One of the joys of being a parent is watching your children learn, develop and achieve. Their first step, speaking and later writing their first word, riding a bike without stabilisers. Each of my three children is at a different stage on that journey but our oldest, Isaac, ticked off another notable milestone last weekend. He can now honestly say that he is better than me at something. And I couldn’t be more happy about it.
This is a big deal to me. Although it’s not always obvious, I’m an intensely competitive person or, perhaps better put, a very bad loser. Heather and I can’t play Scrabble without the loser going into a sulk. I don’t like the idea that other people could be better than me at something I’ve set my mind to – I never have.
With Isaac, however, I’m positively thrilled.
In what way is my oldest child better than his dad? Well, Heather had bought him a new problem-solving game called Rush Hour, which involves sliding car-shaped pieces backwards and forwards on a six-by-six grid in order to allow an ice cream van to exit. It’s basically a simplified version of the old mystic square or 15-puzzle, where you have to move 15 pieces around within a four-by-four frame to resolve a picture, say, or put the numbers one to 15 back into their correct order.
The game is supposed to be for six to eight-year-olds and comprises 40 puzzles divided into four levels of difficulty. Being five and a bit of a problem-solver already, we thought this would occupy him for a while. Less than an hour later, he was already well into the fourth and toughest set of ‘extreme’ level puzzles.
Frankly, I was astonished. I’m pretty average in terms of the spatial acuity required to solve this kind of puzzle, but having spent 30 seconds explaining the rules of the game to him, Isaac would simply set up each puzzle one at a time, glance at the grid and then within a couple of seconds, almost without fail, launch into the most direct solution. Even at the highest level of difficulty, he’s still solving them pretty quickly with occasional trial-and-error, but by and large his logic is impeccable.
Okay, there’s an element of proudparentitis about this, but what I noticed was that the ultra-competitive me didn’t even murmur in protest. I was more proud of the fact that he’s already doing something better than his old man than I was of the fact that he could do it at all. And the best thing of all was the pride evident on Isaac’s face as we high-fived after each one he solved and I told him how much better he was at this than I. It clearly means as much to him as it does to me.
I know this is just the beginning of a slippery slope where he grows to realise that his dad isn’t perfect after all and that a time will come – sooner than I’d like to think – where him being better than me becomes the norm rather than the exception. It’s not about me being proud of how good he is compared to his peers – it means more to me to know that he is already discovering the capacity to surpass his parents. That’s all any parent ever hopes for, right?
The competitor in me who wants to be the best at everything understands that and is happy to wave him on as he sails past me. It’s all part of being a parent. I think I’m finally starting to grow up almost as much as Isaac is.