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!