I've been moving through books rather fast lately, likely due to having almost two weeks off of school and I picked up an old book I've started reading twice before and then abandoned. The book is called The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins and while it is not a difficult read, it isn't the easiest style for me. That isn't the reason I've abandoned it twice before though, at least I don't think it is. You see I grew up an overachiever and I still am highly competitive in work and academics. I had a 4.0 this summer and a 105% in my accounting class. While, having a daughter has brought on comparing her to other children, but I've vowed not to give her the same experience I had as a child.
Yes, we read to her a lot and we had instilled in her a love of books before her first birthday. However, when other parents with similar aged children tell me all the things their child can do that mine cannot, I just ignore it. She will get there when she is ready is a household favorite saying. Sure your child knows all the animal sounds or babbles non-stop and you call that talking, but based on development Abby is still ahead of the curb without those things. She counts to 4 and has been counting since around 9-12 months. She started crawling later than other children, but started walking along things within hours of her learning to crawl. She never says mama and refers to be as a baba, but she say's "bye, see you" and took to sign language well before she could say anything at all. It's in her time and for now that is ok, for now she's still on par with where the doctors want her. I don't feel the need to compare her to every other child out there, I don't want her to feel the pressure I felt as a child...not to the level I did.
I grew up spending my spare time reading and going to the local library. I loved the neighborhood library in New Orleans best, a large two story building full of wonderful books and stories, often with elements I could not fully comprehend, but none the less loved dearly. I'm not sure where my mother's desire to push me came from, perhaps it was so she could tell others how good of a job she was doing based on my academics. I recall making good grades as a child, reading before kindergarten and my mother’s idea of a children’s book being a child encyclopedia. Luckily, I was always interested in learning more. My parents chose not to let me skip kindergarten, which was likely for the best.
I was never allowed to have anything other than a perfect grade. If my report came back with needs improvement I was staying up to work on things and getting up early. When I was in third grade, my brothers were toddlers and my mother would make me do hooked on phonics lessons with them. The youngest was still in a crib and the other was close enough in age that people often thought they were twins. Yet, here I was trying to teach them to read and count! I should have known then that there was a problem, but I didn't and by the time I went away to school my mother's desires for me to be an overachiever had set in.
In boarding school I was the person that stayed upstairs and studied until dark. I was slower at my homework because I was very thorough, and honestly I wasn't in love with boarding school yet so I just wanted time to myself and you only got that if you were actively studying. The headmaster’s daughter became a friend of mine and often when we had to highlight notes in our books she would copy me, and others would copy her. I was so afraid of getting in trouble I would go back and highlight more things, which resulted in being told to do mine more like she does hers. The irony of her work being my original was not lost on me, but I stayed quiet and kept my head down and promised to do better.
I think boarding school was the start of the change for me, the point where my mother's demands for me only make A's had taken a strong hold and the realization that others will use you to get ahead was starting to manifest. I withdrew from others, I kept to myself and I just studied all day and night. I would try to fit in and do what everyone else did, but I was different and it became more obvious the longer I was there. I had toys and wasn't allowed to. Most days I would stay inside all night and study or do chores, instead of playing outside. I would get checked out by my grandparents for the weekends and holidays and that was unheard of among other kids. I was different, yet constantly compared to everyone else there. My mother only wanted to hear how great we were doing, and since she wasn't actually raising us her desire for us to be performing well seemed to only grow.
When I left campus and moved back in with my mother, she had a new life and I didn't really know where to fit in there either. She told me before picking us up that she was married now and that we were living in a new house in New Orleans and that we better be on our best behavior at all times. Sadly, his children were never on their best behavior and none of us wanted to be in this new family. I started home schooling until the following term, when I went to public school and became one of only five white students in the school. At boarding school there was one "colored" girl and boy, and now my new step-brother and I were two of the five non-black kids. In boarding school I had learned about people who weren't white from American Girl books, and nothing really held true in current day. Not only did you not say colored anymore, but you also didn't talk about the history involved and you rarely mingled together.
Based on my grades and description of the courses I was taking I was moved from the middle of 5th grade to the middle of 7th grade. That was a nice leap, which also meant I was younger and smaller than everyone else. Now with more to catch up on I spent all night studying and by the following year I was in every club except teen outreach (I was not 13 and that was the minimum age), I had spent my summer reading all the books and writing a new book report each month for my mother. I doubt she even read them, I'm fairly certain she didn't and at one point said so part way through one. The fact that I didn't get a sore butt after that almost confirms my belief. I made student of the year, I won several medals at graduation and had money for college through a LEAP (Louisiana Engineering Advancement Program) Science Fair I had won. I spent the summer before high school attending the University of New Orleans and excelled there, even though I was only 12. In junior high I was known as "white girl" and at UNO I was known as the "little girl" and a "nerd" because I would go well past the requirements for an assignment in hopes that it'd be praised. It almost never was.
For high school I had failed the entrance exam for Benjamin Franklin High School, although I'd later date a boy from here who had a similar drive to excel, which meant my mother loved him more than anyone I'd date for the rest of high school. My mother told me that I only failed one section by a few points, and my step brother failed a different section. "Together we have one stupid child and a smart one. Sadly we can't just combine that two of you, so we have two stupid children instead," is what they would say to us. I'd start high school a month and a half after turn thirteen and attend a magnet school that was geared towards more "gifted" children with foreign language options like Japanese in addition to the standard French and Spanish. It was a school where they looked at your transcripts to see if they'd let you in.
