Accomplishment

While I love thinking about the ways my kids and I are alike, I think it’s also important for adoptive families to celebrate the differences between parent(s) and child(ren). The similarities say, “You don’t need bloodline to share habits and traits. That’s part of being a real family!” And the differences say, “You don’t need to be exactly alike to be a real family!”

Plus, given the many ways my kids are different from me (examples: their crazy good looks, their hair, certainly their athletic ability), it gives us a lot more to talk about.

Here’s a big one: their drive to accomplishment.

Given that I’m not Protestant, it’s probably not surprising that I don’t have a Protestant work ethic. I don’t think there’s a Catholic work ethic, but if there is, I don’t have that, either. Were my father alive to read this, he would probably argue that I don’t have any work ethic at all.

My theory—I’m very good at theories—is this: I was one of “those kids” who got straight As without even trying. That was pretty much my claim to fame all through elementary and high school. But I can’t say I ever saw any connection between accomplishment and happiness. If anything, they were opposite: The more I accomplished, the more I was teased and isolated. A great report card can’t compete with daily taunts of “nerd” and “teacher’s pet.” Shoot: I didn’t even like most of my teachers.

Result: Being able to accomplish has never held much value to me.

So it’s been a little strange to raise two little people who are—I’m pretty sure this is the technical term—“accomplishment lunatics.” They want to do everything—and more to the point, they want to excel at everything they do. In one of those weird ways your kids provide a mirror-image of your reality, for his first two years of high school, Daveon (who didn’t, at the time, know about his father’s effortless academic success) consistently declared to anyone who would listen that he “needed” to get a 4.0 and was going to take a range of honors and AP classes to boot.

Daveon has many wonderful qualities. Being a 4.0 AP class-type student is not one of them.

Daveon also held on to the idea of being a major league baseball player long after his peers had let go of little kid fantasies. Never mind that he was an average player at best. Also never mind that he never picked up a bat or ball outside of his team’s scheduled practices and games. Not once. I believe he subscribed to the Harry Potter school of “magical accomplishment without effort.” Maybe that’s why he liked the books so much.

Mark, meanwhile, went a different route. For him, accomplishment equaled stacking as many activities as possible on top of one another. It seemed like any time he saw, or heard about, or possibly even dreamed about, someone doing something, it became the next thing he “had to ” try: skating and ultimate Frisbee and basketball and violin and knitting and capoeira and …

At one point in about fifth grade Mark’s schoolwork was getting kind of iffy, and his behavior was even worse. I told him that he had too much going on and needed to pick one sport and one musical/artistic activity. He burst into tears and was inconsolable, moaning, “I never thought I’d have to make such a hard decision.” If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching a Mark meltdown … let’s just say, if the skating thing doesn’t work out, he has a bright future in telenovelas.

I’ve never been really sure what to make about my kids’ feeling that they need to do it all, conquer it all. Maybe it’s a self-esteem thing? Delusions of grandeur? A little bit of both? Or maybe there’s a genetic component, which is interesting to me.

Fortunately—at least from my perspective—both kids have eased up somewhat on the “must do must win” viewpoint. Daveon took a few years off from baseball, and when he joined his college club team this year, he made it clear that it was just for the love of the game, whatever the results. What’s more, he actually snapped at me recently when he thought I was pushing him to get better grades. I suppose is some kind of victory—although, given his first term report card, it’s fair to say that maybe he’s gotten a little too comfortable with letting go of those 4.0 dreams.

Meanwhile, as reported earlier, Mark has settled into a routine of school/skating/lather/rinse/repeat ad infinitum that he plugs away at week by week, term by term. Based on how often he complains about not having any free time, I think we’re safely past the activity-stacking phase.

I’m not sure what it says about me as a parent that I consider it a success that my kids are happier doing less. I’m sure my father is rolling his eyes from the great beyond.

Next: Competition

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