The Smartest Kid in the Room

My youngest son Charlie just started kindergarten yesterday. He loves school and had nothing but great things to say about his first day. Today when I picked him up, I told his teacher as much, and she had an equally glowing review of him: “I’m so glad. He’s doing great. He picks things up very quickly.” 

On the way home, Char asked me a couple of questions to clarify what the teacher meant. Then he said “Oh! Does that mean I’m the smartest kid?” I told him it didn’t matter, because everyone is smart in their own way.

His response hit a little too close to home: 

“But mommy wouldn’t that be good if I was the smartest? Then everyone will like me and I’ll have a lot of friends. You want everyone to like me, right?”

You know that feeling when you just don’t know what to say? This was not one of those times. My response was immediate: 

“No baby. I want you to like yourself no matter what anyone else thinks of you.”

I won’t bother being modest: I was the smart kid in school. My ability to study and achieve perfect grades up to and including graduate school was always a point of deep pride. It was also a sign of deep insecurity. (Perfectionism generally is.) I was perfect, because I *had* to be perfect in my own mind in order to feel worthy. My self esteem was non-existent if I wasn’t being validated by others, and so I looked to the grades on my report cards (and eventually the number on the scale) to decide how I should feel about myself. 

This is not a long term strategy.

When I earned a Master’s Degree at age 23 and started my career as a physical therapist, it was unmooring to let go of academia as a measure of my self worth. So I doubled down on diet culture, counting every Weight Watchers point eaten and burned for the next 13 or so years. It wasn’t until I started eating intuitively and found yoga that it even occurred to me that my weight and worth aren’t linked. 

Let me save you a few decades of suffering: they aren’t. In fact, no number of any kind will ever measure your worthiness, which is inherent, and cannot be taken away from you. 

I can only hope my smart boy picks this lesson up as quickly as the others.

Kathleen Schwarz