Friday, May 6, 2016

The Human Fear of Average

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with my eleven-year-old. In their school, they have a behavior system. Everyone starts on green and they can “clip up” for good behavior or “clip down” for bad behavior. And every day, without fail, the first thing my children do when they get in the car after school, is give me the clip recap of the day. They tell me what color they ended on and then they tell me some story about so and so who is always clipping up to red, which essentially inducts them into the Royal Family, seventh in line to the throne I think, and then they tell me about that one kid who ended on purple. PURPLE! And can they please take some rotten produce to school tomorrow to hurl at all the other kids who landed on purple? There will be a public flogging in the square during recess. And every day (except for three days this school year), my son hangs his head as he tells me that he stayed on green…again. And every day I tell him about how he is such a great kid and that no clip chart can tell him his value and all that other mom-stuff we spout to our kids. It doesn’t help. Every day he is just as dejected and frustrated because, in spite of his efforts to be exceptional, he ends each school day the way he started it, as an average kid.

This has all made me start to really think about how we view the average in our society, particularly with the element of social media making our lives so public. We post when our children make the Honor Roll. And we might even post if our child is diagnosed with a developmental delay or a learning disability because it’s okay for your child to be unexceptional if there is a medical reason (for the record, I think it’s incredible that we are breaking the stigma on things like ADHD and Autism and that we are having open, honest conversations about the way we treat childhood development, absolutely incredible). We do not, however, typically post that our child made mostly B’s and C’s on their report card. We share pictures of the pan-seared tilapia with bruschetta made from our organic-garden-grown tomatoes, and we will share pictures of the grilled cheese and baby carrots because #survivalmode #nailedit. What we don’t do is post pictures of the spaghetti or the oven pizza or the chicken and rice. Average is not funny or inspiring or special. In our publicly viewed lives we are either running for two hours a day or we are binging on Netflix, either inspiring the masses, or making a joke out of the opposite, but we are rarely, if ever, candid about our very average lives.

Why are we so scared of the average? Why are we envious of the name-brand hand bag that cost the same as our groceries for the month or the major steal found at a thrift store but equally disenchanted by the JC Penney hand bag purchased at 30% off? It’s either designer, thrifty or...what else is there?

This is especially true when it comes to our children.  It starts when they’re babies. By show of hands, who has heard the words, “oh he is in the 95% for his height and the 97% for his weight”, either from your own mouth or the mouth of another mother? Yep, that’s everyone. Now how many have ever heard, “oh she’s in the 35% for height and 40% for weight”? Bueller? Bueller? Not too many hands there. Why? Because even how much your four-month-old weighs is now either exceptional or not noteworthy. How many thigh rolls your precious baby has been able to accumulate in his short life is now the measure of whether or not he’s special or just normal. 

And it only gets worse from there. Every day someone’s child:

·         Walked at eight months
·         Knew their alphabet at one
·         Read “War and Peace” in second grade…and loved it
·         Was delighted with the kale and beet smoothie they were fed (Seriously, does this really count as impressive? Yesterday my kid ate grass and a booger so I’m not sure their palates are really that refined.)
·         Decided they wanted to donate all their allowance to help the needy
·         Is gifted
·         Is athletic
·         Is practically perfect in every way

Is it wrong that we should celebrate these victories, particularly in public forums? No, I don’t think so. Is it wrong that we should make light of the times when we totally drop the ball as parents? No, I think that’s okay too. What worries me is that we are so flippant about everything in between, as if it doesn’t hold any value. What does it teach our children that we are only celebrating the extremes and not relishing in the small but significant ups and downs or day-to-day living? Our children come home feeling like sub-par people because they stayed on green all day, forgetting about the jokes they shared with friends at lunchtime, the awesome thing that happens to plant cells when exposed to sunlight, the funny voices their library teacher used when she read to them. Later they feel like failures if they don’t make straight A’s or miss a note in their piano recital. As adults, we are all winning or failing, but never passing.

But, in reality, shouldn’t we be celebrating the average? Isn’t there a great sense of comradery in sharing the middle ground? Isn’t that where most of us are? Most of us aren’t going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Most of our kids won’t either. In fact, most of our kids will end up being perfectly wonderful, perfectly average human beings. Most of our kids will be potty-trained by the age of four, able to puke in a bucket by seven and capable of pushing a lawn mower by eleven and honestly, ISN’T THAT VICTORY ENOUGH?!?!

I hope I can teach my children that there is nothing wrong with living the average life. There is nothing shameful or boring about finishing the race somewhere in the middle. I hope I can show them that they don’t have to be the Prince or the Pauper to be important, that just because they aren’t the ones that everyone reads about, doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the story. More than anything, I want them to realize that being compassionate, forgiving, generous and genuine, filling their lives with faith and goodness, choosing love over anger and gratitude over jealousy, that is what will turn their ordinary lives into extraordinary ones. That is how the average become the exceptional. 

And their mama loves them. I want them to know that most of all. 


Jennifer Jensen said...

Puke in a bucket by age 7 - too funny! I think you're right, though. We celebrate everything BUT being part of the crowd. Even if it doesn't come from someone else, there is a yearning in us to be someone special. But I'll bet you're awesome in celebrating the special things about your kids - the jokes and hugs and love of reading and whatever else.

I took a picture just for you - my left over spaghetti sauce from last night - but I can't paste it in here. I'm very average with my tricky internet skills!

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