Parent and toddler

February 2007

Dear Dave,

Thank you for telling me about your experiences with little Sam at the parent and toddler group. It sounds like you’re blending in well. (Or at least as well as any man can in a room full of women who don’t believe he can really exist. You’ll know you’ve cracked it when someone asks you what your husband does for a living.) I have to tell you, however, that the competitiveness you mention is unavoidable. The desire to come out on top always surfaces whenever any group of children is involved.

Forget the kids themselves – the parents are bound to succumb.

It starts innocently enough as Parent A checks that her kid is normal – that it’s not too odd for a child to only have had four teeth at a year, or to still be crawling at fifteen months. Parent B reassures. Her child only had six teeth at a year and only learnt to walk at fourteen months. Parent A isn’t reassured. Six teeth is more than four. How about speech? Can Child B say ‘tractor’? Ha, no! That’s a point back to Parent A. Parent B retaliates. How many blocks can Child A stack? Only twelve? Really? He hasn’t built a scale model of St Paul’s, complete with dome? Well, I’m sure he’ll learn. 3-1 to Parent B.

Then it escalates.

Before long, there are unconfirmed reports of advanced calculus and fluency in five distinct and unrelated languages. Meanwhile, the kids happily sit oblivious, chewing on brightly coloured bits of plastic.

It’s very strange. Still, Marie came out on top today. At playgroup she demonstrated her innate understanding of the world’s socio-economic system and put the knowledge into practice. She took the brightly coloured bits of plastic from the other children, chewed on them herself and then gave them to the nearest adult. In essence, she took from the little people, gave to the big people and had her own small nibble on the way. There’s a bright future ahead of her in the City. That or a beating by a mob of angry toddlers.

Never mind, at least she’ll probably grow out of it. When she’s eighteen, the chances are that she’ll have tie-dye clothes, peace symbols painted on her cheeks and a Communist boyfriend. They’ll go off to India together to hug trees. Nonetheless, I’ll still be playing the Progeny Edition of Top Trumps with the neighbours. (‘You call your kid a dropout? How many exams did he fail? Ha! And I bet his girlfriend’s only a Socialist…’)

As I said, the competitiveness is unavoidable. If you think you’re not doing it, that simply means you’re winning. The important thing is to love the kid even if you’re losing.

Oh and by the way, I’m glad to hear that Sam’s differentiation is coming along nicely but I have to tell you that my girl can already integrate trig functions.

And she can speak Swahili.

Yours, as ever, in a woman’s world,


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