Yesterday our school held its annual Honors Day, recognizing students for academic excellence and strength of character. It was a day of mixed emotions, because (like real life) everyone does not get a medal.
There was the expected pride and jubilation by those receiving the awards (and their paparazzi parents) as well as disappointment and borderline-shame from those whose names were not called upon to be honored. The first graders joyfully devoured the dum dum suckers that had apparently been handed out to keep them quiet. Some of the 2nd & 3rd grade boys on the aisle stretched for high fives with each recipient as they walked forward to be recognized.
Many of the older elementary students seemed to sit up straighter with the announcement of each category and shrink back a little with resignation when their name was not the one called for their grade level. There was even the unfortunate muttering-under-breath from a handful of children who haven't yet mastered the art of sportsmanship or editing their self expression.
Our school's tradition is to keep all awards a secret. Parents of children who are being recognized receive a cryptic email stating "Your child is receiving an award. Please do not discuss this with anyone." The specific child, nor the award are revealed. For those of us with multiple children there is the added twist of wondering which will be recognized and in what area. I found that I, too, sat up a little straighter each time a 5th grade award was on the agenda.
It can be tempting as parents to view awards days as a measure of us and how well our little people are turning out. In doing so, we can relegate our children to projects we are developing. Does the world approve of them? From my adoring mother's perspective, it was plausible that each of our trio could have been recognized in some area. They are bright, precocious, growing 5th graders who are (mostly) kind...and so are dozens of others of their peers. In the end, 7 of the 46 in their class received individual honors, including 1/3 of my trio.
After all the names had been called, a mom of three children (spread out in different grades) turned to me and asked if I was nervous about handling the 'fallout' of only one award. As I sat in the bleachers and pondered the question I thought: This is the stuff of life lessons.
In our own home we had an immediate opportunity to practice celebrating with those who have been recognized and encouraging those who didn't have their moment in the sun this time. I think social media makes this true even in homes without multiple same aged children. This week my Facebook timeline and Instagram feed are full of rightfully proud parents. The parents, after all, are privy to just how hard a child has been working in a subject area, the obstacles that have been overcome and how this recognition may have been just what was needed in a particular season to urge a child to keep going.
After the ceremony, I had a little one-on-one time running errands with one of my non-recognized children. We were birthday party planning and the subject of the awards ceremony had not been discussed. As we walked down the snack aisle at Kroger he commented matter of factly, "I try a lot of things, but the only trophies I have ever received are for participation." He didn't betray any sadness or sour grapes per se...merely a somewhat resigned observation.
He went on to comment on a few of the specific recipients and how well deserved their honor had been. Although it was mostly a kid-led conversation with no lecture from Mom (this time) my heart lept at the real life sweetness. What I LOVE most about motherhood are the moments of realization as our kids start to put together their understanding of how the world works.
In those moments I am so grateful for the perspective from 41 1/2 years of living and all the more committed to being a centered adult who does not ride the roller coaster of tween emotions.
Contemplating the day, I was flooded with memories of many awards days in my past--some where I felt overwhelmed by an honor and others when I felt overlooked by not having my name called. I have been on both sides--flattered and frustrated.
In a world full of participation trophies, I value the tradition of awards--to lift up examples to which others can aspire and to say "I see you, great job." I rejoice with the kid in my home who was honored--and the fresh wind it put in that child's sails. The excited faces of the kids who were honored were precious and moving. Hooray for the noteworthy kids!
But I also empathize with the ones who didn't get a prize this time. Some of them get their kudos on a sports field or court, others from an audience as they perform, but some of them haven't yet had an outstanding talent or ability emerge that earned them public recognition. Everyone blooms in different ways and at various times. It is important to teach our unrecognized children that the awards and medals aren't to be expected, nor the measure of their worth or sole motivation for good work. Awards are simply the icing on top.
Our experience also serves as a parenting reminder to rejoice over success all along the journey in meaningful and sincere ways. In may not be a public medal, but a pat on the back, an eyeball to eyeball congratulations on a new skill or a sticky note on a bedside table complimenting a budding character trait go a long way. In the long run being seen, affirmed and valued is what all of us seek--and that should never be solely dependent on a Spring awards day.