Maddy dumped her bag of valentine’s on the floor and started going through them. One by one she handed them to me to read to her. Her face lit up at each name, telling me they were in her class. Obvious information, but information she need to share nonetheless. She was thrilled with the little treats. Pencils, curvy straws, candy. Her first foray into the world of Valentine’s day outside of the home was a success. Nothing sweeter than a pajama party, special snacks and a decorated paper lunch sack filled with valentine’s. As we worked our way through the pile it dawned on me that her Valentine’s were the only homemade Valentine’s in the class. The rest of the little paper cards had sports stars, cartoon characters and kittens. This had not occurred to Maddy. The paper hearts I cut out of pink, white and red construction paper were no different than the glossy printed cards from her classmates. The red flowers she stamped on each one were just like the perfectly illustrated cartoons. The pencils she attached were similar to the pencils some of her friends had given too.
She didn’t seem to notice they were different, but I did. And for some reason I’m stuck there, noticing. It has nothing to do with the fact that the perfect Valentine’s she worked so very hard on were homemade and the others weren’t. If she had pulled her Valentine’s from a box we bought at the store I would have called them perfect too. This has everything to do with that they were different.
I’m stuck thinking about why her sweet cards being different might affect me and not phase her. I’m immobilized with fear that someday she will notice these silly differences. Differences that I notice so quickly. I’m paralyzed with the thought of her learning this comparison game. Measuring herself. Trying to keep up. It reminds me of that year in elementary school when I begged my mom to spend the extra money and let me get special folders for school with pictures of a super popular boy band, even though I didn’t know much of anything about them. I was trying to keep up. Measure up. I spent that year working to hide those same folders from everyone, I learned too late that boy band wasn’t cool anymore. Out of style. I couldn’t keep up. I wish I could say that was the last time I noticed the differences.
Why do we (meaning people) feel the need to compare and compete? Fit in all while standing out?
And now I’m awake when I should be sleeping. Thinking about how I can teach her to be someone I’m not all the time. Someone who doesn’t need to carry a ruler around with her everywhere to make sure she is measuring up and fitting in. It has taken me too many years to get to where I am and I still find myself getting caught off guard by differences when I least expect it. I’m sure she’ll walk taller and feel stronger if I can just somehow teach her to skip the comparisons and just love herself all the time. Maybe I can do some learning along with her. This is where some of that evolving happens.