How to Be a Proud Parent to Your Child on Awards Day When He Doesn’t Win Any Awards

This is the time of year I ritually refer to as my Best Parenting Month. Note sarcasm. (I stole this idea from Jen Hatmaker. If you haven’t read her post, Worst End of School Year Mom Ever, you have missed out on a fundamental lesson in parenting. Even worse, you missed several key LOL moments and the chance to celebrate yourself for your parenting shortcomings that inevitably sneak out around the end of your child’s school year every year. Click here. NOW. MUST READ. Who wants to pass on an opportunity like that?)

Because… it’s May, and you are hanging on by your hot-pink, cannot wait a single second longer for summer, fingernails. May is a loaded month for parents of students– class parties, field trips, parent forms, permission slips, teacher requests and class orientations for next year, banquets, Muffins with Mom and Donuts with Dad, and a trillion other things I have blocked from my frontal lobe in a vain attempt to keep my sanity in tact and my hot-pink fingernails untarnished. We parents of school aged children all know, with the end of the school year comes the annual Awards Day Ceremonies courtesy of your local elementary or middle school campus. You know the drill: teachers award students for their outstanding achievements throughout the year.

first place ribbon

Certificate for Perfect Attendance!
(This kid has either been blessed with Super Parents or a bionic immune system. Or he’s in very bad need of scheduling eye, teeth, and well-check appointments. Either way, he deserves a nod.)

Most AR Points Earned!
(Oh, you are not familiar with “AR”? Well, you do not live in Texas. Foreigners just won’t understand.)

Mr./Ms. _____________________ [insert school mascot here, an especially adorable title for the kindergarten set.]
(A piercing bright light will momentarily blind you as this child takes the stage. No worries, it’s just her recently shined halo. You get used to it eventually. Before the ceremony began, her parents were escorted by a tuxedo-clad usher to their reserved seats down front and center. You only know this through heresay, of course. You snuck in the back to occupy space in the standing room only section– otherwise known as The Latecomer’s Section– about ten minutes after the ceremony began. Needless to say, your child won’t be winning this award any time soon. One of the prerequisites for this award is for students to be the offspring of the kind of parents who are completely alien to the standing room only section of the auditorium. Your kid was beat before he ever began, really. But, I’m sure he’s good at other things.)

If your school is like ours, then technically no elementary child will walk away without any awards. This is when the teachers really shine! Their creativity and ambiguous use of diction help to make every child feel special.

Oh look! You got the award for Best Smile!

And here’s one for you: Best Paper Passer-Outer

Then: Strategically Completed the Analysis of Strategies certificate

Next up, Returned All My Library Books Award!

And lastly, don’t forget: Asks the Most Questions certificate

Now, my kids are still fairly young. I haven’t been to a ton of these things yet, but I’ve got to say the whole thing makes me feel uneasy. Because my mind is a carousel that never runs out of tokens, naturally I’ve spent way too much time analyzing this. But I think I’ve got it now. When I attend the end of the school year awards ceremony (or occasionally take my place in the standing room only section, don’t judge), I sometimes have to repress this very primal, competitive feeling that threatens to creep out at some unsuspecting moment. I wouldn’t say I feel jealous of other parents whose children seem to win every award. I don’t wish the halo-adorned student were my own child to take home after the ceremonies. I mean, come on. I’ve got to get home to cook dinner anyway. I’d have to skip the subsequent parade in her honor. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

So, why do I get all antsy inside at these things sometimes?

Because I desperately want it to be my child’s turn to feel special at some point. 

None of my children needs to be the best at everything to satisfy me. I want them to reach their potential, for sure, but none needs to be the smartest, run the fastest, learn to read first, or waste time shining their halos to make me proud to be their mama.

Regardless of which awards they’ll win this year, which will be long forgotten in a few short years anyway, I am proud of them for a hundred things Awards Day may never notice. My shy, introverted kindergartener finally opened up to his teacher enough to read aloud to her around mid-December. He even promoted to reading aloud to a first grade group in his G/T meetings! My people-pleasing third grader has become more adept at making his own decisions and making his opinion known to his friends, something we only dreamed of in the past. And the list continues just like it does for your own child… making friends with the special needs student in the classroom, learning to tie shoelaces, writing names independently, completing the first solo flight on a chapter book, standing up to a bully in the hallway, completing every homework assignment on time, keeping up with a student planner for the first time, passing the ever-lovin’ STAAR test, and for the littles, just learning how to sit down in a chair and to keep quiet and walk in a straight line in the hallway. (You have not seen A.DOR.A.BLE until you’ve watched a whole line of tiny 5 year-olds with their duck tails and bubbles move down the hall!)

