I once read that families are comparison machines. In the story, it was argued that the close proximity of one sibling to another drives innumerable comparisons to the surface, often with life-long implications for those compared. For years, during the formidable childhood years, kids are told they are this one or that one: this sister is the smart one; this one the outgoing one. This brother is the funny one; this one is good at math. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter if both sisters are outgoing and smart in comparison to the rest of the human beings on the planet. It only matters that this one seems smarter than that one, that this one seems more outgoing than the other. In this way, brothers and sisters learn to carry these beliefs like widgets, widgets of judgement and self-limitation. Widgets that help define who they are and how they see themselves in the world.
So, of course, I compare my boys. Boy One was an articulate speaker almost immediately upon arrival. By 18 months, he could string several words together and ask to nurse with most of a sentence. Boy Two, on the other hand, just says "Alk!" and pulls on my shirt, clear communication, unquestionably, but not likely to foreshadow grand success on his SAT. Obviously these things are fully predetermined at birth, the result of my consumption of non-organic spinach and coffee while pregnant. Now, he is destined to a life of mediocrity and decades of hitting his older brother up for cash. (Boy One must be the smart one.)
Untrue and unjust, this is the battle I fight: to allow each to be who he is in the tiny Venn Diagram which is our family. They can both be smart; they can both be kind; they can both be caring, generous, and thoughtful. They can both, God willing, even be good at math. May we overflow with widgets labeled “Good at Math.”
So, universe, please help me find what is good in each of my people and hold it up for praise without pushing anyone else down in the process. Help me to help them work together to be their best selves without endlessly competing against one another. Help me to build a cooperation machine, one that makes widgets of compassion to be handed out on every corner to everyone who passes by. And may those widgets be precisely engineered by my sons who are also good at math.