Last week I described our frequent reluctance to praise our children in front of other people for fear of alienating potential friends or provoking the competimommies. The comments were wonderful, and some readers brought up the recent New York Magazine article that describes how now some experts are suggesting that we hold off on telling our kids that they’re smart at all. Better to praise them for their efforts rather than their talents, the researchers say.
Which is all well and good, save for one teeny little barrier: The grandparents.
God bless the grandparents.
In their eyes, my bright but decidedly normal 21 month old daughter is a geeeeeeenius. Advanced. Insanely gifted. Destined for a dual major in biomedical engineering and something else with six or more syllables, after which she’ll develop the AIDS vaccine, end worldwide religious intolerance, become America’s Poet Laureate, and win two Nobel Prizes, the Cannes Palm d’Or, and a People’s Choice Award.
Then just wait and see what she does when she hits 25.
All this projecting started early, very early. Because apparently, an alert 2 week old is something akin to a prodigy.
“She looked right at me! She recognizes me from the hospital!”
“She sees her hand! Did you see that? Her hand! HER HAND! She looked at it!”
“Yes mom, she saw her hand.”
“She looked away from the TV – she’s not even interested in the TV! She prefers books! Did you see her look at the book?”
“Yes mom, she’s 12 days old and has already rejected all commercial broadcast media.”
My mother in particular mastered the art of spin in a way that could give Fox News a run for its money. Thalia’s inability to sleep, like, ever, was due to the fact that she was too enthralled with the world to stop taking it in. A finger in her mouth was an indication of super-human physical prowess. Petting a dog was confirmation of her magical ability to communicate with animals. Staring at a tree was some sort of telepathic exchange in the animistic tradition.
While Nate and I made fun of these observations (well, just a little), the truth is, it was nothing short of sweet. There’s something utterly charming about the notion of a baby so pure, so full of potential, that she’s little more than a blank canvas onto which doting family members can project all their dreams in one big sappy gush of love, pride and optimism. And so the grandparents deemed her advanced. They said she’d change the world one day. And yes, they called her smart.
So maybe within the privileged, overly introspective, upper middle-class circles of New York City superparents we can be so bold as to analyze the nuances of exactly how to praise our kids, fearing that an errant slip of the tongue can cause (brace yourself!) underachievement. But is it really so horrible? Who among us hasn’t witnessed a harried mother in the supermarket berating her misbehaving child with expletives. Or a father on the subway calling his distraught toddler an idiot as he threatens to give him something real to cry about.
I suppose what I’m saying is that there are far worse things to call your kid than smart. And far better issues for parents to lose sleep over than having a kid who believes it.
So if my parents want to call my daughter a geeeeeeenius? I’m not going to tell them to stop.
Although I will still make fun of them. Just a little.
So here’s a really nice thing! Starting today, on Mondays my posts will also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids–only the single greatest online resource for parents living or visiting the five boroughs. Visit their website to check it out, or to get urban parenting tips and geeeeeeeenius kid-friendly diversions.
And welcome to any new readers – delighted to have you here.