Remember, parents, that this one ceremony does not add to or take away from the total value of our children. More importantly, it doesn’t add to or take away from your total value as a parent.

My children are good kids, just like yours. I know their hard work over the course of the year will be recognized. I also know they are SO MUCH MORE than the colored card-stock they’re sent home with on Awards Day. Maybe my sons’ arms will be overloaded with certificates this year; maybe they’ll rush to me with a wide smile plastered to their little faces as they proudly show me their “Line Leading LIKE A BOSS” awards. I’ll be no less proud.

I’m their mama. It is my duty, and my pleasure, to be proud of them. I need them to know that I will always feel this way, regardless of how the world validates them.

This. Funny. The kind of mama I want to be.

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On Little Boys and ADD/ADHD: A candid look on a tired debate

I didn’t want to do it. My husband didn’t want me to do it. Some of our extended family still question it. Even our pediatrician let out an audible sigh when he admitted it was time.

It was time to start my eight-year-old, a third grader, on ADHD meds.

As I looked around the compact examining room, I eyed the juvenile artwork hanging above the examining table. I felt exactly like those multi-colored scribbles, the jagged, unsteady lines cross-crossing haphazardly over the print. It was beautiful in a way; it was equally chaotic.

Our pediatrician and I discussed different drugs that would meet our goals, the appropriate dosages to try first, the side effects to watch for. Though he proved patient and kind and sat with me in that little room for nearly an hour answering every question and devil’s advocate scenario I presented, I still felt oddly alone. The weight of the situation bared down as I realized no one could else could help me here. I couldn’t delegate; no one was coming to stand in and tell me what to do. I also felt that it would be inappropriate to poll our friends and family for their opinions. It’s just too touchy of a debate, and no one outside of our immediate family of five adequately understands the nuances of our family dynamic anyway.  Only I was equipped to make the call.

So, on a Friday morning shortly before Christmas, my first-born (in his shorts and t-shirt– this is Texas in December after all) and I headed down to the parking garage with a plan in hand. I felt excited, anxious, defensive, and a million other responses I couldn’t quite articulate.

I don’t regret the decision yet. Not as a parent, not as a fellow teacher, even though my mind and heart aren’t in complete harmony, even now. Part of me wants to buck up, start a grass-roots campaign calling attention to western education and the shove towards standardized testing and standardized education. This movement transforms students like my son away from their natural, eight-year-old boy tendencies into statues who are able to sit and robotically perform practice exercises for prolonged periods of time. The old adage “Boys will be boys” comes to mind. Maybe my son isn’t really ADHD; maybe he’s just a little boy exercising his God-given tendencies. (Note: I, in no way, accuse our current children’s teachers of failing to meet our students’ needs. We are SO BLESSED to have educators who defy the odds, make learning fun, and differentiate instruction to meet each individual students’ needs. Still, their efforts to achieve all of this most often require their superhero capes and a lot of prayer because of the current trends in our educational system. And as amazing as our teachers are, they’re still forced to work within the confines of such a system.)

The other part of me, the voice of reason that won over in the end, realizes my personal opinion on the state of our educational system’s affairs won’t help my son be successful in his classroom. I am a public school educator myself. Naturally, my own children will most likely complete their grade school education in a public school setting. Regardless of how I feel personally, my son needs to be able to function in a public school setting. He is one among many in his class. When his teacher needs him to sit still and remain quiet so she can direct teach or so other students can themselves concentrate, then he’ll need the medicinal help to make that happen.

He isn’t a boy who is merely misbehaving. He isn’t in need of a nice stern spanking; my husband and I are in agreeance of using well-timed, appropriately handled swats on the behind. His teacher isn’t failing to challenge him. He is eager to learn and eager to please, and I am willing to get him the help he needs to reach his “little-boy-in-a-public-school” potential.

Even if that means introducing a long-term drug into the family. It’s not what we expected when we cradled our sweet, shockingly observant newborn in our arms that first day of parenthood. But it’s become our new norm. That is the sign we’re making it as parents– our ability to adjust and accept life’s curveballs and create whatever new norm is best for our children.

