After nearly two and a half years of living in the San Francisco Bay area (a temporary break from our lives in Israel), I am trying to keep my head above water. It seems that in today’s middle class America, everybody else’s kids are no less than perfect.
Until 2012, my kids grew up in an Israeli suburb. I had an enormous social network comprised of mothers and children. Our house and yard were always filled with running, jumping, screeching, laughing, and the crying of not-perfect kids. With the exception of a couple of “hysterics,” my mommy friends had no illusions about their little angels. We freely exchanged accounts of parenting challenges including school struggles as well as developmental and behavioral setbacks. By and large, we were honest and supported one another.
Today, I also have a large social network of mothers. However, with the exception of a few “eccentrics,” my mommy friends are incredibly busy convincing each other and themselves about how wonderful their offspring are. It seems that everyone is a sports star, a rock star, and a genius.
None of my four kids play the cello or violin. They don’t compete in chess, sing opera, write poetry to ebb boredom, read literature on their own free will, or achieve straight A’s (or even B’s) in school. In fact, two of my kids have learning disabilities (LDs) and ADD. Moreover, contrary to popular LD rhetoric and a plethora of articles implying the “special” gifts children with LDs certainly must have, mine (and for the record, most others) are probably not geniuses.
My two “typical,” non-LD kids are academically quite mainstream. When they study hard, they do well. When they don’t study, they are less successful (natural consequence?). More frustrating, my kids with LDs sometimes study really hard, and still barely pass.
There! I said it! How brave of me. Chances are, I did not birth the next Einstein. The gates of Yale are not anxiously awaiting my children, and I shouldn’t care.
But in the confines of middle-class America, not caring is not easy. The dominant parenting environment both online and off is intimidating for parents who try not to be sucked into this juvenile rat race.
Nowadays, all around me, it seems everyone else’s kids are immensely “gifted” and “talented.” I struggle to understand whether this concept of nouveau perfection is indeed a new phenomenon brought on by social networking or rather, a traditional part of middle-class American life. Is it a product of helicopter parenting? Are kids just another status symbol reflecting their parents’ own success?
My kids are learning, albeit slowly and sometimes painfully, that grit will yield results and that lack of effort will bring different results. They also understand that some people have to work harder than others to achieve satisfactory academic results. All the IEPs and accommodations in the world coupled with a bat-sh*t crazy Jewish mama advocate won’t completely level the playing field.
Honestly, trying to keep up with the Greenbergs is exhausting. While the pressure to play this game of Advanced Placement Mommy Wars is immense, I am getting back to basics: I am thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce my Jewish Israeli American kids to ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. I will continue trying to instill in them the paramount importance of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and teach them the difference between equality and justice.
And wherever and however my kids choose to live, I hope that they will be able to think out-of-the box so they may pursue their very individual dreams, not those dictated by society—or by their father or myself.