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I Love You Just the Way You Are….

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I recently encountered an article about something called “Gender Disappointment,” a label for women who are so traumatized by failing to produce a child of the desired gender that they become deeply depressed, and go to great lengths to produce the “right” flavor on future attempts. One of these Prize Narcissists was so unhappy about the fact that she had not yet given birth to a daughter that she posted the following in an internet forum: “‘I hate my life. My family is complete in reality but not in my heart.'” According to the article, “[s]he is considering giving all three of her boys up for adoption,” because she “‘wants to give them to someone who can actually love them.'”

As the mother of a healthy 12-year-old child, the piece shocked and sickened me. I thought about the women I know who struggle or struggled with infertility, and about the psychological impact on a child whose mother wishes that he or she were something completely different. As I thought, I tried to lower my blood pressure by finding a way to feel compassion towards those women; there had to be an “in,” some way that I could identify with their sorrow based on common bonds of motherhood, womanhood, or even humanity. In the end, I couldn’t do it. I have argued passionately in favor of showing compassion towards everybody from Andrea Yates to Sarah Palin, because in my universe there is no more important concept than the notion that we are all human, and are neither superior nor alien to other humans with failings. These legions of “gender disappointed” women, weeping while fondling pink dresses at Macy’s while their male children look on,  are also human, and deserving of compassion. Clearly, I am not sufficiently evolved.

There are other kinds of “disappointment” in one’s children, though, which are entirely sanctioned by society and viewed not only as benign but as commendable. Although I haven’t participated as a parent, it seems to go like this: a child is a fungible commodity, albeit a beloved one, and regardless of the actual nature, inclinations or abilities of that child, it is the role of the parents to shape whatever they got into whatever they really wanted.

MrSuzuki[1]The desirable outcome varies, but I grew up a child musician with peers who were being pushed hard to be professional musicians from the time they were three or four years old. In my community, future prodigies were started early in “Suzuki Strings,” based on a program devised by Shin’ichi Suzuki to develop not only technical facility, but “beautiful character” in children. Although the goals of the program are not only admirable but quite lovely, the parents of my compatriots used it as the first step towards World Music Domination in a school district with a first class string program. The competition was so fierce that by the time I was in high school, one mother became so unhinged over her sons’ inability to get and hold “first chair” positions in the orchestra, that she began a campaign of using various poisons placed in cars, lockers, and homes to exact revenge from those who stood in the way of her dream. Since I was often competing for first chair with one of her sons, I can tell you that we had chemicals in the air vents of the family car, and mercury in the air vents in my bedroom, the effects of the latter eventually killing our beloved Airedale.

This perversion of an opportunity for enrichment into a desperate pursuit of success produced only one chemical poisoner (to the best of my knowledge) but it produced many, many parents who glossed over or completely denied the fact that music was not the passion of their respective children, but their own interest.Among my fellow musicians in middle and high school were those who were clearly “born to it,” those who played with heart, and willingly immersed themselves in all things musical because it was a welcome gift. There were also student musicians who played with great technical facility, practiced their daily hours, and generally hit all the right marks, but who were not in love with it. We could all make ourselves do anything; we were tremendously disciplined and competitive, but it was an entirely different process when the pressure came from without rather than within. I often wonder what happened to some of the “unwilling prodigies,” what they might have chosen to do had they been permitted, and whether they were ever able to find their own gifts and facilities after fifteen-plus years of striving to meet an artificial external standard.

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In the less rarified parts of the world, this parental pushing is most often seen in the arenas of sports and academic excellence. What starts as kindergarten rec league soccer becomes, by sixth grade, an obsession with making the try-out team, and getting enough time on the field during games. When the child’s interest flags, or changes, there is insidious but heavy pressure not to “give up.” Instead of serving as a beloved form of play, and a way to get regular exercise, sports become a “job” for the budding Pele, with all of the pressure, deadlines and examination of performance that adult work generally entails. There is also a pattern of pushing children to excel in academics, particularly math, with a rush to enroll young students in after school programs, summer programs, and tutoring sessions. What happens to these children who are denied the chance to see play as play, or to be praised for doing good schoolwork at an age-appropriate level of skill? How would we feel, as adults, if we were required to focus vast amounts of time and psychic energy on hobbies in which we had lost interest, or abilities which gave us no real satisfaction?

My own child has facilities and interests completely alien to my own. I honestly expected, to some degree, a child version of myself, or at least some of myself; a young person with a great love of reading, and art, with some musical aptitude. Instead, I have a son who is a technology wizard focused passionately on wires, mother boards and “glitching” XBox games. He hates all things related to English class, from reading to writing, and after a year of playing the cello, decided that he would rather be in choir because “they don’t get yelled at if they don’t practice.” I have caught myself pushing, reading him “The Phantom Tollbooth” in the hopes that it would ignite a torch for literature, or insisting that we listen to classical music in the car despite the siren song of 50 Cent on 96.5. None of it worked; he will read the books required by his English teacher, he will grudgingly tolerate the intoxicating strains of Tchaikovsky long enough to get to Target, but he is just not that kid. He is a person who loves what he loves, just as I am. He might be a better cocktail party companion for me if he developed an interest in Beat poetry or the sonata form, and we could probably force him to learn about those things, but we would then be creating a different person altogether, and not a natural one.

