Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Repeating (Family) History

I have the good fortune to have a younger sister, whom I will refer to in this post as Skipper.* Skipper is about three years younger than I am. Of the two of us, she is, by far, the smarter one. Oh, there may be times that I can grasp a concept (especially an abstract one) quicker than she can; but, on the whole, when it comes down to practical intelligence, she is heads and shoulders above me. For just about any problem that we encounter, she'll usually have three solutions to a problem thought up before I've even worked out one.

You'd think that she always knew how smart she was... but that's not the case. When she was younger, Skipper was sure that she was quite dumb. I don't know where she got that silly idea from, but as a child and a teen, she was convinced that she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Now, I always knew that she was quite smart - even as a teen. I knew this because when we weren't trying to kill each other (as teens often do) I would help her out with her school work. I helped her to understand Rashi on Chumash. I helped her out with Algebra, Geometry and Trig. She would often throw up her hands in frustration and yell out that these subjects were impossible and that there was no way that she could understand them. y=mx+b?! A squared plus B squared equals C squared? Logarithms? Pi-R squared times height? Forget it, she would say. However, as a big brother, I tried my best to help her understand the concepts and, with some hard work on her part, she managed to pass high school.

Skipper didn't go to college after high school. She got a job teaching in pre-schools (she *loves* children) and eventually went on to get married and have kids of her own.

About seven years ago, Skipper decided to go to college and get a degree. She ended up attending a combined B.S.-M.S. program at a good college (no, not Touro) and graduated as the class valedictorian. Today, she's a working professional.

I don't know at what point in her journey she realized that she is quite intelligent, but at some point, she finally came to accept what I (and countless others) had been telling her all along -- that she can do anything that she sets her mind to. You don't end up as the valedictorian in a Master's program by being a dummy.

There was a point to this whole story. It's coming... just bear with me.

Your friendly Wolf has a non-lucrative side job teaching Kriah to pre-Bar-Mitzvah boys. It's something that I've been doing for quite a while now and it's a job that I enjoy. Skipper's oldest son (I'll call him Velvel for this post -- and no, that's not his name) is now twelve years old and for a while I've been teaching him to lain (read the Torah) at his Bar Mitzvah. He, like his mother, is quite intelligent and can do just about anything he sets his mind to. I generally meet with him twice a week and last night was our night.

Imagine my surprise when I walk in the door and find Velvel in frustration over the fact that he can't understand the Gemara he's learning in school. He was complaining to his mother that he can't do it, it's too hard, he doesn't have the head for it, etc. Skipper was doing her best to try to convince him that he can do it.

Normally, I don't get involved in family disputes -- especially when it doesn't involve my kids. However, at this point, I felt I needed to break in. I told Skipper that I found the whole scene a bit amusing, since, I told her, I could have sworn that I heard this tirade before. I was positive that I once heard someone tell me that they couldn't possibly understand the subject material, that it was too hard, that they were just plain "too dumb" to understand it. At that, Skipper smiled knowingly. Later on, I told Velvel about our childhood experiences and informed him that in my humble opinion, he was quite intelligent and could do just about anything he put his mind to.

Isn't it funny how our kids become what we were when we were younger?

The Wolf

*Skipper is not a derogatory term. My sister has a way of keeping a million things straight at a time. She runs a "tight ship" at home. Somehow, between school, work, raising a bunch of kids, caring for our mother and various other assorted projects, she somehow manages to get everything done in her house and not drown in all the work. Since she can manage all these tasks and still keep her ship afloat, she has earned the title "Skipper."


Anonymous said...

Nice post...
You went quite out of your way to point out that "Skipper" is not a derogatory term, but for some reason didn't feel it was necessary to make the same point about the nickname "Velvel"! :-)

BrooklynWolf said...

Because "Velvel" is a real name, "Skipper" isn't one.

The Wolf

Shoshana said...

Skipper is a real name - it was Barbie's little sister (or something like that).

Anyway, I find myself on occasion doing something like one of my parents and it always startles me. I'm sure if they were around me more often they would point it out to me and freak me out even more. No matter how much we say we aren't going to be like our parents, it's really difficult to avoid. I hope I manage to pass the good things on to my kids.

Anonymous said...

preparing kids for leining (if done properly) can be a great way to build up their self esteem

when i taught leining i don't really think i had kids who were down on themselves. mostly they were just apathetic and could not care less. my greatest "success" was when i taught a kid who had serious mental developmental issues. he was so excited and he tried harder than all my other students combined. i was only planning to teach him the haftorah, which i was not even sure he would be able to do, and then his father told me his son also wanted to lein maftir. i did not have the heart to tell him, but i did not think there was any way he could do it. and he ended up doing it. it taught me a lesson.

-ari kinsberg