Our youngest child Peter has always been a marvel at building with blocks, train tracks, vegetables, paper cups, and anything else he can get his hands on.
This may be nothing special in most families, but it means he stands out in our family of klutzes.
About four years ago Tom, our oldest, was in panic after seeing another amazing creation his baby brother made with his train tracks.
“Mom, do you think it’s possible Peter was switched at birth?” He said this with a completely straight face. He was really worried.
“No honey, he wasn’t switched at birth.”
Though as I was looking at the bridges, buildings, and complex track configurations my then five-year old created I could see why he was worried.
Poor Tom. He’s been able to name every president since he was four years old. You could give him the year you were born, and he could tell you who was in office. (Don’t think I didn’t pull out that party trick every chance I got.)
He knows every Beatles song ever recorded. In fact he’s a wiz at rock-and-roll history. He can outsmart his father over what baseball team won the World Series or what football team won the Super Bowl in any given year.
But the poor thing couldn’t build a tower if his life depended on it. He has the hardest time with fine motor skills. Just like Joe and I do.
“The apple does not fall far from the trees,” is an expression I use whenever I write a note to one of the kids’ teachers.
I must confess Peter’s fine motor ability didn’t just confuse Tom. It stuns me, too. I was unaccustomed to having a kid whose talents were so foreign to his parentage.
He’s my son though. He demonstrated this a few minutes later that same day.
“Peter, what is wrong? Why are you so upset?” I say as I’m running down the stairs, afraid that he fell or that his brother or sister were on top of him “playing.”
“We did nothing to him,” Thing One and Thing Two said as I reached the bottom of the stairs.
“He has this whole city built, and he couldn’t get one little piece to fit and he completely lost it,” Tom said.
“Well, you see honey, he’s my child!” was my somewhat relieved response.
I may not be able to build, but I can certainly relate to at least wanting to lose it when something I’ve been working on doesn’t go the way I want it to. My parents love to recall stories of how I would rip up a picture if I didn’t think it was just right.
Perfectionism has always been my middle name. As it is for Peter.
Growing up I always felt like a misfit. I was hoping that my kids would possess traits I lacked. My thinking was that if my children could run fast, play ball, or dance well, surely their lives would go smoothly.
I certainly hoped that my poor test taking and dyslexia would skip a generation or two.
Joe got a 750 on his math SAT. I thought this would ensure that at least one of the kids wouldn’t struggle in school the way I did. Or at least be a good test taker.
This theory has proved faulty.
All three of our children have had to deal with different learning issues.
Tom has inherited my dyslexia and poor coordination. Thankfully he did get Joe’s gift for retaining facts. And we both take credit for his love of learning and exploring the world.
Although Lizzy’s special needs have her facing challenges I never had to deal with, she did get my gift of perseverance. She works so hard at everything. And she accomplishes things everyday that at times we feared were impossible.
She also has a wonderful personality and an infectious smile, which I‘m totally taking credit for.
Then there’s my builder. He doesn’t have the same academic challenges that Tom has. Though language has always been so much harder for him than it ever was for me or my first born, I’ve always been able to call up words to express what I’m feeling. Peter has a much harder time at this.
All three of our kids are happy, amazing people with a talent of winning over anyone they meet. I’m taking credit for this too!
As a parent, I hoped my kids would have an easier time dealing with the world than I did. I didn’t want to see them struggle with the simplest tasks. I didn’t want them to ever feel they were put on the wrong planet like I often did when I was growing up.
In my almost 16 years of motherhood, I’m learning almost on a daily basis that being a parent isn’t about righting the wrongs of my childhood. Or, providing a struggle-free existence. It’s about teaching my kids to handle that which comes their way with the talents they possess.
I may not be able to build with blocks to save my life, but I’ve learned that I’m really good at building metaphorical bridges to navigate the world successfully. And that’s one skill I can pass on to my children.
This piece is an updated version of an essay that was published on the Dishwasher March 6, 2011, under the title, Mommy’s Little Builder