Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nice, Smart, or Athletic?

This morning was the perfect weather -- clear, sunny skies, cool breezes -- for a trip to the Como Zoo. A trip to the zoo with a toddler is sort of like shepherding. Shepherds might disagree, but ensuring the physical safety of a toddler can be fairly mindless. It gives me a lot of time to think.

I spent a good deal of my time reflecting on this conversation that my husband and I have from time to time. Smart? Nice? or Athletic? We wonder out loud about, if we could and had to choose one thing for Little A (and our imagined future kids) to really excel at, which would it be.

"Not athletic," my husband has said, which surprised me. He's kind of in to sports.


"Yeah. One injury and you're out. It doesn't last," he explained.

"But what if, in this scenario, there was no injury."

"Still. I wouldn't want her to be a dumb jock. I'd want her to be smart."

"But what about nice?" Part of me is always pushing for nice. I think it's because, even though it's not necessarily true, I equate nice with being happy.

"No. Not nice. Nice people get taken advantage of."

Giraffe licking the wall at the zoo. He might not be too bright, but maybe he's really nice?  
"But they don't have to be."

"She will be if she's nice.. and dumb."

The trip to the zoo gave me a fair amount of fodder to think about this whole thing of what characteristics we would choose for our kid if we could. We were standing in front of the gorilla habitat when another kid, a little bit older than mine, came up next to us.

Little A turned to her, said, "No!" and then smacked her on the arm. The other little kid seemed unfazed, gave Little A a look, and then walked away to watch the gorillas further down the glass. Even if I do choose "nice," Little A doesn't necessarily want to cooperate with those hopes and dreams that I have.

"No hitting," I told her quietly (this was not the type of conversation I wanted strangers to be a part of). "It makes people very sad." She sometimes responds appropriately when told that other people are sad. This time, she didn't. She seemed indifferent.

At several enclosures -- the giraffes, for example -- each time another group of kids came up to the fence, she'd yell, "No!" at the animals and then "No!" at the people. I'm not sure if she didn't like the way that they were interacting or if she felt that she should be the only one enjoying the company of the animals. It's also possible that the human-animal interaction she observes at home is one in which Eric and I mostly say, "No!" to our dog. She learned it from us. She learned it from watching us.

"Little," I said to her. "Just say, 'Hi!'" I'm trying to replace this behavior of shouting "No!" with a more desirable trait. "Those kids are so nice!" I explained to her. "Just say, 'Hi!'" Sometimes she'd say, "Hi!" with a big cheesy (false?) grin on her face. I don't know what is worse: the cheese or the meanness.

Still, I stand by my desire for "niceness." She doesn't seem particularly happy when she's being mean.

After we visited the animals, we went outside and she ran in the open grass for a while. "Mama! Mama," she'd chant. "Run!" And I'd have to run after her. She watched groups of bigger kids trail past us. She seemed a little sad that she wasn't part of their fun.

But then she'd start running again. Running in circles. Running back and forth. Running into my arms. Running and laughing and giggling. And smiling. Maybe I should choose athletic after all.


  1. Maybe we can pick all the above for our kids? Smart, Nice, AND athletic. If only it was that easy.

    I love the photo!

  2. this is a cute blog post! I'm glad we don't choose because that would be a difficult decision. I choose all!