Today is the last day of school. Actually, they haven’t actually done any work for the last couple of days, so it’s the last day they’ll watch movies all day. This morning was the awards assembly. As I sat there watching, I was an insecure 12 year old all over again. And as the awards were being handed out, I remembered what it was like to wonder if you’re going to get an award and how it felt when you didn’t get the award you wanted. And, as the kids cheered for each other (some more loudly than others), I remember how the dread of wondering if my peers would clap for me actually drowned out the elation of hearing my name called. I always understood the academic awards. They are based on performance in the classroom. So, not getting an award for honor roll was my own deal, because I was perfectly capable (and believe me, I felt the sting of it when I didn’t get to wear a gold cord during graduation). But, I remember wondering who the heck decided that so-and-so was the best citizen or the most enthusiastic or the hardest worker or the most dedicated. And how on earth anyone can really display EVERY ONE OF THOSE traits in order to get the highest honor of all for Overall Achievement.
I also never understood the 100% Attendance Award. What exactly is the achievement? You didn’t get sick? Or you did get sick, but you came to school anyway? Believe me, I get the purpose of teaching children to be prompt and for school to be a priority because when they get to college and into the workforce, they need to have this core value. But, it seems to me that the award would be most useful if it was given to kids who were not ever tardy instead of disqualifying them for being sick — and staying home, like they SHOULD DO when they are sick. As this award was being handed out today, I made a comment that I hated this award. The mom next to me agreed and said that she once knew somebody that was so desperate to have her child get that award that she sent the child to school with lice. What core value is that instilling?
Perhaps I’m extra-sensitive about this subject because of my own son’s health issues. It’s nearly impossible for him to never miss a day of school. And, the award puts me on the defensive. I really need to let it go.
As I watched, I decided that being the parent of a middle-schooler might actually be more stressful than being a middle-schooler, at least in this instance. From where I was sitting, I felt more anxiety coming the from parents than from the kids. As parents, we are carrying around the baggage from our own experiences as well as feeling anxious for our kids as we literally watch them pack their own proverbial bags. We want our kids to do well — or more specifically, be recognized for doing well.
As I sat there and listened to the murmurings around me, I was a little amused by the whispered gasps of “I can’t believe (insert their child’s name here) didn’t get that award!” and “she will be devastated if she doesn’t get (that specific) award” and “I can’t believe (so-and-so) got that award”. And, the relief and pride when they did get *that award*. And, the disappointment when they didn’t.
And yes…I will admit, I felt it. I knew which award my son wanted, even though he hadn’t told me. I watched him puff up and get excited as that specific teacher approached the podium to announce their choice for “most outstanding” in that particular class. And, I watched him deflate a little when it was not his name that was called. As a mother, your heart hurts when your child’s does.
From an adult perspective we all know (or we should realize) that the awards are subjective. They don’t define who our children are. They don’t define who they aren’t. And the certainly don’t define who we are as their parents. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be bursting with pride when they are recognized for being outstanding at something specific. Of course we should! But, we should also realize that there are lots of kids who also would have been deserving of that same distinction. Because the truth is that despite our best efforts, none of us is outstanding all the time. Not even the kids who get the overall achievement award (just ask the kids who get bullied by those same kids).
The life lessons lay in how we deal with these types of situations. If we are the recipient of the award, do we let it go to our heads? If we got a citizenship award, are we going to rethink how we might treat others when the people who dole out the awards are not looking? If we got the overall achievement award, are we going to step up our game and really take the award seriously and show everyone that they picked the right person?
If we don’t get the award, are we bitter? Do we say “that person didn’t deserve it” as a way of making ourselves feel better? Or do we simply realize that not everyone can get the award and not let it define us?
As parents, it’s a difficult line to walk — we don’t want to play them down, thereby devaluing the awards; but we also don’t want to put too much value in them, thereby deflating our kid’s confidence when they aren’t picked. Instead we have to encourage them to try hard, do their best and maybe they’ll be recognized next time. Or maybe they won’t. That’s pretty much how life is anyway, right? As nice as they are to get, none of these awards actually determine our success in life. George W. Bush summed it up perfectly when he said this to a graduating class at Yale:
“To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”
Read that again. Take it in. It’s likely the only time I’ll quote GWB.
As my son was walking by me to go to his class he stopped for a second. I said, “I’m sorry you didn’t get the _____ award”. With a smile, he responded, “that’s okay. I’m happy ______ got it. He deserves it”.
And just like that, I was more proud of my kid than I ever would have been if he had a piece of paper saying he was outstanding at _____________.