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There are things that we probably should “push” our children to do no matter who they are or where their interests lie. They should be taught to be decent, compassionate human beings, to clean up their messes, and to take responsibility for their actions. In my opinion (and my house) they should also be expected to respect their teachers, have nice table manners, say “please” and “thank you,” and try new things from tofu stir-fry to playing soccer or the violin. Beyond that, our children are neither possessions nor craft projects; they come into this world as human beings in their own right, and with whatever gender, talents or aptitudes occur in nature. Although he is not, strictly speaking, what I expected, I could not be more pleased with what I got, and I look forward to finding out who he grows up to be. If we’ve done our job right, he’ll be himself.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

16 responses »

  1. Amen!

    Reply
  2. Beautifully written, as always. I have only met your son once, but he seems like a very cool kid. It is not surprising, with you being his mom!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Amy. He is cool, although (as I mentioned) nothing about him seems to have much to do with me – well, actually, he likes to cook. 🙂

      Reply
  3. How did I not know that someone in our school district was trying to poison you (and killed your sweet dog, whose name I’m trying to remember)??

    (…reaching for the year book to peruse the orchestra photos…)

    To the woman who wanted a daughter, I would say, “Go to China, or India! Get yourself a passel of them.” (Sorry to say, they would probably be eager take her sons in trade!)

    Perhaps the only common ground may be that you expected “a child version of (yousrelf), or at least some of (your)self”…perhaps that is what she was thinking. I have often thought that’s what my father thought when he ended up with me: ‘what part of me could possibly be in her?…I see nothing of myself…’

    I do see something of you in the photos of your son (and the few comments I read)…something that says to me that your sense of humor is reflected there…

    Actually, that’s one place where my father may have found common ground with me, come to think of it…

    Parenthood ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure.

    (I’m a sissy.)

    Reply
    • It was a long, dragged-out thing that went on for years before a couple of “orchestra dads” started doing the detective work that the Meridian Township police didn’t seem to be able to do. For a long time, everybody thought it was only them that had weird experiences involving chemicals and property damage.

      I agree that the children in China and India deserve to be adopted, but not by that woman. If she can’t love her own children because they’re boys, who knows what flaws might prevent her from loving other children, even girls?

      The sense of humor is mine, and probably yours was your dad’s. Not that Rob doesn’t have a sense of humor, but Sam’s is more like mine. You’re not a sissy, by the way; you just made a wise decision for your own life. Besides, you are a dog mother.

      Reply
  4. Sorry for my typos, and feel free to delete my comments anytime, too!

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  5. I had forgotten about the mad orchestra poisonings–I wasn’t even in the orchestra until my sophomore year in the percussion section-I was flute in junior and senior year. I just remember no one would talk much about it.
    My parents never pushed me in any direction, but did support me in my own chosen interests. I do remember some fellow students who were crazy good in music, but didn’t really seem to have much to do or say about anything else. Well, that’s all right if you choose that path. Not all right if you’re forced down it. The tragedy would be if those kids grew up and did the same thing to their kids. The best story would be if they let their kids decide what they liked as a result of not having that choice when they were kids themselves.

    Some people shouldn’t be parents.

    Reply
    • Some people shouldn’t be parents. Oddly enough, we put a lot of pressure on people to be parents, too, on top of everything else. I agree that it would be interesting to know what kind of parets the “pushees” became; I’m really only friends with OHS musician types like Mark Smith who were born to love it, and did, and do.

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  6. I can’t believe there aren’t more posts here. Plum sisters, all the Smith talent…

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  7. Wow, I’m glad you are writing all of these amazing articles. What happened to that woman who was spreading chemicals around? People are crazy. We talk about this now when we see kids being pushed (mostly with sports) into higher competition and one single choice of activity. We like to discuss by what age they will burn out and refuse it altogether. Todd and I like to give variety and choices, because when you are 9 it should be about learning new things and discovering something you may really enjoy that you would have never thought about. Zach quit soccer this year and Todd’s line about that is “you know what the worst thing about Zachary quitting soccer is? NOTHING”. lol. He is swimming it swim club now and excelling and having a blast which in and of itself is fun to see!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Michelle! I am really loving not being confined to one subject.

      The woman was found guilty only of breaking & entering, as I recall; the taped confession was inadmissable so they couldn’t try her on all of the really serious stuff. She was sentenced to “counselling” and is still around; I see her at El Azteco all the time.

      I totally agree with you and Todd. Kids have to do something besides lie around and watch TV, but what it is they do…I don’t much care. Long as it’s not a felony.

      Reply
  8. All I can say is WOW! Your poor dog.:( That is so crazy. Did the woman end up going to jail? I choose to be child-free, but am thankful none of my friends who have kids are like that. Growing up is hard enough.

    Reply
    • Lisa, as I explained in the reply above, she did not. The “parent trap” that was set yielded inadmissable evidence, and so the only thing she could be found guilty of was breaking into the house where she was caught. I actually feel more sorry for her than angry, although the dog loss was pretty awful.

      Growing up is hard enough, and I admire people who a) know that and b) make good decisions to be, or not to be parents.

      Reply

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