First Offspring brought home his results from the NAPLAN tests recently. NAPLAN is a series of standardised tests which are conducted in Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine, and tests numeracy and literacy. I expected First Offspring to do OK, since he seems to have the basics of reading, spelling and writing, and his maths has really taken off this year. And he did do OK. I’ll admit I don’t place that much importance on standarised tests as it’s one test on one day and there’s a lot more to teaching and learning. So I praised First Offspring for doing well in the tests and said that we were happy that he’d tried really hard. But what made me smile was his result for ‘Grammar and Punctuation’, where he scored his highest mark, right at the top of the scale.
‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ I laughed to the Handsome Sidekick. ‘Trust the editor’s Offspring to do well in that section.’
Of course, it’s less to do with how much editory pedantry he’s inherited from me, and more to do with reading, and the fact that the rules of grammar and punctuation at this stage are logical and constant. So First Offspring, having the kind of mind to which this appeals, does well in that. Perhaps it is something to do with what he’s inherited from me, or from the Handsome Sidekick. Perhaps it’s also due to the way they teach reading at his school. Perhaps it’s a combination of many things. But as I was in the kitchen in the quiet of the late evening, putting together the ingredients for making bread, I thought about how easy it is to pigeonhole children, in terms of their similarities and differences to their parents, their other relatives, and each other.
Having four Offspring is interesting, not least because I’m never sure if we’ll all have matching socks or they’ll head out the door with the right size school shirt. I’m always amazed at how four individuals with the same genetic makeup can be so different. Is it due to the changes in our genes–the Handsome Sidekick’s and my own–as we aged? Is it because the relationship between them and us changes, every time another sibling is added? Is it because our parenting changes as we get more experienced and/or less patient and/or more tired? Is it all of those things, or none of them?
Of course, the genes are a big factor, but no matter how much our Offspring resemble us, it’s also important to consider that they’re growing up in a very different environment to either the Handsome Sidekick or myself. Each has three siblings close in age, with parents who work from home. They live in a country town near the coast, and go to a school which is different in size and composition from the ones we attended. Sure, they’re in the same state of Australia as I’ve spent almost all my life, but our childhoods are very different.
It’s amusing, wonderful, frustrating and infuriating to see your personality traits reflected back at you, and it’s so easy to decide that you ‘know’ where they’re getting their disregard for timekeeping, or their talent for messiness, or their defiance of authority. But while they’re obviously going to inherit some of those less desirable aspects (and apparently pick up even more of them by watching us, more’s the pity), I wonder how worthwhile it is to focus on whom they most resemble?
We always imagine (I assume), going into parenting, that we’ll try to do better than our parents. At our best, we try to analyse our habits and think critically about how we can pass on the best of us to our children. But I know I’m not the only person who has caught herself thinking, ‘oh, I sound just like my mother/father’. And we’re human, after all. As much as we can be self-aware, we do fall into the same patterns, we follow instincts. We might not always have the composure or the time to consider if our actions are the best. We just do our best.
Deciding that someone is ‘like x’ means that it’s easy then to overlook all the other idiosyncracies which make up the person, and which make them different from ‘x’. First Offspring is like me in the way that he gets emotional and irrational when he’s hungry, and needs to eat regularly. But there’s a lot more to him than that, and even though I can recognise that aspect of him, I see others which are not like me, and not necessarily like the Handsome Sidekick, but they are just First Offspring. Second Offspring comes across as outspoken, a born performer, but as she has got older, I realise that some of that may just be an act, and her personality is more like my own–sociable and outgoing when needed, but far more content to be with a few select people than in a large group. Yet when she was younger, I could see the personalities of other family members in hers. Now I wonder if I were too quick to label her in that way.
It’s not that dangerous to pick up on traits and draw conclusions about which Offspring remind us of which relatives (or ourselves), given that I’m not automatically going to assume they’ll turn out just like Cousin Whoever or Uncle So-and-So. I’m aware that simply the fact that they have genes from the Handsome Sidekick and me, and that they’re growing up with us, in this time and this environment and not anywhere else, will make a huge difference to how they turn out. But I do think that drawing conclusions about whom our Offspring resemble stops me from keeping an open mind about how they might react to events or how they might be feeling. It’s been a bit of a wake-up call to consider that I should focus less on whom our Offspring are like, and more on who they are.