By Anthea Anka
There is a competitive (and often absurd) dialogue that occurs within the parenting world in terms of one's child's early development. You hear it all the time when people are discussing their children. Sometimes it is tame and in the realm of possibility: "He's been walking since he was ten months old!" And other times it is downright preposterous: "She was reading before she could crawl. We've already reserved her a place at Harvard!"
Obviously most boastful gestures about one's children are driven by pure parental ego. Parents are proud creatures that want everyone to know that their kid is bright (if not the brightest), and what's more, they want the world to know that their chromosomal contributions had something to do with it. Because if Junior can name every country in Africa, that says that Daddy and Mommy are doing an impressive job at parenting, not to mention brilliant themselves. I read an article the other day about a woman who claims that her 4 year old reads the newspaper and says that cartoons are not "fulfilling." Okay fine, maybe the kid has a point about cartoons (although leave Tom & Jerry out of this), but I'm certainly not going to beat myself up if my son would currently rather eat the newspaper than read it.
I met a woman in the park the other day that informed me that her son could say at least 15 words at the ripe old age of 13 months. I smiled, and made the appropriate, "Wow, that's great," expression to validate her parenting skills. The child then proceeded to holler "bwaaaa" at something, which would prompt the woman to squeal: "Yes, sweetheart, 'bike!'" The child followed with another sound-word: "reeeeahhhhh." She gave me a look of unbelievable pride and exclaimed: "Did you hear that, my son said he was ready to go home. He is just incredible." To be frank I just heard "bwaaaa" and "reeeahhh" but I didn't want to rain on the woman's accomplishment parade.
The most amusing sort of parents -- to me of course -- are the ones that push the bounds of what their kids can do because they simply can't help themselves. They are the parents that are teaching their children Mandarin at 15 months (actually, my partner is muttering about doing this with our son as he is convinced China will soon be running the world), or sending their toddler down a steep hill on a scooter "because he can handle it, damn it!"
Then there is the YouTube epidemic that now guarantees a platform for all these parents to prove to the world how brilliant their kids are. You see posted videos of toddlers crawling up stairs backwards holding a glass of water on their head (Google this and see if I'm making it up), 3 year olds reciting the Bill of Rights, preschoolers decorating canvasses like the next Jackson Pollack, and so on. The latest clip to go viral was of a toddler who figured out how to escape from his crib -- such a clever boy. Trust me, the list of shrewd children on the web is very long and their parents are downright exultant that the web now serves as an indelible inkpad to record their offspring's intelligence.
For me, I just don't see the point in being competitive when it comes to children under the age of three (after that, lookout! It's open season). I figure that my son is doing things at his own natural pace and it will all even out in the end (and of course I know the kid is a genius and cuter than the day is long so why brag about it.) Not to mention, any parent soon discovers that his or her child may excel in certain areas -- my son dribbles a mean ball (with his foot, not his hand; as we are expats in the land of soccer) and sizes people up with an earnestness that is downright hysterical, which I will of course take credit for. But he does not have a large vocabulary outside of "out" and "up" and your garden-variety toddler babble.
I suppose my main question for all of us is: What is the rush? My son will start doing all that he is supposed to do soon enough. And trust me, once he does start genuinely talking, I won't be able to slow him down or turn him off: "why Mommy, why why why!; No no nooooo!!!" All of our children will develop as they are supposed to, despite our involvement. Some will be spouting Mandarin by the age of four (I don't know about you, but I'm seriously not ready for my son to tell me to "Qù lí" when he wants me to leave him alone) and others will be winning trophies by the age of three. Yes, we can shape some of this and other things, but no amount of tennis drills will transform your child into the next Roger Federer. In fact, your child may think the only thing a tennis racket is good for is smacking your neighbor's hedges into smithereens. They do make us so proud.
So for now, I shall welcome the fact that my son is currently walking around the house with a plastic bowl on his head chanting "up" like it's some toddler manifesto as he tries to stuff my tennis shoe in the garbage bin. As I see it, brilliance comes in many colors.
Anthea Anka, daughter of singer/composer Paul Anka, is a screenwriter who resides in London with her partner and their young son. She has several projects in development, one of which is in preproduction with Alison Eastwood set to direct. Anthea has four sisters and was raised in Northern California. To find out more about Anthea and her work, read her blog on Red Room.