I remember as a little girl, standing at the checkout in the grocery store and eyeing the simple print-outs with a fluttering heart. Those holiday coloring contests ignited in me a belief that anything was possible. I imagined that even though I’d never had the steadiest hand in class, I might submit the winning entry. Each time I’d glance over at the expanse of glass above the recycling center and imagine my finished piece being displayed with a bright colored “WINNER” badge. The Albertson’s staff would smile at me and clap me on the back, my mom and dad would smile and tousle the hair on the top of my head saying, “We knew you’d get it.”
So many Easters, Thanksgivings and Vanlentine’s Day entries bearing my name and age were submitted with bottomless hope. Weeks later I’d run to that wall while my mom waited in line and I’d scan for my entry. Eventually I would find it, hung askance and partially covered by another entry. My heart would sink and I would feel broken, wondering wistfully what the winner felt like. I’d memorize their name and imagine what their life was like. My defeat would always be completely erased by the next contest and my confidence that this time, this time it would be my name that would represent the best of the 5-7 year old age bracket.
As an adult I bristle when I see the contests, realizing that the winners are often decided by an arbitrary drawing, or by some other methodology. I am torn between wanting my girls to have the same willingness to believe that anything is possible and fearing that my own relative rudderlessness has been passed in the genes. I know on some level that there were kids who wanted to be artists when they were five. They were drawn to the artbox at times other than the contest season. They spent their afternoons hunched over paper, while I dug for clay and sought out fairies beneath dewy rhododendron leaves. It wasn’t that I wanted to circumvent hard work, it was just that there was nothing I knew in the depth of my soul I needed to do.
My oldest daughter now has a similar inclination toward awards that have nothing to do with her skills. Her school has something called the Spartan Spirit Award. The award is given to students who demonstrate kindness unprompted by teachers. I can say without embellishment that she has come home from school every day since Thanksgiving with a breathless, “Mom, tomorrow might be the day I get the Spartan Spirit Award.” She regales me with the random acts of kindness, cooperation and cooperation that she has demonstrated and punctuates it with a, “sooo, I’m not sure, but I think tomorrow will be the day when they call my name.” I’m ashamed to admit that in the parent teacher conference I let her teacher know how doggedly she pursues the award. The teacher just smiled.
My resolve is wavering because while I didn’t practice drawing and coloring in order to win an award, Briar does lay awake at night imagining things she can do to demonstrate her exceptional spartan spirit. I am humbled by how indomitable her faith that she’ll get picked is, but at the same time I am fiercely protective and realize that it’s very likely she will never be recognized for her efforts. I want to intervene, I want her to not learn this lesson. Her goodness and hope are the most precious shoots of potential and I want to preserve them with everything I have. But damnit, I want it to just happen. This isn’t a coloring contest, it is a measure of her character.
I just worry that if I leave it up to others she’ll look up at me one day and ask why she wasn’t good enough for the award.
Last year in baseball the coach gave a the game ball to the player who had the best game-not just in stats but in attitude, effort, behavior and sportsmanship. Ben would have a tremendous game and I would think, today’s the day he’ll get the ball. We’d huddle around the dugout after the game while the ball was awarded and I’d watch every game for his head to hang low when the ball was given to someone else. At the last game the coach waited until the party afterwards to give out the final game ball. It went to Ben. After all the waiting and the discouraging times after each game when someone elses name was called I was impressed with his ability to rebound and elevate his hopes for the next game. We don’t want our children to feel that sense of “why am I not good enough” because it hurts us, and them to some extent. But they move beyond it, rather quickly, and show us just how resilient they are. I have no doubt in my mind that Briar’s spirit is magical. If I had the award to give I would deliver it today with glitter and sparkle.
Is it something the school is making a big deal of? Maybe they ought to emphasize that acts of kindness make you feel great whether or not it’s recognized by an outside party… And maybe if it doesn’t come from the school that way, it could help if it comes from you? Alternately, you could make your own award for her just to show her how great you think she is? And maybe you should win your own coloring contest just to heal old wounds… 🙂
At my birthday party two years ago, Cory gave me a trophy from Big Uglies that had a star on it and engraved words saying “Kate E. Austin. Happy Birthday 2009. You’re Freaking Awesome!” He called everyone together for the presentation and made a little speech and everything.
Best award ever. It’s proudly displayed in our home. Only award I ever got to take home.
I never won a coloring contest award, but I did know that I wanted to be an artist when I was five. I did some fairy searching too, though – and maybe that’s why I’m where I am; a jack of all trades and not a master painter. I like it that way just fine, though.
Stuff like this always breaks my heart. I was always the one looking for fairies, too. Could you give her your own award, or would she see through that?
Oh this is one of those hard things. I do believe Briar will do fine and sail right on past it if she doesn’t get this recognition. But there is a lesson, a couple really. That thing about life not being fair, and everybody doesn’t always get a trophy … even when deserved sometimes. She will find that being kind is it’s own reward in time. For now she KNOWS she is loved and appreciated and you are giving her such a wonderful foundation – she will deal. Doesn’t mean she won’t be hurt and oh how much that hurts you – but she will deal. Have confidence in what you have given her.
Oh, my heart is breaking for her. I’m sure the school means well, but you’re right: this could be a lesson that none of us want her to learn… Crossing my fingers for her.
She doesn’t need reminding that she’ll excel at either one or many skills. She has a constant, 24-hour reminder of what it’s like to be a confident woman that loves strongly and lives life with fierce passion. That in itself is a skill that doesn’t have any kind of award. Can’t wait to hug all of you very tightly.
At first I thought, what a clever award, inspiring random acts of kindness. But if they’re inspired, they’re no longer random, are they? Then the rest in of the drawbacks of this initiative emerge, one by one.
The good news is, you’re the mom and I have faith that you’ll be there to help her sort it out if she’s ultimately disappointed (and, as well, to keep it in perspective if she’s acknowledged). I have a feeling if it’s needed, you’ll listen in the best way and offer the right kind of shoulder for her to process the experience…
Oh oh oh. Something seems not right about that award.
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