Please pass the Mother-of-the-Year Award

Anyone who’s a mother knows that when we publicly proclaim that we have earned the “mother-of-the-year” award, it’s likely that we have experienced an epic parenting fail.  And, let’s face it, we’re looking for some commiseration. (Wow.  Commiseration really is a word…I wasn’t sure.  Either that or the auto-correct gods are mocking me for trying to use big words.)  Anyway…it makes us feel better when others tell us how they’ve done something similar…or worse.  The truth is that most of the time, it’s usually nothing that is going to land our kids in therapy.  Most of us don’t post those things on Facebook.

At the end of the school year, my 12 year old had a culminating project in his Reading class.  It was one of those projects that just seemed doomed from the start.  He was in the middle of rehearsals for two different plays and worked really hard to get a head start on it.  I was proud of him for having the foresight to get ahead of it.  Then, he lost the folder that contained all of his research and drafts.  Incidentally, this portion of the project carried the most weight in his final grade.  I encouraged him to talk to his teacher and see what could be done.  This particular teacher is not especially gracious and they had a rocky start to the year.  He’d eventually won her over though and I know that she was aware that he was doing to the required work.  She agreed to let him stay after school to recreate the folder, which he did for several days.  He learned an important lesson around it all though — and that is that relationships are important.  Sometimes they are the most important when it comes to things like this.  I had tried to impress that upon him when he was having trouble getting along with this teacher.  It ended up being a blessing that this had happened because he was able to see it all play out. Well, then came the day to turn everything in.  It was a Friday.  He was finished with it and was so happy to finally be getting this thing out of his head.  He’d been wearing the jump-drive around his neck for days so that it wouldn’t get lost.

I dropped him off at school and headed to work.  I was the second one there and I remarked to my co-worker that I always have such high hopes for Fridays, but they rarely end up going the way I expect them to because inevitably something random comes up that I have to deal with.  Just then, the phone rang.  It was Jake.  He was in tears because he’d left his jump drive at home.  I wrote a quick email to my boss, telling him what happened and that I’d be back in an hour.  I quipped that they could leave the Mother of the Year award on my desk.  And when I got back, there actually was one on my desk.

Some people said that they wouldn’t have done it and that this was an important lesson for him to learn.  Lucky for him, those people aren’t his mother.  I knew how hard he’d worked.  I knew how devastated he was.  I knew that he was sorry.  Now was not the time to rub it in.  His grade depended on it and sometimes I think we just need to extend a little grace.  Although I did put a note in the envelope that read “Not Happy”, which kind of negates the grace thing, but I felt like he needed to know that this was a huge inconvenience to me.  I never once have held it over his head, but I do remind him regularly how important it is for him to be responsible, especially now that he’s almost…ahem….a teenager.  Mom isn’t always going to be there to bail him out.

These past two weeks, he’s taken part in a Counselor in Training program at the YMCA.  He’s been working with kindergartners.  He has always loved little kids and they love him too.  He’s just got a way with them.  One of the things that is nice about the program is that he earns Student Service Learning (SSL) hours, which are required for graduation in Maryland.  He has to have 75 to graduate and students can start earning them in 6th grade.  There is a special award for kids who have earned all of them while still in middle school and that’s a goal of his.  The hours he put in the last two weeks were going to get him really close to that goal.

As I was driving him to camp, I asked him if they were going to get the SSL forms today.  The blood drained out of his face as he remembered that he was supposed to print it out and fill it out to turn in today.  He begged me to go home and get it.  He could fill it out on the way back.

As hard as it was for me to do, I said no.  I reminded him that he came home from camp yesterday and basically did nothing but work on his fantasy football team and watch baseball all evening– which is fine.  It’s summer.  But, he knew that he had a responsibility.  And, I know that he genuinely forgot (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), but this was an instance where I wasn’t going to bail him out.  I told him he had to figure it out.  He needed to talk to his counselor and figure out what his options are.  He may miss out on those SSL hours.  It’s not the end of the world if he does.  There will be other opportunities to earn them.  I told him that I did my part — I signed him up for the camp, I paid for it and I got him there on time every day.  That was the extent of my responsibility.  He was mad.  He wouldn’t look at me when he got out of the car.  He didn’t tell me that he loved me back and slammed the door without saying goodbye.  It’s okay.  He can be mad.  I know he’s more mad at himself.

I wanted to rescue him.  My instinct was to rescue him.  But, that doesn’t teach him anything.  Sometimes, my job is to rescue him but at the end of the day, parenting is really about giving our kids the tools they need to rescue themselves.  Days like today are when the rubber meets the road.  And, I look forward to finding out how he went about dealing with it when I pick him up today.

On a somewhat related note, right before this happened, Jake was telling me about how he was being peer pressured to chew gum. He has braces now and knows that gum is off limits.  One of the things about having a kid with a black and white personality is that they usually will follow the rules, if someone else lays them out.  He told me that he knew I was serious by the “evil eye” I gave him when I told him that if he breaks anything because he’s eaten something he wasn’t supposed to, he will pay for the repair.  And, since he has no money, he’ll have to do it by doing the grossest chores I can come up with.  Then, he went on to say, “Don’t tell Dad, but I’m more afraid of you than him”.  He said it is because of the “look”.  I said, “surely your Dad has an evil eye, too”.  He replied, “Well, if he does have an evil eye, I’ve never seen it”.  I realized that when we got on the discussion of the SSL form, I was giving him that “look”, which he describes as wide eyed, eyebrows raised and serious.  I think it would scare me too.

So I think sometimes, we really do earn “Mother of the Year” (or at least, Mother of the Day) and my sense is that it isn’t always pleasant for anyone involved.

6th grade awards ceremony — or — OMG, I just seriously quoted George W. Bush

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 _____________.

First Day of 6th Grade – August 29, 2011

Last day of 6th Grade – June 12, 2012