Thursday, December 13, 2007

Braggy McBragsalot

I feel profoundly uncomfortable about that last post. Because of the bragging: my baby is so smart! Here's a list of amazing things she can do! She's a baby genius! I'm a Canadian; I don't feel comfortable bragging, at least not about myself. I'm also pretty stridently against becoming a competimommy, and, in some ways, isn't a recital of my own baby's accomplishments a tune harmonized against the example of, well, your babies?. However, I am a mommy, and all mommies (those of my acquaintance, without exception ...) are amazed by their children, rightly proud to watch them grow from pooping lumps to functioning human beings.


One of my earliest memories--I know it was before I started junior kindergarden, because I was home with my mother during the day--has to do with bragging. I was sitting in the big bay window in our living room, the window that looked out over the street. I was tucked into a corner, behind the curtain, breathing on the glass and tracing patterns in the resulting frost with my finger. Daydreaming. My mom was on the phone and I was listening to her talk: "She's just so smart. You wouldn't believe it ... yesterday she was looking up at the sky and telling me about all that she could see in the clouds, and she was making up stories and characters. Her language is very advanced. She's going to just do so well in school. I've been doing some testing with her, and she's just so advanced."

That's when I knew I was going to be a professor, when I knew that my future was words. When smart became my identity.

Like the typical first born, I was a rule-follower, a parent-pleaser. Smart was what I was, and I was going to exploit that to win approval. I did. As time passed, my smarts were an expectation: if my sister pulled B's, she was feted. If I got A's, it was wondered why I didn't do better. "But you're so smart," my mom would say, when I complained about this double-standard. No sense inflating my ego when being clever wasn't something I could really help. Actually, I did get an awful lot of compliments and positive reinforcement for my long, full blonde hair, something I had just as much control over as my intelligence. But I guess it's okay to brag about fluffy hair. In any case, the 70s and early 80s were not the self-esteem years of parenting practice. We were made of more stoic stuff.

My own smarts I experienced as a joy and a limitation: everyone expected a lot from me, but I didn't seem to get a lot of praise, praise I really really craved. My intellect was nurtured and challenged but I sometimes felt the whole person maybe got lost a little in the role of 'the smart one.' Yet I have always held that first remembered moment tight to me: I was special.

Munchkin sang to Mom on the phone the other night, and I heard that 30-some year old conversation again: "You know, I tested your IQ when you were 3, and you scored 152! I bet Munchkin is going to do at least as well! She's just so clever, it's a joy to watch her grow. Listen to her make phrases! She just picks it up so easily!" I never really heard that tone of pure joy, or wonder, in my mom's voice in the interim between my infancy and Munchkin's.

But? Honestly? IQ tests on 3 year olds?

And so, as I write about Munchkin's developing language skills, her zeal for books and her love of rhyming songs and nursery rhymes, I replay my own past in a new role. And I'm not sure what to do.

On the one hand, I feel honestly uncomfortable when, at daycare, the teachers marvel at her expressive and receptive language, at her capacity to be deliberately funny, at her developing logic and reasoning skills. "She's just so advanced--gosh, do you think her mom is an English professor or something?" they crow. "We'll tell you that, but we wouldn't tell the other moms." I don't want a snotty, superior kid on my hands. Also, I know that it ain't always such a blessing to be the darling of the teacher's lounge. On the other hand, why is it more okay to brag about someone's athletic ability (or long blonde hair) than about their brains? If my kid has a gift for, say, language (probably not unreasonable, considering the four combined English degrees that contributed her genetic material), can't I support her gifts with visible pride in them?

If I do want to celebrate Munchkin's smarts, how do I do that without implying everyone else is, um, not so smart? How can pride and celebration of this sort be uncompetitive? We are not flash-card people, and I'm sure as hell not adminstering developmental tests. Honestly, we feed her and play with her and bath her and read to her and she grows into who she is. But am I not stacking her up against the other kids in her class when I assess her gifts?

My toddler ain't perfect. She was a late walker, late sitter, a terribly crabby and clingy infant. Now she bites things and seems to be developing a pretty strong anger reflex. But she's smart. I just don't know how to say that, to her or to others, in a way that I'm comfortable with.

