Thursday, January 05, 2012

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Parenthood is brutal. That's no secret, of course. We all know it's brutal. There are days, however, when its brutality can take your breath away. You are endowed by some miracle that can only be described as awe-inspiring with this tiny little creature to care for. You come to love it more than you love anything on this Earth. More than you love chocolate. More than you love books. More than you love the internet. More than you love yourself, even. You want nothing but the best for your child. You want that child to be the strongest. The bravest. The smartest. The fastest. The cleverest. The happiest. You want your child to be everything you are not.

As your child grows, you come to the realization that your child is not the strongest. She is not the bravest. She may not even be the happiest. No, she is you. She is more like you than you ever expected. More like you than you would ever have wanted her to be. More like you than you would wish on your worst enemy.

My daughter, Sophie, is the spitting image of me at five years old. From her long, skinny legs to her stringy dirty-blond hair, she is me. I am amazed on a daily basis how very me-like she is. Last night she was particularly me-like, and I’m afraid that “me” is not what I want for my beloved daughter.

We had our second Daisy Scouts meeting last night. At the first meeting, Sophie did surprisingly well. She joined the group right away with no encouragement needed. She sang songs. She crafted crafts. She recited the Girl Scout Promise. She appeared to be in her element. We did have tears toward the end of the meeting when she did not understand what she needed to be doing during a certain art project, and subsequently was the first one out at a rousing game of musical chairs (how is it that my child has made it to the age of five without ever learning how to play musical chairs?!). Despite the tears, she did amazingly well considering her usual modus operandi.

Last night, however, was a different story altogether. I felt as though I was re-living the whole ballet nightmare all over again (remember when I had to join the circle and clumsily pirouette my way through ballet class?) Sophie did not want me to leave her side the entire night. I was not allowed to join the other mommies happily chatting and knitting (God, I wish I knew how to knit!) at a table on the sidelines. No, I got to join the Daisy circle. I got to sit in a chair directly behind Sophie while she buried her face in my knees. Despite my encouragement and constant whispering of, “You’re fine. You can do this,” Sophie was terrified. She repeatedly told me that she was scared. Scared of what? It was Girl Scouts. They are about as non-threatening as any group I can imagine. They are five-year-old little girls and perky moms. They are encouraging to the point of near nausea. What in the world could my daughter have to fear?

Unfortunately, I know the answer to that question. Everything. Everyone. Sophie is shy. Painfully shy. She doubts herself in social situations. She is terrified of failing. Of making a fool of herself. Of the judging eyes of others. I know this feeling all too well. I was the same way as a child. It’s heart-wrenching to see my daughter suffer through new situations the same way I did. I want so much for her to join in with the chatty, giggly, vibrant little girls that make up her Daisy Scouts troop. Instead, she hangs back. She clings to me. She wants desperately to be like those girls, but she doesn’t have it in her. She wants nothing more than to be something she is not. And it kills me. Why does she have to be like me? Why do genetics have to be so cruel? Why does her self-talk have to be a litany of disparagement? I lost count of how many times I heard her say “I can’t” and “I’m not good at that” last night.

The girls played a game of hopscotch last night instead of the heinous musical chairs that destroyed my daughter’s tiny psyche the week before. I thought to myself, Sweet! Sophie plays hopscotch at home all the time! She is going to ace this! Unfortunately, my Downer Debbie of a daughter proved me wrong. She tried it once, had trouble picking up the little turtle that was used as the “stone” on one foot as she was supposed to, and immediately ran to me extremely upset. She refused to try a second time because she “didn’t do it right.” She didn’t notice the other girls flopping around like epileptics in their attempts at hopscotch. She didn’t notice that most of the girls hopped on two feet the whole way down and back. She didn’t notice that she may very well be the most athletically gifted girl in the group. She didn’t see any of that. She only saw her own imagined failure.

What do I do with a child who is so much like me? How do I make her believe that she is beautiful and smart and clever and capable? How do I make her see the exquisite beauty within herself when, at the tender age of five years old, she already has a constantly running tape recorder in her head telling her otherwise? I don’t know the answer to these questions. I only know that I adore my daughter. I adore her with every fiber of my being, despite being so much like me. Perhaps even because of it.

Parenthood is cruel and unusual punishment.


Madgew said...

So sorry this is happening. I wonder if some therapy with a trained professional away from the environment of you and home might work. One of my grandsons at age 7 is a perfectionist and it is hard for him when he isn't perfect. He started seeing someone and it has changed his entire perspective he even wrote a story about the guy in class when they talked about people who help others. We are all amazed it is working. Just a few visits and he has tools to help him control that angst of perfection. He is his father's child but I waited until 11th grade to finally force my teenaged son to see someone. I think outside parties are so well worth it. And amazingly helpful, not long term but just to get over the hump and let Sophie find her own security. It will happen one way or the other. I would never think of you as shy now. It is so hard to watch our kids struggle when we know we were the same way and hopefully, eventually "we" clicked in and felt better. Thanks for sharing.

Jessica said...

First off, wonderful post! I can relate all too well with so much of what you wrote! And I wish you the best of luck.

I would also like to recommend you give "Nurture Shock" a read. It is kind of eye opening and there is a great chapter about praise and how we can unknowingly set up our children for failure. We tend to tell them how great and smart they are instead of encouraging the effort and letting them know that failure is part of the process of learning.

And finally, yes, you should learn how to knit! ;) It is pretty fun!

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