When I was a little girl, in the mid-80s, I told my teachers I wanted to be “the first woman president”. That was a popular response for little 80s girls, when asked that overbearing and presumptuous question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I didn’t, of course, want to be the president, first woman or otherwise. But that answer garnered much approval and praise and that’s what my parents and teachers taught me to love. I lived in an ever-present state of gold-star or happy-face-sticker longing. One misplaced ie (or was it ei?) and it was over.
I’m 31 years old and to this day I still remember my horror-stricken five-year-old kindergarten self, staring (but pretending not to) as my teacher turned my happy face name sign to the sad face name sign. I’d been accused of whispering during nap time. So much for that over-hyped concern that homeschooled kids aren’t properly ‘socialized’, right? It’s the public-schooled kids who face that danger, in my opinion. I figured I’d forget that day, but I haven’t. It only happened once. I was such a people-pleasing drone that I suffered through the entire first semester of kindergarten with an art teacher who shamed me into using my right hand instead of my left hand. I didn’t tell my regular teacher or my mother, because I wanted everyone to like me. I wanted smiley faces. I wanted gold stars. I wanted to be like my right right-handed peers.
Now of course I realize that all the odd, off-ish, left-hand-leaning (even if they’re right-handed) kids in school are the ones doing really neat stuff as adults. True, I got to take part in making three really neat kids and I got to marry a really great (off-ish, left-hand-leaning right-handed) guy, but I can’t wash from myself the stench of having slogged so many years through the people-pleasing bog. Why do we train kids to make us happy? Why can’t we teach them to love, show mercy, admire difference, dabble in much and find what makes them happy?
I’m trying very hard to not raise cardboard kids. My oldest likes to make up quirky songs, and though she’s been classified as “gifted”, has atrocious handwriting and makes simple academic mistakes. We don’t talk about gold stars or all As. I will myself not to ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. She already is.
My middle child is the most naturally off. He wears his underwear backwards because the really cool pictures are on the butt-side of little boy underwear, and he likes looking at it. He just began flag football and instead of running the ball he delights in spinning and listening to the flags play in the wind. When he listens to beautiful music he cries. He claims when people talk he sees colors. I wonder that such a gem came from someone like me.
My baby is the three-going-on-thirty sort. I nursed her until just after her third birthday (I suppose I have at least one foot out of the mire, then?). She just wanted to be with me and nurse, even though she was otherwise staunchly independent. When she said she wanted to wean (my kids grow up knowing proper terms for things. They also say things like ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’. I’m sure Oprah would frown upon that) we threw her a weaning party. She likes digging in the dirt with screwdrivers and wearing stinky white cowboy boots with everything.