No comparison


Tape Measure by D Bickel

I looked at my daughter this morning with the sudden realization: There is no one in the world exactly like you. And there never will be.

My Rainbow Girl is seven and there is no one, no one, with her particular combination of smarts, sass, compassion, energy, artistry, and curiosity. No one laughs like her. No one has her smile. She is herself, her own self, in a way that exceeds all the mundane metaphors of uniqueness — snowflakes, and fingerprints, and flowers.

Most parents understand, on some level, that their children are unique individuals. We realize that they have their own interests, their own strengths and foibles, their own dreams and, as they grow, their own adventures. Even so, with all the truisms tucked in tight, we stumble into the age-old murky parent trap: comparison.

We construct our scales, not for weight and height, but for reading readiness, science fairs, and soccer prowess. We measure, sift, and sort, lining up our darlings beside their peers, wondering if we should add ballet, a math tutor, camp. The balance never comes out right. Of course, it can’t. We aren’t comparing sacks of flour, or even apples and oranges. People don’t fit  into equations. There is always something — much more than we can count or coddle — left over.

We shave off bits of our kids to make them fit. We shave off bits of ourselves as well — because, let’s face it, when we compare our offspring to the neighbor’s nieces, part of what we want to know is whether or not we measure up as parents. Have we done our job? Did we do enough? We have our own stakes in the settling of those scales.

Of course, there is altruism too. We want our children to thrive because we love them, because they are a part of us in a way so deep, so intrinsic, so visceral, that it is impossible, sometimes, to separate their hurts, or their triumphs, from our own. Still, they are themselves, ineluctable, separate, not us or ours in any way that truly counts.

When I remember to see rightly, to set aside the calibrating glasses, I understand that my children’s individuality is the great gift, the wonder, of parenting. It is easy to forget this when they’ve interrupted my writing fifteen times, when Boo Monkey screams so loudly that the wind chimes go off, when Rainbow Girl throws a tantrum over a canceled  play date or the injustices of math facts. When they won’t follow my will. It’s easy to forget the grace of it, the simple startling fact that I get to witness, everyday, these marvelous lives unfolding.

I fall into the same trap as a writer that I do as a parent.  I read interviews with authors who found agents or book deals with comparative ease. Comparative. There it is.

Like my children, I have my own path, and, no matter how I push or pull, it will never line up with someone else’s. I can learn from the advice and adventures of others, but, eventually, I still have to put one foot in front of the other, and those feet, well, they have to be mine. There’s no other way.

My writing is best when I own it. It might take me more or less time than Author X to get where I want to go — or end up someplace I haven’t imagined — but I won’t get anywhere by hanging from an unbalanced scale. I won’t succeed, whatever that means to me, by shaving off parts of myself to conform to someone else’s model, someone else’s journey. It’s funny that I need a reminder of something so simple, but I do: This is who I am, in all the glory and all the mess. There is no other way.

When Eleanor Brown, best-selling author of The Weird Sisters, sends out a new piece of writing, she simply says, “Bye, bye book, call when you’ve found work.” I love that. It creates a separation, a distance between who I am and what I do. It helps dismantle, disassemble the scale. It sets me back on track, my track. It frees me to create something else, something new.

Such moments of letting go remind me of Rainbow Girl, hair falling in a line across her face, writing a poem with fridge magnets, creating a life that is perfectly her own, one that I am privileged to share, but that is not me, not mine. It reminds me of Boo Monkey, dressed in a tiara and a smile, trusting me to let her be, to let her become not the neighbor’s nieces, but herself, her own unfathomable, graceful, and perfect self. It reminds me of the stories I have simmering, the writer that is me, the life that is mine — beyond comparison.

Does comparison ever plague you, as a parent or an artist? How do you dismantle the scales? How do you stick to your path? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

6 thoughts on “No comparison

  1. Ah, one of the hardest things of all. It is the cousin of the little voice that tells us we’re not good enough. No, I take that back. It is the identical twin of the little voice that tells us we’re not good enough. It is the one who sits on our other shoulder and says, “see. Look at them. Look at them.”

    And you hit the nail on the head with the fact that when we compare our children to other children, it is really us trying to see if we’ve measured up. How do I combat? I say my ohms and try to remember that I am absolutely the most perfect me and my children are absolutely the most perfect them. And that we are all on the path to our own happiness/enlightenment/whatever you want to call it. I have to share the adage my grandmother used to tell me. This came from her father, my great-grandfather. He used to tell her that if everyone hung their dirty laundry on the line and you could choose anyone’s dirty laundry, anyone’s at all, at the end of the day, everyone would take back their own dirty laundry. And my favorite quote of all time from Buddha. He said, “before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water. After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.” That brings me inspiration and solace when I’m looking outside myself.

    • Oh Heidi, I love your grandmother’s adage about the laundry. I would definitely keep my own, I’m sure. And the quote from the Buddha is so true and helpful. Thank you. Now I have more ammunition to use against those little shoulder voices!

  2. Lisa – this is really stunning writing. You have put into words feelings that I have all the time – as a parent and an artist. My daughter graduated from college in December and is still trying to find a full-time job in her field. To make a challenging situation more difficult – she is comparing herself to her brother, her cousins, her friends and finding herself wanting on her self-imposed “life” schedule. She isn’t where she wants to be yet and my heart breaks inside for her pain, that she is weighing herself and coming up short. I do my best to tell her that this life is her unique path but I know she will have to find the answers herself.

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in this post. I sit in awe of your talents.

    • Brenda, thanks so much for this comment. I know very well the feeling of having a “life schedule”, like a ticking calendar in your head. I hope your daughter finds her bliss — and peace along the way.

  3. It’s very hard not to compare, isn’t it? As a parent, I got over the comparison game a long time ago. It was too exhausting 😉 As a writer…I’m still working on it!

    Lovely thoughts here: Cherish your children, your individuality, and your talents.

  4. Pingback: Dumping the Zero-Sum: In praise of praise « Lisa Ahn

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