"Right. Knock yourself out."
"And condescending, even ugly at times," she continued. I could see that she was still winding up.
And this was coming from a friend. It was going to be a long night.
What is this obsession we have with evaluation? It starts at a very young age and never ends.
"I think we should hold David back a year," the kindergarten teacher told my mother.
"Hold him back? In kindergarten?" My mother wasn't quite sure she had heard right.
"Yes, he spends most of the time by himself and doesn't participate much in our little talks."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"Without developing the necessary social skills, well ... he's not going to go very far."
"But ... it's kindergarten."
"Mrs. Lloyd. I can't overestimate the importance of starting out in life on the right foot, no matter how much time it takes."
I was impervious to all of this at the time. I was simply studying the land in my own time. I had time. I had my whole life still spread out before me.
My mother later met up with another kindergarten mother for coffee.
"How did your daughter do?" my mother asked.
"I'm told that she spends too much time talking with her little friends."
They both sighed. Not easy being parents of children who flunked kindergarten.
I got some of mine back, though, when I became a teacher. Or so I thought. Sitting in the driver's seat at my first teacher/parent meeting, it was now I who could create a stigma that would stay with someone the rest of their life. But I tried to be kind and original in my comments. It went well, at first. The parents felt that I had something to say and were willing to listen. But as the evening wore on, my voice turned into an increasing drone. And worse, I found myself repeating myself. But I knew I had reached rock bottom when I began using the P_Word.
"Your daughter shows potential."
"Your son is not living up to his potential."
"Your daughter has to recognize her potential."
Amazing how many ways the term potential can be used at a teacher's meeting. But the parents weren't fooled. For them, I had turned into another teaching clone. They would discuss me later with others over coffee. But I can say one thing in my defence: I never held a student back.
But if we ever entertained the fantasy that at some time we could eventually escape the need for evaluation, we were gravely mistaken. For it follows us until the end of time.
"You are a good father."
"You are a lousy husband."
"As a lover, you show potential."
"You make a good corpse."
And if you are a man, don't forget the lists. Those ominous lists women make when they gather together for their ritual man-bashing ritual.
"Of all of the men you have dated, who was:
- the best kisser.
- the biggest loser.
- the most clueless in bed.
- the most totally useless in bed and everywhere else.
- the best lover
- the best husband material
- the one who got away.
Of course there is one thing worse than being on one or more of these lists, and that is not being on any list at all. As if you were never really there and they wiped you totally from their consciousness. You might as well be invisible.
And don't get me started on self-evaluation. How many of us are any good at that? We will do anything to avoid coming face to face with our own demons. But denial can only take us so far. It all catches up to us in the end, most often in our dreams.
Had my dream again where I'm making love, and the Olympic judges are watching. I'd nailed the compulsories, so this is it, the finals. I got a 9.8 from the Canadians, a perfect 10 from the Americans, and my mother, disguised as an East German judge, gave me a 5.6. Must have been the dismount.
~ When Harry Met Sally
Sometimes, after a couple of glasses of whiskey, I try to evaluate myself as a husband, lover, father, son, teacher, innovator, scholar, human being ... and at some point my attention wanders ... until I decide it is time to sit down and write another blog.