My daughter came home the other day with paperwork for her class science fair. I had a panic attack. Not a full-on, Xanax-requiring panic attack, but serious panic nonetheless. The cause, I realized, was the collision of two worlds, two versions of myself – Kid Me and Parent Me. I hate it when that happens. Usually it’s a sign of impending growth and self-awareness and all that good stuff, but mostly it’s just painful and torturous to wade through all the crap.
Science fairs as a kid were a BIG deal. Like stop-the-world BIG. My dad was a scientist of sorts so I understand the emphasis on hypotheses and controls. I plan on teaching my daughter the same things. But science fairs for the Kid Me were the perfect illustration of my parents’ emphasis on others’ opinions. It was a very public display of the excellence of Kid Me, and perhaps even more importantly, the excellence of my parents in helping me with the project.
I should note that my parents weren’t the ones to do all the work and submit a project that was clearly an adult’s attempt to make their kids look better. My dad especially emphasized the value in doing your own work. And yet…he was always there to help, and to help make it better. Who wants to see a science fair poster with crooked writing? No one…and mom was an expert in drawing straight lines with a ruler. Will anyone be able to interpret a kid’s drawing of a bird? Perhaps not…so dad could draw the bird and I could color it in. Even as I write this, I wonder if their help was really so bad…but then I remember the panic I felt in my kitchen the other day as I thought about doing a project with my daughter.
If my project was anything less than perfect, it was a reflection on me, yes, but more so a reflection on my parents. And that was something they couldn’t bear. So they helped, and helped, and helped some more until sure, it was my work but it was PERFECT. Perfect in a way that even spectacular Kid Me couldn’t make it – being a kid and all. One consequence was that I learned no accountability. If I procrastinated (ok, fine, there’s no “if”)… Every time that I procrastinated, mom and dad were there to jump in and save the day. Whether it was an experiment that should have been started earlier, or the fact that I still needed poster board, mom and dad would rescue the project in order to make sure it was perfect. They’d be pissed about it, sure, but they didn’t make me suffer any natural consequences – because they couldn’t bear the reflection on them.
And with all of that in my head, I read about my daughter’s science fair and wanted to be swallowed up by a hole in the ground. Thankfully my husband didn’t have this reaction, which is why he could nonchalantly tell me that he will be out of town the weekend before the project is due (!!!!!!). He has own versions of Kid Him vs. Parent Him, but this was not one of his triggers. So I’ll try to take a different approach with this project. I’ll try to be okay with crooked writing and drawings that look nothing like they should. I’ll try to make this a learning project for my daughter and not a message about how things have to be perfect. I’ll try to teach her about doing her best and not worrying about others’ opinions of her. And I’ll try to do it with a smile on my face and love in my heart.