Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Art of Comparison

When I was visiting my friend this weekend, her husband mentioned that it was hard to listen to their neighbor’s kid, who is the same age as theirs, talking while their own baby still just babbles. As the wizened old mother of many, I just sat quietly in my corner, thinking how insignificant another child’s unintelligible (to anyone but his doting parents) “bah’s” and “br’s” will seem in a few days or months or years. At the same time I was remembering how when M was a baby, I rushed home from a La Leche League meeting and gave him patty-cake lessons after seeing a baby several weeks his junior already clapping!

It is so hard to not compare our children to other kids. When M was a baby I found myself constantly checking the developmental charts and comparing his motor skills or language with babies at story time at the library, as if I craved constant reassurance that I was doing this right. With the twins I never even glanced in the development books or noticed that much what the babies around us were doing…I’d like to think I had grown wise with my parenting years and realized that every baby develops at his/her own pace, and that for the most part it all evens out in the end, but in reality I was probably just way too busy and sleep-deprived to notice or care.

Because M’s birthday is only a few days after the twins’, I’ve had a constant measure of development in the back of my mind…whatever developmental milestones he crossed, I would compare his brothers too. He learned to sit up at a Christmas party…were the twins sitting by Christmas? He started walking at a fair the first weekend in June…were the twins walking in June? He was talking a blue streak by winter of his second year…what were the twins saying? In most cases their progress was later than his, but I tried to console myself in the knowledge that he got the undivided attention of two adults, while they had to share those adults with two other kids.

Then, of course, I can hardly avoid comparing them to each other. I’ve noticed an interesting developmental pattern with the two of them, that may also apply to other kids, but is less pronounced than if a genetic carbon copy is developing right along side. One of them (often, but not always, Z) will start working on a new skill—be it talking, walking, potty training—and work on it over days, weeks or months, while the other kind of hangs back. Then suddenly the second twin will leap up to or beyond the level the first had reached, while the groundbreaking one will regress a little. I like to think of it as “punctuated equilibrium”—great leaps of development occur, punctuated by periods of stasis, or waiting.

The same has been the case with representational art. Z had for a long time shown more interest in and propensity for drawing and painting. I did not worry when one blogger’s daughter, who is several months younger than the twins, was drawing “real” pictures last winter, because I knew M drew his first pictures—Mars with a sword, Venus with a flower and Mars fighting a monster (we were listening to Holst’s “The Planets” a lot…ahhh, life with an only child!)—in November when he was three-and-a-half. Last summer, Z drew some pictures that looked like ladders: two vertical straight lines with a lot of horizontal lines connecting them. But E was still scribbling.

November passed and neither of them had progressed to drawing. I wasn’t nervous yet, but stepped up the arts & crafts time at home. Just before Christmas, E came home from daycare with a colored worksheet in the corner of which he drew a sun—a circle with little lines coming out of it. Within a week he drew his first picture—Mama—followed shortly after by one of Papa; and now he has his own style and sits down to draw people everytime the paper and crayons or chalk comes out, and has even penned a few letters (don't you love the E's with lots of lines?).

In the meantime, Z had backed off from his ladder-drawing and became more interested in cutting up paper into little shreds. When we paint, he mixes all the colors together, slops it on the paper and folds the paper up. When we draw, he demands that I draw for him and cries and cries that he can’t create what he wants. I can sympathize with the feeling of having a vision but not being able to realize it, yet I wish he would just let go and try, like E does.

A couple of weeks ago one of the preschool teachers handed me some pictures E and Z had colored and said they’re doing very well with arts and crafts, much better than the other kids. I wasn’t too impressed by this, considering their idea of arts and crafts, and I was annoyed that she had to throw that comparison in. It’s hard enough to not worry about their development when compared side-by-side or against M’s precedent; I don’t want to add the other kids into the mix now.


  1. It's really hard to avoid. I'm so busy all the time that I have all these moments like - oh, my gosh, I didn't realize that she's not doing (fill in the blank) like the other kids! So silly...

  2. Just bought a scale. Haven't had one in 15 years. Honestly, next stop Weight Watchers.

    Anyway, Eli got on it first. Are you ready? A solid 95 pounds of love. I think I was 11 before I weighed 95 pounds.

    Now, to stay out of compulsive comparison and ruin his chances for a healthy attitude toward food and weight.


  3. The trying-not-to-compare is a great goal. I often don't do it aloud (only to my husband--I wouldn't dare do it in front others) but I need to work hard not to do the comparing internally in my head. I do think it is a huge struggle with twins, especially monozygotic ones, not to compare them to each other and them throw a third brother in the mix AND now working at their school, I get to know all their classmates pretty well so.... Let's just say I need to work on this. Meanwhile, F sits in bed, flipping through books & I quietly check if he is showing any reading readiness signs since this is getting close to the time that C spontaneously seem to read. I catch myself and think how crazy to even think he could/should start to read now, but I do wonder constantly about it.

    Our society seems so driven to describe in terms of how we all stack up to each other than just simply describe.


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