Maybe we can file this all under the 'making problems out of nothing' file, and have a good laugh later: you know, like worrying about whether to co-sleep or not to co-sleep was going to make all the difference between raising a psychopath and raising a Nobel-prize winner. Ha. Worrying, though, is something I'm good at, and you guys are a really thoughtful bunch of people to pose this question to.

What do you think?


Bon said...

so much of this i recognize, though with a key difference.

i was a kid like you, labelled smart and expected to be smart, and while i pride myself inside on being smart i haven't entirely enjoyed the assumptions that came with it, particularly in my younger years. people seemed to assume that all the wrong things came easily to me...and that i didn't need help finding direction, when i did...and desperately.

but i delight in O's smartness, i will also admit. it is a different smartness, however, and in terms of language - oh beloved language, my home ground - he's no genius at all, still plodding along, quite good with receptive language but on a slow, steady road with expressing himself.

i can tell that my mother worries about this. she's all about the measurements, the language achievements. they're the only ones i ever really had, and all she really knows how to recognize. so i end up pointing out all the other areas of O's smartness to HER, and thus see them myself. it's a very interesting game.

it's been hard for the once-upon-a-special-ed teacher in me not to leap on his rather mediocre language, though, and self-diagnose him, panic, and despair because he will never be like me. but perhaps it's also kinder that way because then i don't have to deal with fears of replicating my own situation...fears i didn't know i had but recognize now that you lay them out in words for me. in a sense, with O, i don't have to worry that i'm my mother all over again because i don't get the chance to be.

and his gift for climbing all over the furniture? seeing as i can barely sit on things without falling over, i get to crow about that shamelessly, without worry.

all that novel to say, you're not making problems out of're thinking. and i think - with a touch of jealousy - that it is still an advantage to have a kid like you, because you know what to avoid. to simplify: me, i'm groping blindly, but without the guilt. you, you get to see the pitfalls ahead, but part of that bargain is that being the person you are (smart, sensitive) you will worry. and thus probably do a damn fine job raising your beautiful girl.

Mimi said...

Ah, Bon, what a wonderful comment! Thank you for your kindness.

Kyla said...

You know, there was an article in a baby magazine I saw at the doctor's office about competimommies and it was entitled "My Baby Can Read" and I felt instantly ashamed and embarrassed. And on top of that, KayTar READ the title to me. Sheesh. But then I thought, she CAN read and it is ABNORMAL. When I talk about it, I am not saying "Oh my child is better than your child..." Sure, I'm impressed with it, but in the same thought in which I am impressed there is an echo of "Something is not right here." You know?

What I'm trying to say is, you didn't come across at all braggy. I don't think that discussing our children's strengths (whatever and for whatever reason) on occassion has to be a bad thing. There was a time when I could not read blogs of mothers with children KayTar's age because I couldn't take the comparisons I would force myself to make...but that was my issue, you know? Now I'm pleased as punch to read about what all the other children are up to, because after having KayTar, I've forgotten what typical development looks like. LOL.

I think there is a greater risk of competimomminess (how's that for a made up word) in face to face interactions, here in blogland I've never come across something that made me feel that way.

Your girl is smart. It is a good thing. You are allowed to be proud of her.

Jenifer said...

I know what you mean. Papoosie Girl is 6, in Grade 2 and is the youngest kid in her Grade since she is a end of December baby. She was reading right after her 4th birthday and is now reading about two grade levels ahead.

This is not shocking given my love of literature or our two combined Honours degrees between us, as you said it is part of their genes. Just as important as a gift like singing or tennis.

I certainly don't trot that information out, but having so many friends with kids all around the same age stuff does come out. Someone might mention a book their child is reading...if I say what Papoosie Girl is reading it will surely direct some attention on the level of her reading.

It can be hard to navigate amoung friends. Then this is the child who routinely walks into things like her mother so as you say there are always areas of strength and weakness.

The thing with smarts is it is readily visible as soon as the child opens their mouth. You might not know a child was a track star or champion swimmer right off the bat, but with smarts it is apparent quickly.

