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The Movement of Imperfection


kamurj

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Excerpted from
Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid: A Survival Guide for Ordinary Parents of Special Children
By Gina Gallagher, Patricia Konjoian

They are here. There. And everywhere. You can hear them buzzing at spelling bees. Running at the mouth at track meets. Even trumpeting at concerts. They are the parents of those "perfect" kids. You know them - those people you meet in life who love to tell you how smart, athletic, gifted, and talented (blah, blah, blah) their kids are without your ever even asking.

"Nice to meet you, Gina. What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a freelance writer."

"Speaking of writing, my four-year-old son is already writing in cursive."

So how exactly are you supposed to respond to these child-worshiping chatterboxes? Especially when you have kids who (How can we say this delicately?) aren't exactly poster children tor perfection.

Kids, well, like ours.

We probably should explain up front that though we refer to them as our kids, were not married or life partners (not that there's anything wrong with that). We're actually sisters. Not the kind you find in habits, though we certainly have our share of bad ones. We're the other kind - the DNA- and childhood-bedroom-sharing kind. (For visualization purposes, you might think of us as Mary Kate and Ashley minus the twinness and the thinness.)

And in addition to sharing the same parents and a lot of the same imperfect traits-sloppiness, disorganization, lack of discipline, immaturity (in the spirit of saving paper and the forests, we won't list them all) - we have something else in common. Something that a lot of sisters don't share.

We're both raising daughters with disabilities.

And that's not so easy to admit these days. Because whether we like it or not (and we don't), we live in a perfection-preoccupied society. A society that admires people who live in perfect houses, are married to perfect spouses, have perfect bodies, and of course, above all, have perfect children. (For those of you keeping score at home, we're both batting .000.)

For many of us parents, this perfection-palooza starts early on in our parenting careers. Usually from the moment our kids are born - when we look for creative ways to make our children stand out and be admired by others.

"That's a nice-lookin' baby, Patty. So tell us, how did she score on the Apgar?"

"Well, Michael and I were pleased with the results, though they did take some points off for her conehead and jaundice."

"Oh, that's too bad. Our little Mandy aced hers. The doctor said he's never seen such a perfect baby."

We should point out that this pattern doesn't occur only with parents of young children. No sir. We've met parents who brag about their children at every stage of life.

"Did I tell you my son, Malcolm, just got a fellowship for his work with garlic?"

"Would you believe my son, Albert, still has all his teeth at age seventy-eight?"

Nor does it happen with "perfect" strangers. Even our own loving, but nonetheless perfection-crazed mother has been known to brag about us, which is particularly amusing, since she knows better than anyone how vastly imperfect we are.

"I told all the seniors at the flu shot clinic that you guys signed a publishing deal with Random House!"

"Ma! Stop doing that! It's embarrassing!"

"Yeah, Ma, have you forgotten the name of our book?"

"Oh, stop it. I'm a mother; I'm supposed to brag about my smart girls. Now both of you do me a favor and grow your nails. You don't want to be signing books with them looking like that."

Ask Us About Our Kids

For the record, were not saying we don't want to hear parents talk about their high-achieving kids anymore (though we certainly see how some could make that leap from the name of our book). We just want them to ask about ours. Because even though our kids may not be gifted athletes, students, or musicians (or room cleaners), they've given us plenty of reasons to be proud. Reasons most people don't even think about.

Patty, for example, the older sister, is proud of Jennifer, her seventeen-year-old bipolar daughter, for her courage and maturity.

"Jenn, are you sure you want to get up and speak in front of all those people at that suicide prevention fund-raiser?"

"Well, Mom, I am nervous, but I want to do this. Sometimes I feel like no one can relate to me. This is my chance to be heard."

And Gina, an avid athlete, is proud of Katie, her fifteen-year-old daughter with Asperger's syndrome, not for the way she bounces a ball, but for the ways she bounces back from adversity time and again.

"Mom, it's okay that I didn't get invited to that party with my friends. I'm just lucky to have friends."

Because we've struggled so much trying to find a place for our kids in this perfection-obsessed society, we become frustrated when other parents don't share the same struggles, and often resent the fact that they don't understand ours.

"Jenn's been so depressed and anxious. We were so relieved when we learned the hospital had a bed available for her."

"Oh, Patty, I know just how you feel. I was a nervous wreck waiting for Rumer to get into that elite soccer camp. Thank God we got the last spot!"

Sometimes, we even feel like we're on a completely different planet from these parents.

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