I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been led to believe that they were the smartest child that ever did grace the earth. Like most people with a proud mother, I have spent my entire life hearing the same stories told over and over and over again. I know them all by heart. My mother has always been a pro at bragging about her genius daughters. And it has always been endearing – that is, until I had a child of my own.
We all know what it’s like to anxiously compare our children to the milestone charts on Baby Center and other children at the park. It’s not out of any sense of competition or anything – I couldn’t give a shit about that. I just kinda want a litmus to know whether I am totally failing or not. Am I succeeding at this whole motherhood thing? Am I giving my child the tools to measure up to his peers? Well, comparing your child to other children is one thing – comparing him to yourself as a child is a whole other scenario.
It’s great basking in the glory of your early childhood developments. I always found the stories pretty entertaining. There’s the one where I taught myself how to tie my shoes when I was a year old. By my mother’s memory, I sat in the dining room for six hours straight. She just tried and tried and tried until she got it! Pretty impressive, but not as impressive as the time I told the doctor my ear hurt – when I was six months old.
My sister was even more amazing than I was. One Christmas Eve she climbed out of her crib, descended the staircase and sat before the tree in awe, saying how pretty! She was a year old.
Before I had kids, it was easy to subscribe to the notion that my sister and I were both super-geniuses, taking the world by storm since infancy. But after I had a child these stories just confused me. What was going on with my child? Where were my amazing tales of his supernatural development?
As if the milestone police at the park weren’t enough, I was now comparing my child’s development to my own. That can’t be healthy. Every Velcro shoe I was forced to buy was a disappointment. Why isn’t he taking a clearly genetically-predisposed interest in shoelaces? I handed him a pair of shoes one day and he just stared up at me as if to say, are you putting these on or what? My thoughts became clouded with questions. We went to the doctor last week and he just stared at her. He didn’t say a goddamn thing about the rash he’s been scratching for the last week. What the hell?
Growing up, you actually believe all of these stories. Why not? It’s fantastic to entertain the thought that you were a Mensa infant. I do have to admit this thought has caused some confusion in my present life. Why don’t I have a 401k? Why didn’t I think of the Internet first? Or invent Spanx? Where was all of my childhood genius squandered? Good God, I would hate to believe I peaked before I even started kindergarten.
Obviously I know that it’s normal to brag about your children. I’m not faulting my mother for that. It’s just that years of being told these tales sort of set up expectations of grandeur for my own child. Before you have children, you’re not fully aware that it isn’t normal for 6-month-olds to tell a doctor anything.
This is all coming up now because I have been staying with my mother for a couple months while we look for a rental in my new state. Not only does she still tell the stories of my childhood, she seems to be comparing Lucien’s development – and most of all his misbehaving to her perfect daughter – me. In addition to all of my advances in communication and shoe-tying, I apparently never disobeyed my mother once in my entire childhood. Since she has always been so vocal about how perfect I was, I kind of expected the same behavior from my son. Yeah – not so much.
Apparently, she either mastered “the look,” or never had to use it because I was so perfect. You know – the one that makes your child stop whatever he’s doing, apologize profusely, and go make you an omelet? I have not mastered it – and now my mom has a front row seat to all the ways in which I am failing our lineage of perfection. Have you ever seen “Mystery Science Theater 3000?” That sums up my mom – a front row seat to all of my parental failures and a comment for every single one.
Mom: You say “no?”
Me: Well, yes. He just hit me in the face. I say “no” when he does that.
Mom: Oh. I have more patience than that.
Oh, this is another good one:
Mom: He cries because you pick him up.
Mom: He gets frustrated when you pick him up, so he hits you. I can’t pick him up, so he can’t hit me.
Me: Um, okay.
But back to my son’s development. Either my mom is a big, fat liar- or he is the dumbest thing to ever come out of our gene pool. Obviously, I don’t believe the latter – so I am heavily leaning toward the former. It’s easier for me to realize that I wasn’t a child prodigy than to believe my child isn’t keeping up. My time spent parenting has made me realize that she probably just doesn’t remember how old I was and decides to err in my favor. I’m pretty sure I’ll be guilty of the same thing. I’m already turning into my mother in every other way – why stop short of her parenting traits?
Years from now, I will be telling my son stories of how he walked when he was eight months old (he was actually 14 months), talked in full sentences when he was one (we’re still waiting for that one), and made me omelets when I was angry. Ah, the circle of life. I’ll be a liar, too.