Of course you should be proud, I am. I am not saying I am going to get a t-shirt printed, but if you ask me I am not going to lie.

I have met many, many bright children all who are highly verbal and intelligent. That doesn't mean though that if I meet a child who is less so I assume they are "behind" in some way. I usually figure there is something I am just not seeing at the moment...that they shine in other ways.

All kids are amazing. Some will be gifted with high IQ's and others with other gifts. Being proud of your child is the most normal thing in the world to me.

Kidlicious said...

Interesting thoughts. I am not a literary genious, but now that I'm an adult and working in the corporate world, I think I am smart. Something that my parents or nobody really told me as I was growing up. I think it would have helped me in perhaps chossing better paths as I grew up.

But, I am happy with my life now and glad that I can be proud of my smartness and success in my job.

With my twin boys, I watch them develop and learn things at different paces and it is amazing. They are both very smart in their own ways. They just turned 2 and both have quite a bit of language. I don't even know what's normal or what would be labeled 'ahead', but they use language in different ways. One will talk about feelings and describe things. The other will carry on a conversation with me over the phone. Neither one is smarter, just different.

I think it is wonderful that your beutiful girl is smart - shout it to the world, I say! I love reading about what other kids are doing and don't take it as bragging in any way. I love the mommy blogs that I read and learn from wonderful people like you every day.


Beck said...

Okay, I've started and erased my comment three times now. I think there's a difference in finding your child's bright young mind delightful and the way some mothers use their children's cleverness as a cruel standard to make other children seem shabby. (You don't do this at all, let me add right now.) My brother-in-law's girlfriend, for example, likes to ask when my children did various milestones and then her children - ta da! - always did them much earlier. So THAT is kind of icky.

I fully expected The Girl to be gifted, highly verbal, a reader before two kinda gal. Instead, she was silent, trapped behind a severe speech disorder, which made me feel short-changed as a mother, that I had been given a faulty child. And now I feel like I valued intelligence too much, that I missed out on delighting in her creative, gentle self in my mourning over the clever child I thought I'd have. And the punchline is that now, years later, she is - without her being aware of it - the class Smart Kid. Life is odd. I do value her intelligence, but it is just a part of who my girl is and maybe not the most important part.

Mad Hatter said...

Just to add to what Beck said, I like to see all these things on a continuum. My daughter is highly verbal now but I have no doubt her peers will catch up. My husband has not been verbal a day in his life and he is one of the smartest people I've ever met.

With Miss M's verbal acuity, I am simply grateful in the moment b/c it has made her toddlerhood smoother on both of us. She can articulate her needs, wants, jokes so well. As for the rest. I'll wait to see how it plays out. That way I can still hold out hope that she's also got a smidge of her dad's athleticism and that her shyness will not cripple her for life.

Christine said...

damn. i SO can't be the first one to leave a really short comment. but everyone said so much of what i wanted to say (I hate being late in the game).

Anyway--you aren't bragging. You are just excited about your daughter and the wonderful things her little brain is doing. there is a huge difference between stating that she is the next nobel prize winner in physics and simply loving of your lovely little gal.

and i struggle with this with my 6 year old girl. she is excelling in school in an astounding way, but i feel scared to share my excitement about it with close friends for fear that i am bragging. so i know what you mean.

and we are very reticent to tell her that she is "smarter" than other kids,because i don't want her to have some sort of big head or to suddenly see the world as "us" and "them" meaning the "smart ones" and the "dumb ones." believe me i know LOTS of parents who don't want their "smart" kids around the "dumb" ones. i NEVER want my child to feel superior in anyway to other people.

it is a tough thing, but so far in this space you handle it very well.

Whew--i was much more long winded than i thought! LOL

nomotherearth said...

I had really smart things to say, but Beck and Mad beat me to them. I did!

Since someone must be the first one to leave a short comment (I have an excuse! I have a baby! I'm typing one-handed!)...competimommies make you feel bad when they talk about their kids. Just sharing wonderful news about your own kid is not competitive, it's natural.

kittenpie said...

