Thursday, July 24, 2014

Victoria II

Having spent a few more days with Victoria, this time in the presence of her cousins, I now have a somewhat better sense of her nature. She has behaved more normally with her cousin, Christian, with whom she had corresponded previously, and with whom she seems to have developed a slight rapport. I am tentatively ruling out a genetic connection related to the Asperger's-like symptoms, which are obvious in her cousins, as an explanation of her behavior. However, with Victoria's food preferences, Asperger's can't be eliminated entirely. All three of them are highly successful academically, but her cousins are more technically oriented, concentrating on computer science and mathematics. Victoria is competent in all areas and is currently interested in art, but that could change. I won't go into detail here, but Victoria strikes me as conventionally heterosexual, whereas her cousins are not.

The picture I have now is that Victoria has been isolated by living in a slightly disconnected part of England in a family with poorly educated parents and financial constraints. She has been further isolated by the texting technology that allows her to communicate constantly with her two close friends in England as if she were still at home. In a way, her texting world may be more real to her than the physical world or the broader social world that lies beyond her experience. On top of this lies an inherent shyness that inhibits exploration.

Victoria is the baby of the family and has probably been treated differently from her brother and sister since birth. She seems defensive of her mother, who clearly has significant psychiatric issues, whereas her sister was less so when she visited. I don't detect any of the anger that her sister displayed.

One thing that makes this difficult to think about is that Victoria is very young and isn't fully formed; her identity seems to be taking shape in real time. If I look back to when I was 17, although I was ostensibly the same person, my knowledge and outlook were completely different. I was vulnerable in the same way that Victoria is now, and then proceeded to make a series of mistakes, if you want to call them that, that shaped me as a person and contributed significantly to my current worldview.

We are concerned that Victoria will make mistakes in her academic and career choices. The English system is oddly barbaric in the sense that students are required to make irreversible choices well before they are likely to have sufficient judgment to make them. Anne ended up in law after someone told her that archaeology was out of the question. She became a lawyer without ever caring for the profession. Elizabeth, Victoria's sister, liked to write as a child and chose English, and she now has a temporary position as a schoolteacher. To say the least, these are not optimal outcomes for Cambridge graduates. Although Victoria is good in all subjects, she was told at school to "do what you love" and chose art. Now, although she is still in high school, the possibility of changing to a science is severely restricted. We would hate to see her bumble along based on misinformation when she has so many opportunities. Academic options in American universities are comparatively flexible, and we have mentioned this to her.

I am reminded again of the random elements that dominate lives. To a very large extent, they have the greatest impact on people of Victoria's age. Especially in the U.S., how you prepare for college and where you attend college set the tone for the rest of your life. This may influence what career you have, who you meet and marry, where you live, and your socioeconomic status during the remainder of your life. There is a small window during which the choices seem overwhelming. Yet it can be argued that the model student with the model life is often, broadly speaking, no better off than many others whose lives were less well planned. Lots of helicopter parents may be hovering over their children to no avail.

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