The other day I walked down into the basement playroom and saw this:
I knew right away who’d written it, because I have one daughter with boundless, verging-on-cocky confidence, and then there’s J.
J, who recently came home with three tests marked 100%, 100%, and 95% + 3 bonus points, and moaned that she’d known that spelling word, how could she be so stupid? These little shame-spirals of hers drive me crazy not only because it’s sad to see her so upset, but because they have no relationship with objective reality. It makes me angry with her, really. I’ve told her that she’s wrong. I’ve pointed out that perfection is overrated and that anyone who’s successful has met with plenty of failures first. I’ve said that it’s disrespectful to moan over an almost-perfect spelling test when there are kids who struggle much harder than her and do worse.
And she’s not always like this. She’s got M as a model, and in the right mood, she’s just as cocky and bold as her big sister (like when I said that they’re confident about my unconditional love). But while M has this uncanny, positively Orwellian ability to spin all reality into her preferred viewpoint, which is that she and her friends are awesome-sauce at all times and in all things, J walks a tightrope. She demands excellence, if not perfection, and falling short of her own standards requires punishment.
Actually, I just thought of a perfect demonstration of that. In two separate incidents, each of my children has broken something made of glass in a fit of temper. When M did it, she was shocked for a moment, then looked me straight in the eye and said, “I didn’t do that. You did.” When J did it, she started hitting herself in the head and sobbing, yelling, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m horrible, I’m horrible!”
Okay, I got sidetracked there, but it’s just funny that both creatures could be raised in the same household with the same gene pool and be so different. I’m sure plenty of you have experienced that.
J does well: she behaves in school, she gets good grades, and she works hard. So she is rightly confident much of the time. But I’d love to help her build a little more resilience when things don’t go her way. And I keep telling her that she needs to change the way she talks to herself in her own head, because I can’t make her a happy person: she’s in charge of that.
So when I see something like that awful chalkboard, my stomach drops and I’m fuming at the same time. I want to shake her. But instead I just did some editing. Because even if she’s got to learn to do this for herself, she’s only 9. Luckily, I’ve got plenty of time to teach her.