Dear Parent of a Perfect Child
My smile was genuine today when you told me how your son scored the best of all his class on his math exam. I was happy for him, and for you. My child forgot that today was the test, and wasn’t prepared. She got a C, even though she can do the problems in her head.
My congratulations were heartfelt today, when you stopped by my office to brag that your daughter had made Honor Roll for the fourth academic year and was on track to be awarded Student of the Year. My child has a locker filled with half-completed homework, a school bag filled with uneaten lunches because there wasn’t enough time, and a desk filled with beautiful drawings that have absolutely nothing to do with the assigned work.
I smiled a little less broadly today, when, in the course of catching up on our workload status, you casually mentioned the unprecedented internship with a major-name politico that your daughter landed, because your husband contributed heavily to his campaign. My daughter will be working at an entry level retail job this summer—I hope. If she remembers to submit her applications. And if not, I hope she cleans her room.
I forced my mouth upwards when I heard, yet again, about your prodigy, who has gotten a full-ride to a prestigious private school, made varsity letters on three sports teams, volunteers at a homeless shelter and fosters kittens and puppies while cooking gourmet meals for the family most evenings, because you are so busy at work. My child is disorganized, insecure, depressed and crippled by anxiety because she is not your child.
On the other hand, my child can create music, or dance, or art, or poetry at the drop of a hat. She can soothe an agitated animal with a kind word, and she can argue her intellectual position with the eloquence of a trained barrister.
So, please. Stop telling me how perfect your child is. You don’t see that your child is a binge-drinker because it’s the only way she can get your voice out of her head, telling her she has to do better. You don’t see that the sports injuries he got, playing too hard, so he wins a tiny bit of your approval have gotten him hooked on oxycodone and that heroin isn’t far behind because it’s cheaper and that paid internship didn’t come through like he told you it did. You don’t see that my child is sober, and thoughtful and kind, creative and smart, but a little lost, trying to find her way in a world where your perfect child fits in and my perfect child doesn’t.
Or, please. Continue. Tell me how many job offers your child has gotten or that they passed their Series 7 on their first attempt. And then look in their medicine cabinet, or their liquor cabinet. Or wait 10 years. But please don’t look at me with pity when I tell you something that my child did that isn’t your idea of perfect. Because perfection comes at a price.