The comparison game
When you compare your kids’ writing output to what your neighbors’ kids do in school, you literally change the felt-sense atmosphere of your home. You dial up anxiety, urgency, and haphazard (spray it with a shot gun) tactics for “catching up” or “competing.” It’s like inviting depression in for tea, only when it arrives, it adds salt and soured milk.
Yes, your neighbors’ kids have been producing book reports and paragraphs about how much they love spaghetti and autumn leaves for months now. These kids are trained to start with a topic sentence based (often) on a topic the teacher selects.
The young writers must sit in hard chairs and write (right now!) without much help, dialog, or support. They have lines to fill and specifications for what to put on those lines. They get to the task of puzzle solving.
Occasionally they will freewrite a bit or brain map. Occasionally they do the work at home, by themselves, in a bedroom when they are tired and want to watch TV.
They will turn in writing assignments, and a teacher will sit in front of her favorite sitcom and read them enough to give them a grade. Her handwritten, red ink comments will be sincere, but also removed from the moment of writing and thus, not useful to the student in the end, who glances at the feedback but is already in a new non-writing moment.
By the end of the year, a folder of writing products will follow the child home. Some of these children will toss those folders on the backyard summer bonfire (our neighbors ritualized this activity each summer).
None of them will have eaten brownies while writing.
Your kids, by contrast, will freewrite oodles of pages with lots of parenthetical statements and remarks about how the process of writing feels (“I’m stuck” and “I hate this!” and “I wish I could play Mario Kart”). They will ask you to jot down their “too busy” thoughts. They will add a sentence at another time. They will hem and haw and not want to write.
So you’ll read books to them and recite poetry over scones and then one day, all of you will get the Best Writing Idea Ever. In you’ll go, the deep end of the pool, writing, revising, laughing, talking, clipping and pasting. The final result is one you hold in your hands and admire. That one project, that one happily executed, not necessarily well-planned project will be a source of pride and joy. You’ll all relish “having written.”
Then nothing. Nothing. Not a single word of writing for a desert of weeks at a time, maybe even months. The recovery from success feels like the line to Space Mountain. It moves so slowly and the eventual ride begins to seem absurdly unimportant for all that waiting.
But then, you arrive! At the next inspired writing excursion! Off you go again! The talking, writing, figuring out, adding, deleting, laughing, wondering if there is some photo to go with it, illustrating, showing it to Dad, showing it to Mom.
Maybe at the end of the year you’ll have 3-4 writing products and a slew of freewrites, and even more pages of copywork and dictation. But these you do actually have. And no one will burn them or toss them in the round file. You’ll hold onto them for years to come, long after your kids lose interest.
When your young ones become college kids, they will write differently than their peers and their college professors will notice. They’ll be intrigued—because the writing won’t be the cookie cutter formula writing so many of their students produce.
Don’t compare. Even though it feels like you’re behind, you are actually…ahead.
My motto: Keep going!
Cross-posted on facebook.