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They HAVE to be the best

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment
Originally published June 14, 2007, thehive.modbee.com

I knew better than to say anything, but it was one of those instances where pressure to make polite conversation took a masochistic turn.

“So how’s the kid doing in kindergarten?” I asked.

“Fantastic!” parent gushed breathlessly. “The teacher said the kid’s way ahead of everyone else. So I’m really going to keep working with the kid at home. Now that I have her ahead, the kid has to stay ahead. The kid has to be the best in everything.”

I’ve never been the best at math, but I do know enough to burst that bubble: There’s about a 50 percent chance the kid will be only average at something.

There’s a 50 percent chance my kids will be “only average” at everything. And I’m fine with that.

Much of the rest of society isn’t these days.

It’s an obsession fueled by companies that make buckets of money by convincing parents their children will be failures if they’re not quoting Shakespeare by age 2.

It’s fired by the fear that if our preschoolers aren’t competent in nuclear physics, they’ll spend their lives collecting cans to pay for a night in a flea-bag motel.

It’s fed by sites that aim newsletters to parents of toddlers on such topics as “is your child gifted?”

All of which has me pretty fed up – not to mention a little neurotic. What if my “let a kid be a kid” strategy doesn’t work anymore? What my reliance on age-old techniques such as encouraging reading and curiosity are wrong-minded strategies in this day?

Oh, God, someone please pass the flash cards! It’s too late for Big Guy, but I might be able to save his brother.

At its root, this getting-ahead hogwash is Mommy Guilt dressed up for Halloween. On one level, it yells “you work, so you have to do more for you kid than you mom ever did.” On the other it shrieks, “if you’re kid’s not the best, then they (and by extension, you) are worthless.”

Thing is, kids who have to be the best lose out on valuable experiences. There’s a lot of freedom at times in being marginal. Or even awful.

Take me, for example. I stuck through band for four years, even though I was no where close to the best. To be honest, I was wretched.

My freshman year, I could barely stay in tune. But I learned a ton about learning from those who were better than I, about enjoying something even though I couldn’t kick everyone else’s butt and about how even the last-chair flute can contribute, once she learns to stay in tune.

And here’s the other thing about being “the best:” it’s a standard that can be at once too strict and too and limiting.

What if George Patton, who finished fifth in pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics, had been so best-obsessed on that point that he’d kept at it until he won the gold?

On the other hand, what if Alexander Graham Bell had invented the telephone, stretched and yawned and said, “that’s enough”?

So I don’t want my kids to be the best. I want them to be the best they can be. And if it means they’re the best can collectors in the county, then so be it.

They can always go to the library, google this blog and blame mom for not buying the dang flash cards.

Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved. -----

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