Here's what I have to do to get to our TV: go down a whole flight of stairs to the basement, turn a sharp right, undo a dog gate, and head down a long windowless hallway whose light switch is not handily at the beginning of the hall but halfway down. Once in what passes for a rec room, I have to check for, and clean up if necessary, any poop deposited by our elderly cat (the reason for the dog gate is to deny her access to the secluded and carpeted pooping zone she seems to favor over the litter boxes in the laundry room half of the basement, but she manages to get by it sometimes). Only then can I sit down in a supremely comfy second-hand recliner (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and grab the remote.
Now, I am willing to make this trip if, say, there's a movie I want to watch on DVD and I have some hope of being able to watch the whole thing. If it's 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, the kid has just finally gone down for his nap, and I just want to veg for half an hour by flipping channels before I tackle my chores, it's not worth it. Especially since we only have the most basic of basic cable, so the channels consist of five broadcast stations, TNT, and the public access offerings of every educational institution in a 100-mile radius.
So my time-waster of choice, since we put the TV down there last year, is the internet. During high-use times, as when I was sick with nausea during my first trimester, I exhaust the high-quality offerings I usually limit myself to (ahem), and end up exploring far and wide to find something to read to fill the time.
Last fall, I found myself at (go ahead and roll your eyes and smirk, it won't bother me) the Advanced Toddlers board at BabyCenter. The description for this board says, "Parents of toddlers ahead of the curve, come here to meet others like you and discuss the issues that affect you the most — without worrying that people will think you're bragging."
But as far as I can tell, bragging is what most of the parents are there for. Many of the threads fall into the following pattern:
A mom posts, "My child, age X months, did Y the other day. Is she advanced?"
Option A: It is the consensus of the other parents that the child in question is advanced. Affirming this is used as an excuse to describe the equally, if not more, advanced behavior of their children on this same developmental milestone: "Oh, yes, your child sounds advanced to me. My son did Y at age X minus two (or four, or six) months, but X is still a very early age." (In the actual posts, the description of the child's amazing advancedness is never limited to a sentence, but takes paragraphs to describe.)
Option B: It is the consensus of the other parents that the child in question is not advanced. It is explained to the original poster that she is a dupe of too-conservative developmental charts designed to screen for developmental delays, not show normal development (that is, if the chart says a kid should do Y by age X, it means there may be a problem if the kid doesn't do it by then, not that the kid is advanced if she does it a bit sooner). Each individual responder then goes on to describe the exceedingly early age at which her child did Y, just to rub it in to the poor mother of the non-advanced child.
These sorts of threads are interspersed with things like roll calls where all the parents on the board post, say, their IQ scores, "just for laughs."
Not wanting to meet people like these in person is a big part of why I have not followed the universal advice of Parents Who Have Been There Before Me and sought out a Parents of Gifted Toddlers support group in my local area.
Another common topic of conversation on the board is how to deal with parents of the non-advanced. These threads often begin like this:
"I was at playgroup the other day, and this other mom told me, beaming with pride, that her son has just started using two-word sentences. Our kids are the same age, and when I told her that it was very exciting for me when little Dudley started doing that, too, eight months ago, she seemed offended. But why shouldn't I tell the truth about my son?"
Some folks, though not all, will respond that this mom did nothing wrong. They will reassure the original poster (OP) that this other mother's "insecurity" about her child is neither the OP's fault nor her responsibility.
I find I disagree with that response. I'd suggest that perhaps the other mom at the playgroup might have reacted badly not because she felt threatened by the genius of the OP's child, but because the OP was a bit rude in shifting the conversation so quickly to her own child.
Suppose I'm asked what Eric is up to lately. It's perfectly OK for me to say, "He's working on identifying the letters of the alphabet. Just last night he correctly pointed out two Ns and a D among his fridge-magnet alphabet. We hadn't known he knew those two letters!"
If somebody is trying to tell me about their child's growing knowledge of the alphabet, on the other hand, it's not a good time to jump in with an Eric story. Not too long ago the mother of a child 16 months older than Eric told me her son had recently started doing a certain pre-reading activity, and without thinking, I blurted, "Eric does that, too!" I'm lucky she's still speaking to me.
I've decided that if someone tells me something about their child, my response should not begin with my son's name. I try to focus instead on their child. "Jonah is using two-word sentences? What a big step!" or "What fun that is!" or "What else is he up to these days?" or "What kinds of things has he said?" The truth is, each step each kid takes is tremendously exciting, no matter what age it happens at, and it's nice for any parent if someone can just share their pleasure in their child's latest step. I can vouch for that, because, while Eric is verbally extremely adept and looks fated to be a very early reader, he walked so late that the only other kid I know who started walking at about the same age actually has developmental delays. Physical skills like climbing and jumping do not come naturally to him, and when he masters one (as when he recently figured out how to jump off a short step with both feet), we're excited for him. We don't think, "It's about time!" We don't think, "Well, we'd have been a lot happier about that if he'd done it when he was six months or a year younger, like his friends Noah and Aidan and Devin and Brianna and Madeleine, and, well, really, all his little friends and acquaintances and pretty much every child we've ever seen at the playground, too."
When Eric started jumping off a step with both feet (usually while still holding onto a grownup hand for support), my friend Adrianne didn't say to me, "Wow, it's so great that at two-and-a-half Eric is finally mastering, well, not mastering exactly but sort of exploring, a skill that my son Noah had pretty much nailed by the age of thirteen months." She said, "Good for him!" And then she told Eric, "Good for you!"
So here's what I try to remember: Someone else talking about their child is not necessarily an invitation to talk about mine. Letting the spotlight shine on one child at a time is good for all the kids. It also, I hope, eliminates one reason people might call me obnoxious.
On the Advanced Toddlers board, parents often wonder whether they have to hide or downplay their children's early accomplishments to avoid making other people uncomfortable. I'd say it's not the kids' accomplishments that offend other parents, it's that someone might not be making the best possible choice about when to share those accomplishments. I doubt many people are going home from playgroup saying, "I can't stand Mom A because her child is so smart." But some may very well be saying, "I can't stand Mom A because every time I mention something my kid is doing, she jumps in and one-ups me."
Well, I don't go to the Advanced Toddlers board anymore, because I don't like having these same conversations over and over and I don't like to listen to people bragging in the guise of giving advice. But I came away from my reading there having gained some useful ideas about how to parent a smart little kid, if only by seeing negative examples.
I also came up with a parody of the site that I still think is one of my best one-liners:
"I knew my daughter was advanced when her one-minute Apgar was 11."Posted by Su Penn at January 12, 2004 03:24 AM | TrackBack