Thursday, October 25, 2007


My kid is...well, slow.

Not mentally slow. Though I would love her anyway if she were. She's just veeeeery slow in her actions. To the point where I had started calling her "Turtle" (affectionately, of course). I just chalked it up to her perfectionistic nature and her intense attention to detail and didn't think it was a big deal. Until she started getting teased at school for it.

She came home with a note from the teacher yesterday saying she had been very slow to finish work and to follow directions yesterday and that she had gotten a "warning" for it. In our discussions about that, I learned that some of the students in her class have been teasing her about being slow and about being the last to finish her coloring and the last in lunch and recess lines and the last in their little races. Awwww. Somehow, me calling her "Turtle" doesn't seem as cute anymore.

The name of choice among the little kindergarten bullies in her class is "slowpoke." On the surface, it doesn't seem too bad, does it? They could be calling her "booger nose" or "big stupid dummy-head" or any number of kiddie insults. But I hate having my kid associated with any variation of the label, "slow." It has bad connotations. Growing up, I always heard that my mentally disabled aunt was "a slow learner." The kids in the special education program were the "slow kids." And after I became a teacher, I would hear teachers describe in whisperey tones that this student or that student was "a little slow." I'm having a hard time with it, y'all.

There is nothing wrong with Ainsley's brain. She can read a little already, she has a fantastic memory (which I sometime wish she didn't have when I think about the unflattering tell-all memoir she could write about our little family someday) and she picks up on concepts quickly. Her school work comes back to us with the coveted "check-plus" on most of it. The problem is that it's taking her, like, hours to get it in to the teacher for that check-plus.

The temptation is to rush her. I, too, have gotten very frustrated with the length of time it takes her to do most anything. If I'm aiming to walk out the door at 4:00, I have to rev Ainsley's engines at 3:45 to get shoes on, bathroom duties taken care of, coat on, etc. by "go" time and still find myself hovering over her and counting down from 10 to move her along. She's just never in much of a hurry. If she dumps everything out of one of her toy baskets looking for something, I have to give myself a time-out and walk into the other room while she puts everything back; as I watch her mosey through the task, picking up one item at a time and examining it before putting it back, I find myself wanting to rush in and take over just to by-God get it done. And if her homework involves coloring something, well, I just have to get her comfortable, 'cause it's gonna take a while. She can't just color the sky blue; she has to do rainbow stripes and use every color in her Crayola caddy. Nobody can wear just a solid-colored shirt; she has to make polka-dots or patterns. "Just good enough" isn't good enough.

Do I really want to squelch that? On the one hand, what I affectionately call "farting around" on everyday tasks like putting things away, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, and getting in line doesn't fit with school rules. She's got to do a better job of staying focused and try to learn to do things with urgency (a difficult task for a kid who, at age 2, was taking 45 minutes some days to get through an entire bowl of cereal.) But with some of these things she takes her time on, coloring pictures and writing her lower-case letters and creating works of art from dried leaves and glue, I don't want to rush her. The problem there doesn't seem to be a lack of attention; in fact, it seems she's giving these tasks too much attention. And who am I to tell a kid she's trying too hard to do a good job on an assignment? Shouldn't I be fostering attention to detail and a healthy dose of perfectionism?

As I well know, perfectionism can go too far. As a kid, I used to be reduced to tears if the seams on my socks didn't fall in a perfectly straight and even line across my toes. As an adult, I've been known to go behind my husband and re-do a household task, like hanging a picture or wiping down the stove, in a hopeless quest for scientifically precise parallel lines or an absolutely streak-free shine. Some mornings I spend 5 minutes cleaning my glasses in an effort to remove every molecule of dust. I know this is a problem. I am getting better at the idea that sometimes you just slap some paint on some paper and call it a day.

So for now, we will work on turning my Turtle into a Speedy Gonzales in the realms of shoe-tying, direction-following, and line-gathering. I'm holding off, though, on pushing her to rush her way through her every assignment. How can I tell my own students to take their time and do it right if I am pressuring Ainsley to just color everything red and get it over with at home?

After all, the turle did beat the rabbit in the famous fable, and the moral was that slow and steady wins the race. If slow and steady is how my kid rolls, especially when she turns 16 and starts driving, I am absolutely OK with that.

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