Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Chocolate and Competition (in that order)

Right, mood over, onwards and upwards. (It isn't of course, but I'm boring myself writing about it so heaven knows what it's doing to anyone else reading this...)

Onto far more important matters. No, not chocolate - though now you mention it, I was amazed at the supermarket today to see the shelves of offerings from premium brands not decreasing in the current straitened economic atmosphere, but increasing in size. A quick check on Ocado (not even I was not sad enough to stand in front of the chocolate fixture and write this list down. Not today, anyway...), shows that Waitrose stock the following in luxury chocolate bars: Green & Blacks, Lindt, Montezuma, Rococco, Divine, Choxi, Cote d'Or, Bendicks, Organica, Rosemarie, and Malagasy. And I'm sure there were a couple more I saw in-store that didn't make it onto the internet. The interesting thing though is that not one of them cost less than £1.50 for 100g, and some more than twice that.

It's good to know that the residents of South Kensington have their priorites straight on one thing, at least...

No, what I meant to write about, before drifting off into a lovely cocoa-scented world there for a moment was this;

Before you had children, did you see yourself as the competitive parenting type? I didn't. Sure, I knew I had that potential in myself (though perhaps less highly developed than it might be; stubborn-ness is my thing, rather than competition), but I always thought I would be much more relaxed around my children. I assumed that I would be accepting of who they were, with their own capabilities and potentials, and not turn into the type of pushy parent who make you cringe with their constant chatter about how little Jasper has been studying Kumon Maths in the holidays (what the hell is that, by the way?) and can't wait to begin advanced Latin when they start pre-school.

So far I think I've managed very well. Managed very well, that is, to fool myself. The judo? Oh, that's for co-ordination and physical activity. And besides, he enjoys it - or did after that first term of complaining. Skating? Well, it's with his friends, and why not? He'll learn to stand up sometime... The drama class for a week in the summer? Frankly darling, he would have been bored stupid with nothing to do all summer long...

You get the picture?

I've been brought up short though. Last week, I dropped Boy #1 at school and whilst fussing around with him in the classroom before making a bid for freedom, I became aware of one of his classmates sitting in the corner, reading himself a book.

Now, my son has been making OK progress with his sightwords and letter sounds (for those not based in the UK, welcome to the incomprehensible world - for anyone older than 25 - of phonic learning). He's not rushing home from school every Friday (the only day they get homework) and ripping his folder out of his bag in his eagerness to get on with it, but neither is he complaining when I suggest a short session of looking through them. And frankly, one of the reasons we chose the school he's now at is that they have no truck with hot-housing the kids, preferring instead to spend the first year or so concentrating on building social skills and doing lots of sport to increase confidence.

But one look at Boy #1's classmate reading unaccompanied and Mrs Competition jumped up, grabbed me by the throat, and started whispering in my ear. "Look at that! W is READING! Why isn't Boy #1 reading? Why is that, do you think? You need to do more with him. Remember, they get streamed next year... What, you didn't know that? You do now... Time for some extra effort, I think. Forget the skating, you should spend the next few evenings working on his sightwords..."

This is not who I want to be. It's interesting though, how wanting the best for your child and wanting your child to be the best can so easily get confused with each other. It's also interesting how, when the chips are down, you revert to the parenting style you know best; that which your parents used on you. And doing well at school - that is, being top of your class, or near it - was always something my brother, sister and I were encouraged in. Why not? It's not such a bad thing for an older child.

But Boy #1 is 5. So, with a great deal of effort, I snubbed Mrs Competitive, trod on her toes, turned around, left the school, and left her standing on the pavement as I drove off.

I know she'll be back, though. Probably when I spy Boy #1's friend trotting out of school clutching a copy of 'Lord of the Rings' later today.


  1. We are at one with the phonics. My daughter only got her first reading book 3 weeks ago. A friend ofthe 4 year old got one before Xmas. I had to hold myself back from having 'words' with the teacher.

  2. It's a tricky one - and I know how it feels. However after being tactfully told by The Boy's teacher not to set my sights too high as Little H (The Boy's best friend) hs been officially given genious status - I feel far more relaxed!

  3. I have done this too with my friends' kids...seeing that they are already potty trained or that they are doing this or that and freaking out about it. I don't want to be that mother that compares my child to other children either. It isn't fair to him, but sometimes it just happens.

    I hope the dreariness of normalcy has worn off, or that it will soon.

  4. "They all get there in the end"(heard that one before perchance?)

    Phonics are taking over the world.. even BD and I are doing the vowel rap (know that one?)

    BM x

  5. My little one's teacher said about him last week (among other things I hasten to add) "He'd rather read a book than go and play outside". With the firstborn I probably would have preened a bit and implied somehow that this was all down to the fabulous home environment, yada yada. Third time round, a) most of them get their in the end, b) it's not a virtue to like books, and c) you can take a horse to water etc.

  6. I was a green eyed monster when I saw a kid outperform my kid, unless that kid was an obvious genius, but even so. I always wanted my kids to be able to do whatever any other kid could and I made damn sure that they did. Luckily, I had smart kids, but I probably pushed them too hard and made an over achiever of at least one of them. So, I am guilty as charged and couldn't leave well enough alone. Given a second chance, I would choose for their happiness first and then for their performance.

  7. I like Irene's last comment - happiness first - performance second.

    In this world - I would hate to be a parent. Because everything is blamed on the parent's - never on the child.

    What is happening to society? Why can't we leave well enough alone and just let children be children?

  8. Laura, shocking ins't it? And yet so easily done!

    TW, I'm sure that's the case with W (the boy reading the book). Obviously...

