It’s like Apples and Apples

IMG_4409Every fall, my husband and I go apple picking with our kids in upstate New York.  While most people see this activity as something to do once a year or so, my husband is pretty much obsessed.

We go every weekend for the entire season, which lasts about 8 weeks.

Our favorite place is Wilklow Orchards, on Pancake Hollow Road.

As a result, we have a lot of apples.

These are some of the apples in my fridge

These are some of the apples in my fridge

And I, no wiz in the kitchen to say the least, have learned how to make an apple pie, apple sauce, and apple chips and I have become quite adept in the handling of a paring knife.  Anyone who has ever tasted my take on white bean escarole soup, would be knocked unconscious (but not literally this time) by how delicious something I made could actually taste.

No animals were injured during the production of this owl.

No animals were injured during the production of this owl.

More importantly, I have learned a lot about the different varieties of apples and their respective growing seasons.  For example, those apple enthusiasts who want to get their apples as soon as possible, can head up to the orchards in early September, where they can have their pick of The Prime Reds, “big solid apples with enticingly white flesh.”


People who are after the Macouns or the Granny Smiths have to wait a little longer.  Those who want the Red Delicious or the Mutsus have to wait longer still.  And my personal favorite, the Winesap, comes in last.  With its unique, spicy flavor it is well worth the wait.  It is good for cooking and eating.  Though this heirloom variety needs to be handled with care so as to prevent the skin from cracking, it really is a hearty apple. The trees are resistant to mildew and the fruit lasts a long time if stored properly.

I have nothing against the other apple varieties.  They are all great. But depending on what time you pick, some apples might seem a lot better than others.  If you go for a Winesap in early September when the Prime Reds are ready, you will end up with an immature fruit that will leave a bad taste in your mouth and may give you a stomach ache.

So, not surprisingly, the apple picking public adheres to the proper ripening schedule.  We only pick the apples that are ready, and leave the young ones to develop more.  And while everyone has their personal favorites (like I totally got in good with my mother-in-law when I brought her a bag of Macouns), no one seems to base their judgement of which apple is the “best” on how early in the season the apples ripen.

No one goes around passing judgement on the late bloomers, assuming that the apples who “come in” latest are somehow inferior.

Too bad more people don’t share this acceptance when we are talking about kids, who also come in many varieties with varying growing seasons.

Look at this little Winesap.  Isn't he cute?

Look at this little Winesap. Isn’t he cute?

Even though the concept of a human “late bloomer” is widely known, and even though many a yoga-pant-wearing Manhattan mom has said,  “children develop at different rates,” to each other (but mostly to reassure each other as to why their child hasn’t picked up a fourth language yet),  somehow, we all (and me too sometimes, unfortunately) mistake precocity for superiority.  Somehow we all feel/fear that the kids who are slow to develop are actually just “slow.”

That being “slow” carries such a stigma compounds the problem for late bloomers.  So many people are in such a hurry to make sure that their kids are “advanced,” “gifted” or at least above average enough to do well on state-mandated tests, that the little Winesaps out there given even less time to come into bloom.


I was inspired to write this post when someone very dear to me approached me with the following problem:

“I don’t know what I am going to do about my son,” she said.

“Whatever do you mean? I responded, thinking I know your son.  He is cute.  He likes Donald Duck.  He is three.  He must be a real pain in the ass.

He is getting kicked out of school.” she said.

“What?”  I said thinking, that doesn’t make sense.  I was only kidding (silently) about the pain in the ass part.  He is adorable.  He is sweet.  Much more well-behaved than my kids were at that age.  The last time he came over he entertained himself for like 30 minutes!  I am still waiting for my husband to reach that milestone.

I continued out loud, “Did he hit someone?  Did he bite someone?” Thinking, There was a kid at my son’s school that scratched another kid so bad on face that it required stitches and that kid didn’t get kicked out. hmm.  Then again, that kid might have been related to a big donor.

“No.”  She said, almost crestfallen.  “The teachers approached me and said that this year they have a crop of stellar students.  They are ready to move on to so much more.  But not my son.  He is holding everybody back.”

I’ve never encountered one “stellar” three year old.  Much less a whole group of them.  (I did hear about a 17 month old who could read though. Click here to see what I mean)

If these kids were really so great, why haven’t we heard about them on the Today Show?

Having had issues with my own little Winesap (but at much more understanding and capable school, apparently) I had a feeling that I knew what the problem was.  And it most certainly was not that the other kids were “stellar” and my friend’s son was “not.”

Maybe the other kids were better at sitting at circle time, “transitioning” from one activity to the next, and picking their noses above grade level, but they weren’t composing symphonies or anything.

I may be going out on a limb here when I say this, but kids and apples aren’t so different.  Just look at my son’s class of 1st graders.  Some of the older kids (like my son) still have all of their baby teeth while some of the youngest ones (like our neighbor) are missing a mouthful.

Think about junior high.  Sorry to take you back here folks, but, Are you there God? It’s me MotherJam and I will spend the next 5 years dying of embarrassment.

So why would cognitive development be any different?  You don’t assume that the kid who is first to have a visit from the tooth fairy is going to have the most advanced teeth.  Why is there this feeling that the kids who read first, sit still first, or follow instructions first are somehow the smartest?

I know am oversimplifying here.   Some differences in ability will not even out over time.  Some kids who develop slowly will end up being slower than their peers.  (One shouldn’t go about assuming that every child who is slow to develop is going to become the next Albert Einstein, who in some circles is more renown for having been a late-talker than for developing his Theory of Relativity.)

But even assuming that there is such a thing as a “slow” (but not disabled) three year old and a stellar (but not Today show material) one, why can’t these children be accommodated in the same classroom?

IMG_4473I think it is because many parents have taken the finding that “early childhood education is important” to mean that it is important to “educate” as early and as much as possible.  Combine this assumption with the reality of a 20,000 dollar preschool tuition, and you get a bunch of parents who want to make sure their little Prime Red does not go rotting on the vine while they wait for some other immature fruit to learn to write his name.  Facing this pressure, the concept of an elite preschool has emerged, where teachers will implement advanced “curricula” designed to nourish only the most advanced three year old minds.

Ironically, by creating an environment where not all three year olds belong, they have created an environment that really isn’t right for any three year old.  Sorting out kids by “ability” at such an early age, does everybody a disservice.  While it may facilitate the effort to compel early reading and writing for some kids, it severely undermines the primary purpose of preschool which should be to teach kids to work and play together.

To teach this lesson properly, a teacher must be working with a diverse group of kids.  Finding the common ground when you are all so similar is no great achievement.  Making friends with someone who had seemed so wildly different, that is an accomplishment.

And as our current Congress has so painfully illustrated, our country doesn’t suffer so much from an inability to read or to do math problems, but from an inability to do anything together.

In short, we could all benefit from a good preschool education.  But, like finding a MacIntosh in late October, these days, it’s a little hard to come by.





About MotherJam

Trying to be insightful. But mostly just avoiding housework and ignoring my children.
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3 Responses to It’s like Apples and Apples

  1. Owahns says:

    This is fantastic!

  2. Jennifer says:

    I was a Mutsus. My daughter, a Prime Red. My son, on the other hand, I am not sure he is even an apple. More rhubard – sweet and slightly exotic with a texture that is somewhat disconcerting – sublimely delicious when properly prepared. A school that can churn out apple pies, but can’t handle the occasional rhubarb crumble? A D- in my books.

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