassure me that I was okay because my father often told me that my mother was not playing with a full deck due to her handicap. He said this when my mother would say something horribly mean to excuse her inexcusable behavior and I assumed it applied to everything she said so I had a pretty crappy sense of self worth because honestly I didn’t know what to believe and I didn’t know enough to believe in myself. That would take years of practice.
I hope I can pass along to my daughter the strength necessary to go through and enjoy this life. I know I have already passed on to her a love of writing, zany shoes and Bugs Bunny but I don’t know yet if I have taught her that life is not always fair because at the age of 8 it should be and no one should have to teach anyone that. But it is a lesson that needs to be learned sooner rather than later. I hope I can teach her that while words can be extremely powerful they are only strong if we give them credence. That no matter what others say, it is what she believes that truly matters.
I apologize for this being so long, apparently I have channeled Joann from Laundry Hurts My Feelings. Sorry, I don’t have a U2 song to recommend.