Friday, February 22, 2008

Rants and Raves

Esmé's Mommy writing here. Just wanted a place to vent on things related to "school" this week, so I'm hijacking this blog again.

First a Rave: Our internet is working again! It's been going off for 2-3 days a week lately, and it took Elmer's Portuguese skills to troubleshoot the problem with our modem. Elmer's the Brazilian guy I call when someone is asking for money but can't explain in English why he wants it, or when the phone company is charging a huge amount of money for no apparent reason, or when our gardener complains about how much he got paid and I can't figure out why. He is almost always on the phone translating for one of us, and it is good to have him back from his month in Brazil.

Then a Rant: With the modem address fix, our wireless router no longer works. Now we've gotta reset and reconfigure the thing, which is hard to do with a 10-month-old who wants to help. So we're temporarily tethered, leashed, bound, cuffed, grounded . . .

Now a serious Rant: Esmé threw my keys in the toilet this week. I thought that behavior started at the age of two. Or is that when they start flushing the toilet, too? Help!

Now a Rave: We survived the first week of school very well! I'll let Esmé tell you more about it later. From my perspective, it was wonderful having a plan and schedule for everything – no more desperately trying to figure out what to do next to keep Esmé occupied and out of trouble. It took a couple of long nights planning, but we had a happy girl who learned lots this week!

On to the main Rant of this blog: People who think that we are pushing Esmé too hard; that our expectations are too high for her. After all, she is just a 10-month old baby.

I have two things to say in response. First, I think parents have a moral obligation to set high (and realistic) expectations for their children. If a parent doesn't believe in her child's abilities, who will?

(Side note: Our Mozambican friends will likely disagree with me here – if you don't set high expectations, you won't be disappointed and therefore you will be happy with your lot in life, or so their philosophy seems to be.)

I've worked at Sunrise Enterprises (vocational rehab for people with disabilities, primarily mental retardation) and with general HR management long enough to know that there are two keys to success (success being defined here as reaching one's maximum potential): (1) identifying and focusing on an individual's strengths, and (2) setting realistic and high expectations or goals.

A key point here is that the expectations are realistic. I first gave Esmé colored markers to play with when she was four months old. I didn't expect her to write her name or draw a flower right away. In fact, I had to coax her to even make marks on paper. I didn't push her, though, and was perfectly happy if she wanted to spend her time figuring how to put the caps back on the markers or eating the crayons (well, maybe not eating the crayons – I get tired of washing wax out of her teeth). I just kept providing her with opportunities to draw and encouraging her to do so.

This week she surprised me by grabbing a pen while sitting at my office desk and "writing" on a piece of paper for a long while with no prompting from me: big bold strokes, little marks, and dots. She's repeated this performance a few times now. So our next goal is to make specific marks: lines, circles, etc. As she learns more, my expectations will become more. And if they seem high to you, it's simply because she is a bright little girl.

My second point is this: there is a difference between providing opportunities and having expectations.

Serena and Venus Williams were raised to be tennis stars. You hear similar stories from many athletes – their parents started them on their paths even in utero. And I find this commendable for the most part.

We're not trying this with Esmé. We simply want her to have the opportunity and ability to try all kinds of sports. And we'll support and encourage her to excel in whichever ones she decides to take up.

Which reminds me – this week I heard her fussing in the table tennis room and ran to check on her. She had picked up the scooter and was trying to get on, but it kept falling over as she stepped onto it. Then today she surprised me again – she got on the skateboard with one knee and both hands, pushing off with the other foot, and literally skated across the room three times. Of course she had to stop a couple of times and check how the wheels turned. Then she decided to stand with one foot and both hands on the board, but when she tried to push off, she ended up doing a split that I had to rescue her from. These are regular-sized scooters and boards, by the way – no baby stuff. I was wishing I had the video camera, but these days she seems to freeze whenever I have it, anyway.

Back to my point – I want to provide Esmé with the environment and tools to excel in whatever she chooses to do, and with the variety of experiences to make a valid choice. I surround her with books and music and big words and times tables and explanations of potential versus kinetic energy and maps of Antarctica – not to push her or because I expect her to learn them now, but so when she is ready to learn these things, she will have the advantage of having heard them before. And we do the "Oh, look at the big black doggie say woof woof" talk, too, just to cover all the bases.

I have another Rant specifically related to school curriculums, but we'll save it for another day. This blog is getting way too long.

We'll end with a Rave: I have an awesome, bright, beautiful daughter! It is such a privilege to watch her learn and grow every day. And when you define success as being happy, there is no question that she is full of success!