Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Comparisons, Percentiles and Over-acheivers

Sophie had a check up today, but no vaccines because she was having a runny nose. For the record, she is Little Miss 50 percentile. Weighing slightly over 11 kg (about 25 pounds) and standing at about 82cm (about 32 inches). All weights and heights with small children are approximates because any variance in a body so small makes a lot of difference, yet at this age they are in constant motion!

While watching Sophie play in the waiting area, some little incident happen that has strengthened my resolve to not let her get swept into the cult of comparisons and over-achieving.

It's really difficult because even her bloody height and weight has to be measured by reference to other kids in her age group. In this age where everything is bespoke, I am surprised that nobody has yet created a "child-specific" chart for anything! But human beings need to compare, it is what makes us think we are getting ahead, and the foundation of social behavior. Truly marching to their own internal drum-beat are autistic children, who have their own highly individual patterns of emotional and social growth (although in physical growth they are often very beautiful). The competition to be "better" than everyone else usually starts in utero, because as a highly excited (and intense) new mother, I read up on just about every thing I could lay my hands on in relation to pregnancy and child-rearing, and started putting them into practice with the first DHA pill I popped. Fabien used to joke that if there was a way to study for a blood test, I would do it!!

Anyway, I digress. What brought me to this revelation?

Sophie was quietly drawing on the table and once in a while, she would turn back to me and tell me the back story to each drawing.

This other mom and her 2 sons was also in the waiting area, and she turns to me to say "how old is your daughter? 2 years old? She's very small." I turn around and coldly say "she just turned 20 months, and she's just right for a girl". At this moment the nurse calls and Sophie and I leave the room. I do not smile at the woman because I did not like her tone of voice.

I know that many times Sophie gets mistaken for a very small 2 year old because she has the same language skills, so perhaps she was just paying a very backhanded compliment. But I didn't like the way she said it, there was just too much disappointment on her face when I said that Sophie was in fact some time away from her second birthday. ** Editorial explanation: I know that to my non-breeder friends this sounds like a trivial point, but believe me in the world of preschoolers, 4 months is a very long time indeed.

The conclusion (if there is one!) on all this meandering thought is that I have resolved to try to be less obsessed about percentiles, and by extension comparisons with other children. That mother that I met in the waiting room today was ugly, and that's really not where I want to be because it doesn't aid anything. Of course I want to be aware of these charts (and of course claim bragging rights when my little smarty pants lives up to her Asian over-achieving heritage) but I want to keep in perspective that it really does not make any difference in the long term.

Sweet faced angel babies might morph into terror toddlers, or angst-ridden adolescents. I will only know when my child becomes an adult (and takes responsibility for her own actions) that I have fulfilled all my obligations as a parent. But hey, as John Maynard puts it - in the long run we are all dead.


Ex Night Queen said...

I don't think you were too sensitive about that woman. I don't think people have a right to comment about other people's bodies or looks, unless asked - and children deserve no less of that treatment either.

Irreverent Football Tragic said...

Rationally and morally-speaking, none of us has the right to comment like she did. Anyway, comparisons are odious. But, let's face it, we are all guilty of comparing everything under the sun (and not always to make ourselves feel better, mind), in varying degrees.

But yes, it's a nasty, nasty thing to do to innocent kids. No doubt about it.

Having said this, I have a thing for little smarty pants. I just find them so much more adorable and challenging (and on a very selfish level - it's almost OK to feel hopeful about the future because of these little smart pants). It's not to say that the less genetically-gifted are not as valuable to society, I simply don't feel the same enthusiasm about them.

Yes, Keynes was right about a lot of things! But, as I was leafing through that horrid Richard Carlson book "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff..." on the weekend, I just couldn't agree with the selfish premise behind "in the long run, we're all dead."

But... I must confess that my vision of perfection is just warped, not to mention, bloody impossible. Though, it's good to aim high, no?

PS: In Taiwan, the culture venerates petite girls/women, actually. :-) It's hilarious, but they always compliment me (or rather, my parents) on my height but then inadvertently make me feel awkward and clumsy (read: a nuisance). I don't find NE Asians very tactful about such things, but rarely do I feel that they mean real harm, though. I suppose it's due to the ancient culture and an ever-so over-populated lifestyle. People are probably just desensitised and matter of fact about such things.