The Perfect Nature

As I shuffled through the papers, I grew more and more alarmed.

The folder I had been given at the kindergarten orientation for our Virginia Beach Public School outlined the information the school expected my child to know before she began her first day.

Can she count to twenty? Does she know the alphabet? Could she recognize her colors? What???

The child in question is my eldest, Josie. And, after two years of preschool, she was far beyond colors and ABC’s. In preschool, she had mastered the memorization of sight words and begun the basics of arithmetic. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not one of “Those Moms” who thinks her children are extra-special geniuses. (However, if you want to label her as such, I will not stop you!)

I had been excited for her to begin kindergarten and watch her reading skills soar. But the Orientation Folder full of items that my three year old was on her way to mastering (again, I’m not the one saying genius!) had left me with serious concerns. I told myself these must be the absolute basics of what kids should know, especially the ones who did not have the benefit of attending preschool. It’ll be fine, I thought.

But deep inside, I was on the verge of hyperventilating. Is Public School gonna make my kid stupider?

The first day of kindergarten finally rolled around, and I walked her the two blocks to school. That first week of the new school year, we hooked up with some of the other kids in the neighborhood, and I got to talk with the other moms. I shared my concerns for Josie’s education with them. Being moms of First Graders, they knew all the ins and outs.

Yes, they told me, those basic requirement sheets are rudimentary. The kids would read and write every day and do lots of math. Anna, whose daughter had the same teacher as Josie the year before, allayed my fears when she explained how the classroom would be set up. “The teacher splits the kids up into reading groups based on their level. So the best readers are not together with the struggling readers.”

“That’s fantastic!” I said. “So Josie is going to get some individual attention and keep going where she left off!”

“That’s right,” Anna answered, “and the groups are named by color, so most of them don’t even realize there are better or worse readers.”

As I walked the rest of the way home, I thought more about what a brilliant teaching style the kindergarten teachers were using. Everyone would work at his or her own pace. No comparisons. No feelings of inferiority. Six-year-olds should never be made to feel inferior. They’ve got all of Middle School and High School to feel like that. I was happy and content knowing that I had sent my child off to a Kindergarten Utopia!

That was September. Now we are in January. Josie’s reading skills have grown and I am constantly surprised at the words she is able to read. There is no more “secret spelling” around my house. My husband and I trying to decide whether or not to go out for i-c-e c-r-e-a-m causes shrieks of joy from a certain little spy, followed by begging that we please, please, please go to Dairy Queen, please!

Because Josie had been reading so well, I made the executive decision that when her nightly homework involved reading a storybook, she would, from now on, read it herself, instead of me reading the book to her. The next homework assignment with a story, I informed her of the new plan. She went to the shelves to find a book.

“A board book?” I queried when she returned to the table. “You can’t read a board book, there’s no plot, no story! Go find another one.”

She returned with another board book, slightly longer, but still more suitable to the toddler-set.

“Josie, this does not have a story in it either. You need a real book with characters and something that they do. You know, the stuff that makes a story!”

She threw herself onto the couch in despair. “I can’t read one of those books!” she cried.

Wait. What? I sat down beside her.

“What do you mean you can’t read?” I asked her in my most soothing, trust-inducing Mom-voice.

“I don’t read as good as the other kids in my class.” She gave the coffee table a frustrated kick.

This made no sense. I knew if she was not already at the highest reading level, she was darn close to it.

“Josie, which kids are you talking about? Do you mean the kids in your reading group?”

“Yes,” she answered meekly, turning her bitterness from the coffee table to the couch cushion. “The girls in my group read better than me.”

Ooh. Now this was making sense. I had been so concerned about the kids who struggled with reading having an even playing field, it hadn’t occurred to me. The groups based on skill with arbitrary names so there would be no classification as to “The Best” or “The Worst.” There is a downside to having no yardstick to measure yourself with.

She really didn’t know.

I did my best to explain, as diplomatically as I could, that she was with such good readers because she, herself, is such a good reader, trying to help her understand her status without undermining the other groups her classmates were in.

Later, I talked with one of her teachers about the irony of the situation. Now, her teacher was the alarmed one.

“She’s in the highest reading group. And she reads just as well as the other kids in it!”

“Really?” I answered.

“Yes. And when they’re in their regular seats, she’s the #1 in her group. She is always helping the other kids at her table with whatever they’re doing.” Baffled, she added, “She must not realize she’s doing it!”

And so lays my sweet little apple, directly underneath the tangled branches of my tree. That desire to be “The Best.” Choosing to believe in the negatives of your own ability and dismissing all complimentary comments to the contrary. Among the things I have passed on to my daughter - my face shape, my wide feet, that junk in my trunk - she has also been bestowed with my Perfectionist Attitude.

Can a Recovering Perfectionist change the mindset of a Fledgling Perfectionist? That will remain to be seen.

For now, she’s got some books to read. And she’s happily reading them.

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Jennifer Tackett-Hilton

Jennifer Tackett-Hilton is a Virginia Beach transplant (originally from Iowa) and Old Dominion University graduate who swore she'd never date a Navy man.... but never said she wouldn't marry one! Jennifer and her Prince Charming have two adorable (and precocious!) princesses, ages 2 and 5, and one furry pooch, Eddie.

In the (precious little) spare time she has, she enjoys crafting, shopping for new craft supplies, and writing on her blogs, EverAfterLand.com and JenEverAfter.com. You can find her on Facebook at http://facebook.com/everafterland and follow her on http://twitter.com/jeneverafter and http://pinterest.com/jeneverafter.

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