Practice makes less than perfect and that’s okay
Posted on May 20th, 2014
To give her credit–and I don’t often–despite her doubts, I was accelerated and given opportunities outside home/school to learn (the quality of which varied as we moved all over creation). If nothing else, we had more books than the average Carnegie library. But any understanding of how hard it is to be young for grade level and move all the time (something both of my parents experienced) had vanished by the time I needed it, around age 10. Instead of realizing the cumulative moving might have been traumatic, I was treated to years of lectures about how I wasn’t living up to my potential and increasingly cruel diatribes.
This is not one of the mean ones, but imagine how motivating this is: “Look, kid, your IQ is XXX. You’re not living up to your potential. Suck it up.”
If you guessed a) Not at all you would be right. To everyone else, thanks for playing, and we have lovely parting gifts for you.
No, I wasn’t an easy kid. Then again, I might have been, if I’d had different parents. Who knows? I left adolescence with a few savings bonds, random possessions chucked out on the lawn, and these gems:
- a pathological hatred of moving
- a hatred of “the number”
- a fear of having a gifted child
- a fear of having a daughter
- an irrevocably broken parent-child bond
- no idea how to work hard.
I got my shit together, eventually. I credit kH for that, because until I could believe in myself, he was the only person who believed in me.
I learned how to work hard in college. I still hate moving. I don’t speak to my parents. I love having a daughter. But even as we sit on the waiting list for pH to be evaluated, I’m still not sold on the gifted thing. Which is to say, I was pretty sure, given pH’s early years and emotional volatility and personality, but it terrified me.
Even as I took comfort in the list of “your child may be gifted if…” traits, because OMG I’m not crazy, this is really a thing, I didn’t want it to be true. Being gifted sucks.
And…I taught myself to read at three. pH didn’t really start reading until these past six months. She had all of the lability of a gifted kid and I was stuck reading reference books at bedtime and comforting her when she broke down sobbing about how the sun will go nova and she didn’t want Venus to die because it’s her favorite planet, or maybe that night it would be about an animal dying in a documentary she’d seen two years before and it would take a half-hour to figure it out and oh, the humanity.
She wasn’t reading, so how could I be sure she was gifted?
But if I sound like my mother in the first paragraph, that’s why I stuck it there. I’ve taken that guilt trip and have the TSA search card to prove it.
(Although no one will believe you if you say you suspect your child is gifted, because “everyone thinks their child is gifted” and “every child is a gift.” My experience at playgrounds and volunteering in the classroom tells me this is not true.)
Everyone said wait on the reading; it will happen. Panicking that your child is not reading at three doesn’t garner any sympathy. I waited and I waited and then I decided I was done with reading reference books at bedtime: this child was going to read. She had to work hard: lots of flashcards, phonics, and workbooks. (We even put on closed captioning for her screen time.) And tears. When we started, she could read easy things (say, BOB books), but nothing complex.
In the last month, it all pulled together. She reads. She wants to read. There is no complaining about reading.
Yesterday, she spent six hours reading, and then we went to the library so she could read to a dog (as it turns out, she’s shyer with the dog/handler than with us, but hey, she did it in a quiet little voice, had extra time to read a second book, and wanted to be signed up for next time).
She read when we got home (and forgot to ask for TV time).
When she’s discouraged, I show her the work she did in November vs. the work she is doing now and she’s proud of the progression. (I don’t know if I ever felt proud of myself as a kid.)
We still spend a lot of time talking about mistakes. pH doesn’t like making them, and I think this is why she didn’t do work at school and was tearful: she couldn’t handle making errors, so she wouldn’t work. The teachers concluded she didn’t know anything and was shy.
We also spend a lot of time going to concerts and talking about practice. Music is recommended to help kids with perfectionist issues–the mistakes fade and there’s no visual reminder. Piano was the first place she learned to make mistakes, accept them, and keep going. Also, I practice the piano in front of her and Schadenfreude being what it is, she laughs when I make mistakes, because I draw attention to them. For a while, she thought I didn’t make mistakes (HAHAHAHA), especially with writing, so I got to tell her how awful my handwriting was as a kid–and about the existence of spellcheck.
Two phrases that are part of my routine: “That is why we have erasers” and “Do you think that person was naturally good at doing [whatever] or did they practice a lot?” The other day I asked, “Do you think being smart or working hard is more important?” and she answered “Working hard,” which doesn’t necessarily mean she’s internalized it, but at least knows what I want to hear.
We’re getting there. Maybe by the time we’re off the waiting list, we’ll have the work thing down.