    J's Mommy, it's funny but it's the first time this has really hit me (joking about the skating etc apart). With the previous milestones I was much more relaxed. For example; Speech? He'll do it when he's ready. Walking? What's the rush? Potty training? Well, it's hell but I know he'll get there eventually. But READING? Light blue touch paper and retire...

    BM, no I don't know it. is that why Boy #1's not reading yet? Is it? (OMG, listen to me!)

    EPM, he loves books, pretends to read them all the time. I'm just looking forward to the day when they make sense to him (for his sake of course, of course!)

    Good advice Irene; I will try to remember it at moments like that!

    Aims, I'm trying, really I am. I probably need to get a job - at least then I would have something else to channel my energies into!

  9. Miss M is still in nursery for another year but I'm pretty sure Miss E had a reading book and a few key words to learn now so I've started doing a few bits with her just so she can hold her own. I swear that's the reason and that it has nothing at all to having seen the writing on some of her friends party invitation replies and thinking, 'Blimey, I need to get Miss M moving.' I will jump on that pushy mother forthwith. You're right, there's time for that later.

  10. Hmmm, or even, not at all. I just mean more intense encouragement. I don't want t be a pushy Mum, just a supportive one. :D

  11. I despise competitive parenting, as you probably know, but I know what you mean about Mrs Competition coming and whispering in your ear. I hear her every time I get together with my NCT group - will never forget the time a little girl said: "I went in an aeroplane with my Mummy and Daddy" when my son had yet to utter a single word....

  12. I think the competitive streak comes with parenting as a matter of course. Just have to keep it reined in as much as possible because it does not help your child to achieve but will foster anxiety and a fear of failing. Reading is very like potty training in that they all get there when and only when they're ready. My two were as different as chalk and cheese, the elder struggled quite a bit in the early months at school but eventually became a very keen reader, the younger took to it like a duck to water and to this day devours books voraciously.

    Will try to refrain from chocolate suggestions in the future but really, what else does the same job?

  13. PM - take heart, it happens to the slummiest and most chaotic of us (which would be me). Lashes is six and a half. He can read words but shows ZERO interest in reading anything more than that. Lots of his mates read. I am restraining myself, every single day, from frothing at the mouth about this. "My son MUST be a READER" I think to myself freakishly and pointlessly. But perhaps he won't be. Of such readjustments and recalibrations is parenthood made. Bah. I still wish he read though.

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  16. Jo, don't we all?

    NVG, I have SO been there. Makes you sick, doesn't it? Though I always comforted myself with the fact that boys and girls are different and really, once they start talking they never shut up, so let's make the most of the peace whilst it lasts... Those days are long gone now of course.

    Sharon, thanks for your words of wisdom, and keep the chocolate suggestions coming - I need SOMEONE to blame for my addiction...

    JW - I know just where you're coming from. I love to read. i would read to the exclusion of practically everything else, if I could. So yes, I want reading children too (would make it a lot easier to do it myself, for a start...)

    Misa, thanks for the visit and the kind comment

    Screamish, no, no I didn't. Thanks for the heads-up!

  17. On Christmas morning we dropped in on the neighbours with some presents and their eldest (& I think) was busy opening things. "Oh look Mummy! A set of Shakespeare!" as she ripped off the paper. Most of her colleagues are still on phonics and have probably never heard of Shakespeare. But in fairness it's not due to pushy parents. She seemed to be born knowing her letters. I'm just glad my two are well out of those early stages and I don't feel a need to compete. Too many other fronts for serious competition these days!

  18. Oops - that funny & thing should have said seven yrs old.

  19. The best way to help him to learn to read (other than doing his homework with him of course :)) is to read to him. LOTS. And repeat the same stories over and over (I know it is boring for you but he will love it!) Let him follow the words as you read them by moving your finger along as you go. If there is a word he does know let him read it. This way reading becomes interactive, he learns without realising and he feels success every time he reads one of the words correctly. If he doesn't get a word you expect him to, you read it and let him have a go at it the next time it comes up. This will help him keep his confidence while still hearing the word as he looks at it. This is pressure free so he will love it and will be reading on his own in no time! :)

  20. Happiness. Isn't that what you want for your child? To be happy. To love and be loved.

    You're so right to stomp on Mrs Competitve. She only gets in the way.

    I loved living in Scotland when my oldest was 5. All his contemporaries in England were starting school, and my friends, even the fiercely non-competitive ones, were all full of reading, writing, bla bla bla. He was still at pre-school, pottering about. He went to school a full year later, and now he's 11, do you think he's a year cleverer? Filled with a year's extra knowledge? Naaaah.

    And if you feel your competitive urge needs satisfying, you could always set up an inter-schools Chocolate Knowledge competition. I'm sure you could coach your kids through that with no trouble at all.

  21. That came out wrong. What I meant was, at 11, do you think my friends' kids are all a year cleverer? a year fuller of knowledge?...

    Blimey, with a mother like me, what hope does the poor child have anyway?

  22. GPM, thanks for clarifying and I'm assuming the Shakespeare was in the original olde English?

    Thanks MdP! Will do...

    Iota, don't worry, I got it. Now, about that chocolate competition. Do you think we should include sections on tempering the beans as well as straightforward manufacture?

  23. I've avoided a few Mrs Competitives in my time, I will never forget getting cornered by Mrs I-Have-A-Gifted-Child at a coffee morning once, funny how all the other mummies subtly slunk off as they saw her approaching. I just wasn't fast enough.

    So how did my kids get so competitive then? They both know exactly who is older or younger than them in the class and who is on which reading book, then they moan at me if anyone is ahead of them... I wish we'd never taught them how to count.

  24. I'd like to be in the position to be a competitive parent, by the way. But then I went to Parents' Evening last night. Sigh.


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