Thursday, February 25, 2010

Freedom from Expectations

I was always brilliant in Maths. While others struggled with the subject, it came almost intuitively to me. Careless mistakes ensured that I rarely maxed the subject in the exams, but I couldn’t care less because I was too busy seeking out new problems to solve. Maths, to me, was not the burden that it seems to be for most people- it was a living breathing entity, one that I was completely in love with and couldn’t do without.
I was also quite a bit of a snob. For a very long time, I recognized only two categories of people- those who were good in Maths and those who were not. And I felt no need to waste my time on the latter category, because I felt they lacked even basic intelligence.

I started playing number games with my son long before his first birthday. While other mothers sang lullabies, I chanted series of prime and ordinal numbers. While feeding him, I would place the bites in numerical patters, and constantly change the pattern as the number diminished.
I was looking for that one sign that would show me he was gifted, and while waiting, I continued stimulating his mathematical side as best as I could. But that spark I was looking for remained elusive. If anything, he was a little behind his peers. While his classmates were counting in decreasing in order, he struggled with the normal counting up. Even though I did not want to admit it even to myself, he relied on pure guesswork to answer even basic questions of what comes before or after a number.
To say that I was disappointed in my son, could qualify as candidate for the understatement of the decade. I couldn’t understand how ‘my’ son could be so poor in subject which I considered the very basic test of intelligence.
I blamed myself- maybe there was something I should have done to boost my son’s numerical skills that I totally missed out on. I blamed my son- if even with a teacher as good as me, he could fare so poorly in Maths, there must be something dreadfully lacking in him. I even blamed fate- was it not ironical that all those dumb mothers had kids who were better in Maths than a brilliant person like me who put in so much effort.
But no amount of apportioning blame could take away from the fact that my son was far from gifted numerically, and that bugged the hell out of me. Without Maths, what could my son aspire to do? Wouldn’t most doors be banged shut on his face if he lacked that basic knowledge?

I was disappointed beyond belief. But gradually I came to accept that my son would never be my intellectual equal as far as numerical abilities were concerned. Once I accepted that, I started noticing other things.

My son could use words in ways I never thought possible for a child of his age. When he was in a mood, he could draw beautifully. He loved running. And he had a well honed sense of humour. He may not be gifted numerically, but his other gifts more than made up. He may not become a scientist, an engineer or a chartered accountant, but I realised that there are many other avenues open for him.
With acceptance, I also started noticing other things about my son. He is compassionate and generous. He is loving and loyal to his friends. He goes out of his way to take care of babies and baby animals. He is a much better human being than I have ever been. Should any mother ask for more?
It was only when I freed myself from the arbitrary expectations I had from my son that I could see him for the wonderful person he is. And I am glad I did.
Though I do wish he were a little better at Maths!


Ann Elle Altman said...

I'm so touched by your story. I love numbers myself and base my mystery on codes because of it and it saddens me that my son does not like numbers like I do. But, my son, who's 14 does have a gift in other avenues. I'm glad you reminded me of this fact.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those people who are hopeless at Maths, but luckily, I had other gifts that time gently uncovered.

So glad that you can see your son for who he is, rather than for whom you would rather he became... no easy feat for us parents!

Watery Tart said...

Natasha, my twin--here we are again. Thing 1 did fine with the counting, because that is 'song-like' but she doesn't think numerically AT ALL... doesn't see numbers as the kind of entity they are--and she has struggled since probably 2nd grade with it. But make no mistake--she will rule the world one day. My son got the math thing... and life will always be easier for him because there are more options, but it is her gifts that will soar. They are things that can't be taught.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

It’s tough, but the best thing we can do for our kids is to let them be who they are. I think they all shine in some special unique way. Your little guy sounds very special and who knows, he may surprise you with his Math skills one of these days, too.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Rayna -- I enjoy all of your posts so much. Please stop by my blog when you have time. I have an award for you...

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Ann - sometimes I wonder if it is in the nature of things for mothers who love numbers to have kids who don't particularly like them.

@ Fiona - you know, to me it was incomprehensible that anyone could be hopeless in Maths. But having known my son, I realise there are many people who are, and it has nothing to do with lack of diligence.

@ Tami - spot on. Wonder how our relations and relationships are so similar too! Oh yes, your Thing 1 will rule the world- she has that extra something about her. My Thing 1 may just end up becoming a writer - not a spinner of yarns like his mother, but a real writer.

@ Jane - I definitely hope so. But I guess the first parenting lesson to learn is to accept kids for what they are

@ Patricia - thank you so much for the award.

Jay said...

Don't blame yourself. Each one of us has an area which we are not so good at. Maybe your son is good in something else. Who knows he can excel in different area other than Math.
How to become a police officer

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Jay - He is a kind human being, and I know that is the most important thing in the world. But somehow, the heart aches for more.
Tell me I am greedy, I know I am.


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