by Dani Hamblett
Comparison is the thief of joy. We’ve all heard the expression. Seen it on a bumper sticker or a magnet at a gift shop and murmured to ourselves, “Yep, so true.” But when it comes to our kids, it’s hard to escape comparison.
It starts when they’re in the womb. The minute you’re pregnant and you sign up for anything at all, you start getting emails comparing the size of your embryo to an avocado, and then a pineapple. After they’re born and you take them to the doctor, you’re told what percentile he or she falls in on a growth chart; basically a comparison of how your kiddo’s height and weight compare to an average of other kids their age. Then there are milestones to watch for, also based on averages: when they should be sitting up on their own, eating solid foods, walking, etc. Before you know it, you’re watching other kids climb things at the playground and wondering why your kid hasn’t tried to climb that as well. Comparison has become a normal part of parenting.
It was with this mindset that I found myself walking down the hall of our local church preschool to pick up my 3-year old son. Lining the hallways alongside the kids’ backpacks and lunchboxes was the artwork they had made that day. Usually, the different age groups did different things, but today it was all the same—an oversized picture that said “All About Me” across the top. It had a blank outline of a person and the kids had customized them with crayons to look like themselves—added their hair and drawn in their eyes, mouth and nose. There were ponytails and spiky dos and long hairstyles. Shirts or dresses. Some of them had pets or other little accessories. As I neared my son’s classroom, my anticipation built. I couldn’t wait to see what my little artist had come up with.
I saw his picture before I realized it was his. No way is that one my kid’s. But yep, there was his name at the bottom. Gulp. I looked around to see if anyone else was seeing this. My first thought was, “Oh my.” My second thought was of the band Slipknot. If you don’t know who that is, best not to Google it. Yikes, did he have a bad day? This picture was a little…scary.
My little boy seemed as happy as ever to see me when I poked my head into the classroom. He bebopped down the hall like usual to head home. I held his picture folded in half while we walked down the hall.
“So, is this you?,” I asked him, holding out the picture.
On the ride home I wondered to myself, “Is this how he sees himself? Have I done anything to make him think this? Is he Rosemary’s Baby?”
Later on I brought it up again.
“Hey, look at this cool picture you made. But why is everything red? Your hair is brown, right? And what color eyes do you have?”
“Blue,” he answered.
“Well, then why did you only use red on your picture?”
“I love red. Red is my favorite color.”
Oh. This wasn’t something I’d considered in my worry mode. Red is just his favorite color. Of course; that seems so simple. He loves the color, so he made his whole self that color. Typical 3-year-old kid move. Duh.
That was six years ago (hard to believe! Time flies—another parenting cliche). I’ve kept the Slipknot pic on the side of the refrigerator all these years. Not the side that faces the room where anyone would see it, but where I can see it when I make coffee in the morning. My son has made many more pieces of art since then—lovely, colorful pieces with blue skies, boats on water, sunshine, portraits of our pets, sculptures. And some weird art, too. He is strong-willed and independent and funny. He doesn’t love sports like some other boys his age, but I’m at a point where I realize that’s okay. The picture reminds me that kids are their own little people. They aren’t always going to fit in the box we expect them to or think or do the same things that other kids are, and there is no reason to be disappointed in that. Don’t even spend the time overthinking it. Feed them, nurture them, love them, and then let them be who they’re gonna be—which is just fine.
Dani Hamblett is a wife and mother of one who co-owns the marketing agency For All Brandkind. Her family lives in the country with a dog and three cats.