I was so uptight by high school that I would yell at other students who would talk in chemistry because I needed to learn everything perfectly and failure was not an option. I took an advanced geometry as a freshman, where I even made a quilt to match the pattern I had drawn up for an assignment. I took an English course that covered classics I couldn't yet comprehend. I joined Thespians and did Shakespearian plays that I didn't understand the language for. I pushed myself and stayed up all night doing homework to appease my mother. By the time I was at my third high school, due to several moves, I was starting to crack under pressure. I was only a sophomore and we had lived in two towns and we were building a house in a third. I showed up to school with no idea where my courses were or what they were. I was in Algebra 2, but had not had Algebra 1. I'd switch to the freshman math course, which infuriated my mother, but I'd do well this first year.
I joined clubs my second year there, and tried my best to fit in. Somewhere in my last half of high school I broke under pressure. I was in chess club, honor choir, color guard, ecology club, the tech academy, and In Medias Res, a literary/poetry club. I was probably in other clubs that I cannot recall, and I did the senior musical, to top it off! I was in a ton of things and I wanted to do everything, but my grades were slipping a bit. I was no longer a perfect A student and that was constantly a problem at home. I nearly missed my PSAT exams because my mother required I clean the entire house before going, as a punishment for not having a perfect 4.0 or AP classes. She also refused to take me to a concert I was supposed to perform in as a large part of my grade. My choir instructor later wrote me a card senior year saying she never understood how much I went through until the end of the year after dealing with my mother. She said she had a lot of respect for me after one too many phone calls from my mother about why I cannot answer my cell phone when I'm on stage.
I failed the second semester of Spanish 2 and I refused to retake the course. Not taking two full years of foreign language would mean you couldn't go to college for free using TOPS, and I told my counselor I did not care because I was going to move nearly 1,000 miles away and never come back. I failed a test in a political science class and I just burst out laughing. My then boyfriend thought it was the strangest thing, because I was normally such a perfectionist. I passed my final exam in Physics just enough to get a passing grade that would ensure I could get into an out of state college. I failed Trig and honestly slept through so much of class that I am not sure why I wasn't kicked out. I gave up, I was broken. I was pressured to the point that I did well under pressure, I almost thrived under it. However, I hated my mother so much that all I cared about was getting away. I just needed to do enough to get away, but I was tired of putting in the time and effort to be perfect when it was never enough.
My mom was too hard on me, in every way imaginable, and I know that now. Once I left home I was disowned, until I was enrolling in a private college that was nearly as expensive as Harvard. That was one of the worst choices I'd ever make, but that's a different story. I had learned to strive to outdo everyone and that wasn't healthy and led to me thinking that a basic college wasn't enough. In the end if I had stayed put I'd be done school, but over ten years later, I am still taking classes part time and constantly taking time off. I finished this summer with a 4.0 in all of my classes and over 100% in my accounting class. I had such a high grade that I could skip the last exam, the final project, and basically the last week and I'd still have an A. Yet I still went and did everything to see how high I could get my grade.
I read this book and see myself in these kids. I look back at my life and think, "I was and am one of these overachievers." Somewhere along the way I broke under the pressure or at least I started second guessing myself and hating life enough to not do it anymore. Along with being told I had to be perfect was constant reminder that I wasn't perfect, which meant I was not good enough. It's a really hard thing to deal with and I sadly didn't handle it well in the end. This time I plan to finish the book and see what all I can take away from the combination of their stories and mine. I want to find a better balance for my daughter. We already talk about putting her in the best schools. I want to work for the local university so that I can ensure she has affordable tuition even if she does not attend local public schools, which would get her free tuition if she does well in school.
Free tuition would be great, but I want a back-up. I don't want the pressure of needing to pass all of these classes to get that free tuition to break her. I have no idea how she will handle the pressure, but I know I did great and then drowned myself after waking up to find that I didn't want to live my life anymore. I stuck it out because I had younger siblings that I knew would have to endure what I was if I wasn't here to do it, and I'd stay just until college and then I was gone. I don't want that life for my child. I will push her to do well and to be active and to play a sport and instrument, but if she doesn't like something she gets to quit. It will be her choice, and if through this book I can learn how other parents have pushed their children and what exact things it is that that hated and what was just too much, I can avoid that with her. I am, after all, my mother's daughter and while I am nothing like her I only have my experience growing up as a guide.
Abby will read books over the summer, but instead of doing book reports each month (sometimes weekly if they were smaller books); she will just read what she wants and the schools summer reading list. We can read them together and talk about them if she wants, that's something I never had. If she loves to swim, I'll put her in lesson. She can try tennis or anything else she wants. If she loves it I'll keep it going and if she says she wants to stop then it's time for a break, and that break might be permanent. I just want the best for her, but I also want her to know that her best is enough. That her being happy is more important than being perfect. That is something I still struggle with today. That is something I will probably always have to remind myself of. My best is enough; being happy is more important than being perfect. That doesn't mean I won't strive for a 4.0 in my classes, but I hope to start adding more me time, more family time, and more living to my life.
If you were an overachiever, or still are, I recommend picking up the book. It's written in a different format than I normally enjoy reading, but that is because it follows multiple students, and it works more like a movie with multiple main characters. If you have children and are trying to figure out what a "tiger mom" is and if you are one or not, pick up the book. I think it's a good way to get a perspective into the lives of teens that are pushed really hard. That being said, so far there are some statistics in it that I feel are a kind of scare tactic. It feels like the author is really against the current education system, of the system that was in place when the book was written. Although it is less than 10 years ago, there have been some recent changes that I feel are large enough to change the education system as a whole.