This is the question the kids often ask me, as Mr11 did again on the very foggy dark drive to his martial arts class this evening. They like to talk about what they think they excel at, and what they aren’t so good at; it’s part of sorting out where you fit in the world. They ask me, I think, as some kind of an adult baseline, someone to compare themselves with or relate to. For grade school kids, what they are good at and not good at is a simple definition of who they are, not really much different from the basics like their hair color, if they live in the city or country, or how many pets they have. For them, it is only just beginning to have the depth that affects self-esteem, and the choices made throughout a lifetime.

As a parent, my job is to listen attentively and to try to answer their questions with as much relative wisdom and reasoned brevity as I can, without veering off topic like Abe Simpson or running into the back of another vehicle as I endlessly pontificate. Many times, when kids ask you something, it’s really just them wanting to talk about something on their minds, but they don’t know exactly how to do it. I suspect this was where Mr11 was coming from this evening, after his first day back at school after the long holiday break. He had been slacking off at school pretty seriously prior to vacation, and got to receive the Pissed-Off Mom Spells It Out For You talk complete with the addendum of Your Consequences Look Grim, Pal chat. It was necessary, not at all fun to deliver, but that’s another part of my job sometimes. I said it, then said nothing more. You can’t keep hammering down the nail without splitting the wood at some point.

When I saw that I got an email today from his teacher, I cringed. Those usually mean there are MORE ISSUES and STUFF TO DEAL WITH. But surprise, surprise, instead she said that Mr11 had a spectacular day today, with a great attitude and great work. Well, I thought as I smiled at my computer screen, go, Mr11,go. I have enough years in as a parent to know that there’s going to be plenty more ups and downs, but when you know the kid CAN do what needs to be done, there’s always hope that eventually it will all even out and turn out pretty well. I told him that I was really proud of him for his Good Day, and it was a pleasure to see him relax, and smile back.

We talked about how it is natural for all people to be better at some things than others, and that no one excels at everything and no one is completely without merit, and that it is normal for people to avoid doing things they don’t like or think they don’t do well. There is no “best” or “worst.” What makes the difference is when you can put the same effort and diligence into your weaknesses as your strengths. That not only assures that you can build up your skill set as best you can, but you build your character as well. These ideas are just starting to become less abstract for him, and to have more value. It sometimes takes a great deal of time and experience to fully appreciate how much power you have to shape your world. It certainly did for me, and I am still learning. I hope I am always learning something, as I hope the same for my children. When you give up trying to make something better, know more, solve a puzzle, improve your little corner, you’re just hanging out waiting to die. The hell with that.

The Official Results Of The What Are You Good At Self-Assessment Poll, Taken By Mr11 And Myself, January 4th, 2010 In The Acura RSX Driving On 85th:

Mr11 -- Bad At: Organization, Writing/Good At: Balance, Flexibility, Strength, Videogames

Me -- Bad At: Math, Organization, Driving On Highways/Good At: Writing, Pain Tolerance, Sweet Vertical Leap

If I were a really excellent role model I would get myself “Math For Dummies” on CD that I could listen to while driving down a busy highway, in an orderly fashion.

"If you hit a wrong note, then make it right by what you play afterwards." - Joe Pass, jazz guitarist