Monday, October 8, 2007

So much less

The other night, I was telling my mom about how surprised and pleased I'd been while doing math homework with N, watching him not only 'getting' some of the math concepts (whizzing through "show the number 20 in tally marks" without any help from me), but clearly having listened in class to a math lesson and then having brought that lesson home with him ('skip counting' to 20 by twos, which he did by writing the odd numbers below the line and then "eating" them with the eraser to get to the next even number...something I couldn't have told him to do, since I had never seen it done that way). My mom listened and was appropriately proud, but then said something very interesting, in response to my babbling about how it had just blindsided me to see him chugging along like that, and how exciting it was. "I wonder," she said mildly, clearly not judging, but just asking, "why it is that we all expect so much less from him."

And we do. So much less. Even in those areas in which there is no reason to think he couldn't measure up to just about any expectation thrown his way.

It makes sense to cut this kid some slack in those areas that scream (or even whisper) of deficiency. Expecting him to have four playdates a week and to have to pick between sleepover invitations on weekends just because that was his sister's lot in life at the age of nearly seven...that would be just cruel. But there is no reason I SHOULDN'T expect him to be able to pick up some of the tricks of addition or the concept of counting by fives fairly easily. There's never been the slightest indication that he's not smart enough; in fact, there have been a number of suggestions that we might one day be talking about challenging him, not helping him keep up. And yet, when he does these things, I am almost shocked. Where did that come from? I think.

Now, there's nothing wrong with being proud of a kid, especially one who does have other challenges. There's nothing wrong with pointing out how well he's writing his number 4s, especially since he's had trouble with them to date. There's nothing wrong with telling him how proud I am of him for finishing up the last five "write the time on the clock" problems on his own. (Oh, don't look at me that way, Alfie. I don't entire buy your whole praise hatred thing...though I do like your tirades about standardized testing. We'll hash this out some other time, OK?) There's nothing wrong with it at long as he doesn't begin to think that he doesn't ever need to push or stretch himself. There's nothing wrong with it as long as he keeps on keeping on, keeps on trying.

But if he starts to believe that any effort he makes, however half-hearted, will be enough? Then there will be something wrong with it. There will be something very much wrong with it if he starts to expect--and to give--so much less. And that will be on me, unless I start doing something about it. And now.


kristen said...

This is a hard one for me too. Learning to understand the difference between what really challenges my son, what he's capable of and my expectations for all of it.

And the comparisons are like quicksand. Whether comparing to a sibling or a friend or a preconceived notion of "kids his age."

My son surprises me both ways--in what he can do and what he can't. I find, as you allude to in your last couple of lines, that it is so very often a question of me adjusting my thinking and my parenting. And it's a lesson I have to learn over and over again, day after day.


McMom said...

That backpack is bigger than he is.