Two Wonderful Girls. One Day At A Time…

Archive for May, 2010

Dream Big or Don't Dream At All

Sometimes, when I ask prospective parents whether they prefer a boy or a girl, they respond "I just want it to be healthy." I hate that answer. That’s like asking someone what they want to do tomorrow morning and they say "I just want to wake up." No one is going to later say "sure, she may have medical issues, but at least you got a girl." But it’s these things are we’re expected to say. It’s PC–"parentally correct".

A few years ago, I blogged about what I hoped for Iris. Specifically, I said my goal was that Iris felt happy and fulfilled with her life, whatever she chose. Whether she was a supermarket checker or a senator, as long as she was happy, my work was done.

I was full of it. Completely, totally, 100% full of it.

It’s rare that I will admit something like that, but I’m breaking the shackles of parental correctness. Yes, I want them to be happy. If I want them to just be happy, I’d buy them a lot more stuff and give them everything they want and then hope they marry rich and find someone else to take over my role. A vacuous existence, but I bet they’d be pretty happy.

No, I’ve got my sights set a lot higher. I want their life to mean more. I want them to reach their potential. Make a difference in the world. And if that’s going to happen, a lot of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of her parents. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. It’s a fine line between being the overbearing parent who raises the overachieving kid with future emotional problems and the laid back parent who tries to let them move completely at their own pace. Somewhere in the middle is nirvana and my goal for the next 15 years is to find it. But it does start now.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on Iris’ reading. I found 100 words that someone a little older than her should know and we’ve started a nightly bedtime ritual. We run through the words and I test on her on them. Then we play games with them, make sentences with them, etc. Sometimes she’ll struggle and I’ll be beside myself with frustration ("how can she not get this–she sees those words all the time!"). Then, suddenly, after a combination of encouragement and exasperation from her father, something will click and she’ll just go on a tear and get practically every word on the list. To her, it’s just a fun game and while she enjoys being successful, it doesn’t mean much more than putting a bigger smile on her dad’s face. Well, until now…

This week, she took her first "assessment" as preparation for kindergarten. Given her October birthday, she was on the fence of enrolling this year or next year. After much deliberation (prompted partly by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers), we decided to enroll her this upcoming year. So when the assessment came up, I think I was more nervous than she was. As I told Cherise the night before, "and so it begins." For the rest of her life, she will continually be tested, judged, assessed, etc. People constantly looking to classify her. It’s a long road to the SATs and MCATs.

But while I wasn’t taking any tests, I almost felt like I was being judged as well. Have Cherise and I been doing right by her? Can’t blame her teacher. Can’t blame society. If she isn’t successful, it’s on us. That’s not fair, especially a meaningless test like this, and I would never put that sort of pressure on Iris, but it was clear to me that if she didn’t do well, I would have to take a long look in the mirror.

So when Iris came back from the assessment, I was definitely curious to hear how it went. She ran into the house and ran over to me. "Daddy, I went to my kindergarten today! I read TWO books! And I got two words wrong. I thought ‘Pretzel’ was ‘Apple’."

I started to get a little nervous.

"And I got the lowercase ‘l’ confused with an capital ‘I’."

I started thinking Hey, that’s a reasonable error! I make that sometimes! Don’t penalize her for that. Cherise then came into the room with a bigger smile than usual. "So, did Iris tell you how it went today? She was very good. The teacher was very impressed. She got a couple wrong."

It’s not fair. The tests are biased, dammit!

"She’s a reading level 4."

Oh no, it’s worse than I expected. "What does that mean?" I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

"It means she’s in the highest reading level for kindergarten. The teacher literally ran out of stuff to teach her. She said, ‘That’s all we do in kindergarten’. In fact, Iris started counting and the teacher had to stop her because that’s not what they were testing today. But she was impressed with Iris’ counting as well."

My kid’s a genius! I knew it! OK, that might be overstating it, but still! I know this sounds silly, but I honestly started welling up a little bit. I looked over at Cherise and she was beaming. We started staring at each other and sending mental high fives. Maybe we’re doing something right. Our star pupil validated the countless hours of reading books instead of sticking her in front of the TV.

Obviously, I know better than to think that this means any more than it does. But when your child achieves something unique, your mind begins to wander and you start to think about what could be. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. Still, perhaps the most rewarding part of the conversation with Iris was when she started talking about how much fun it was and how she couldn’t wait to go to school. She loved the school, but the reading was her favorite. We can only hope she maintains this ambitious love of learning. And lets us all keep dreaming…

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