Well first off - are you me? (I was toatlly the parent pleaser who was expected to do well, too, though I was not so ambitious.)

But the other thing is - why is it assumed that saying your child is smart is suggesting others are not? I've had other people say positive things about another librarian and then turn to me and say, "I mean, you are too..." What? Why is complimenting that person apparently insulting to me? That person being good/smart/funny doesn't take anything away from me. Similarly, why is saying your child is smart insulting to my child or setting them up as competition? That's the thing I just don't get. Your child is smart, my child is smart, that is great for them. It can take them far. And I'd rather have a kid who is smart and has smart friends, too. I don't think it needs to be pitting them against each other. I don't think being awed by your own child is problematic if you aren't using it to try and create a bad feeling. And you aren't.

I think maybe the potential problem with creating that as their identity is in the pushing of them, of stacking them up against what we think they can or should be.

cinnamon gurl said...

Well, between Beck, Mad and Kittenpie, my thoughts are all covered... It makes commenting so much easier ;)

Karen said...

just to say, on my end, my parents tested me as a hobby and I'm not sure it did much good for me. It didn't change my gifts, talents or how well I achieved them - just upped the anti - that may not be the right answer for everyone, but it's a thought.

We tend to, in our bloggy world - and also in the world of school prize the verbal child over the less verbal. Of course, in reality we all know that is just one type of intelligence. Now that I have very verbal boy in school and a very not verbal boy in school, I can see that although we can all talk about multiple intelligences, we don't all practice our theory - yet. But, I think Mad is right, peers catch up (in this case, my non verbal kid will catch up and seem normal and my very verbal kids friends are catching up right now and he now has peers in his reading group, hurray!!!!).
Enjoy every bit of who she is. It is special and wonderful - and I think what you are resisting (and rightly) is the urge to "make it mean something - like that she must always be a good student and go to University and become a professor. As long as you don't have to have it mean something specific, I say enjoy it, love it, sing about it, blog about it - you won't hurt her or anyone else.

Mimi said...

Karen and Beck -- yes! I was troubled about that too, about Munchkin and I having very *measurable* kinds of smarts. My sister, actually, is a SUPER-GENIUS in ways that were not so easy to test. And generosity or creativity are not easy to measure. Me, I was very good at test-taking: but that's not the extent of 'smart' is it?

You're all so freakin' thoughtful. Thanks!

the new girl said...

I want to leave a thoughtful comment, Mimi. I love this post. But I want to think about it and my kid is yelling over there. I'll be back, though.

It's a very interesting topic.

Dawn said...

I think these are fairly normal things to be thinking about when you're a thoughtful, sensitive parent.

Oh! By the way, I'm new to your blog and I love it and I will definitely be stopping by again. I barely know you, but I'm incredibly moved by your Christmas stories and by your struggle with the real estate developers.

Anyway, on the topic at hand, I didn't think you sounded bragalicious or competitive at all. Just like a proud mommy.

This is something I struggle with a lot. My husband and I both read by the time we were three, he went to college at 16; I overcame a terrible upbringing to put myself through an elite women's college, blah, blah, blah. Everyone expected us to produce a super-genius. And I have found myself having to justify why my almost 5-year old doesn't read or write yet (he's normal!!!!). But, he's incredibly astute and sensitive to others' emotions, a real empath. He's kind and generous and smart in other ways such as problem solving.

I am especially sensitive to braggy moms and I don't think you have anything to worry about.

All that said, I was really struck by your story of overhearing your mom (kind of the opposite of my story; my mom told me how stupid I was all the time). Anyway, I read a study recently that indicated that kids who receive praise for being smart don't try as hard in school as kids who are praised for making an effort and ultimately may not perform as well. They are also more likely to cheat because they feel as if their sole worth is based on being smart and if they do not perform to their parents' expectations they will not be praised.

I've totally changed my praising tactics based on that and now tell my son I'm proud of him for trying and making an effort and I actually believe it makes him try harder at the things he doesn't think he's good at, like reading. If I can ever find the article again, I'll try to send you a link.

Anyway, I love your blog and I hope you had a lovely Christmas and the new year brings you great joy!