We hit the curveball this time, and our son is better for it.

A typical entry in my third grader's school agenda.

A typical entry in my third grader’s school agenda.

Note the change in handwriting-- after only two weeks on meds.

Note the change in handwriting– noticeable immediately after starting meds.

Elementary sho’ aint easy!

beer and school

I miss the good ole’ days.

Half-day kindergarten. “Pirate Special” served in the cafeteria on Fridays. (Ooh-wee the best part of that steak finger plate was the buttery roll!) The legendary book fair. The annual Halloween carnival. Your favorite teacher was all of your elementary teachers who hugged kids instead of standing in the hall with crossed arms and a scowl.

I’m almost 34, but just like you, I easily remember my first teachers. Ms. Shipp in kindergarten who wore a short, black bob; Mrs. Lawson in first grade, who still attends my parents’ church and still makes a point to speak to me when I visit, Mrs. Benton in second grade who gave me licks, which was apparently a first for both of us (another story for another day, albeit a funny one.)

Those days seemed easy and slow.

Nothing like the impression elementary school leaves me with now.

And I don’t like it.

I trudged to Open House with my second grader tonight. Thankfully the teachers seemed to have adopted the frozen smile by the time I finally got close enough to shake their hands because the block we walked to get to the school’s entrance in this Texas evening heat already had me dabbing my upper lip, the whole while I’m saying silent prayers that my mascara wouldn’t arrive before I did. And I won’t even go into detail about all the other places that were dripping by the time we walked the gauntlet called Everyone-in-the-entire-district-is-in-this-hallway-at-this-exact-moment. “Brennan?  … Brennan? … BRENNAN? Do I have mascara on my cheeks?”

“Scared? You’re scared?”

“No, ma.scar.a.”

“What’s your scara?”

“Oh. Nevermind then!”

Brennan proudly led the way into his “Homeroom” Teacher’s room. I’m air-quoting that phrase, Homeroom Teacher. More on that in a minute.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries; Brennan went through the usual routine of finding his desk, locker, etc. I signed the usual papers, accepted the usual parent letters that I promised I’d look over when we got home. No big deal.

Until I got home and looked over the parent letters.

Big deal.

Included was Brennan’s schedule. Sure, it was printed on colored paper with a big, fun looking font something akin to RAVIE. But I’ve taught both middle school and high school and my second grader’s paper was nothing shy of a child-friendly version of a Schedule, like the ones teenagers use.

His classes weren’t labeled as 1st period, 2nd period, and so forth. But every 42 minutes, his class is apparently going to rotate to a different teacher. In the course of a typical day (admittedly including PE), he will spend time in 7 different rooms. FAMILY, hear me on this. Ole’ boy will have SEVEN teachers in ONE day. Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing and Spelling, PE, and an elective (music, or art, or computer lab, or library day). If they’re trying to use the time-out method– one minute for every year– one teacher for every year– I think they missed the boat.

He just turned seven this week.

He’s only been tying his shoes one summer.

And to be honest, he still sucks at it.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit much?

Have you met my child?

Maybe he’s not really ADD; maybe he’s just having a harder time molding to seven different personalities in a day and trying to please all of them.

Which brings me back to the air-quoted Homeroom Teacher. Really, his HT is his first period Reading teacher. He spends no more time with her in his day than he does with any other teacher and he doesn’t even end his day in her room. Seems like that’s a loose-fitting crown to claim.

All summer long I’ve been praying for Brennan’s HT. I’ve pleaded for someone who will care about him first, understand him second, and be able to guide us as parents down this second grade path last. I’ve prayed that his teacher was enjoying her summer and refilling her love tank with her own family. As teachers began reporting back to campuses in the last few weeks, I’ve prayed that our teacher was growing excited about the kids coming into her room and that she was genuinely looking forward to teaching a roomful of new faces and that she was feeling more and more prepared to do so. I even prayed over her today, knowing these are the last few days teachers will cram to get everything perfect and ready to hit the ground running on Monday morning when school starts.

I had a slight moment of panic when I realized all this time I kind of was praying for the wrong thing. Essentially, I was praying for a Ms. Shipp or Mrs. Lawson or Mrs. Benton experience for my son. I so want him to bond with a teacher he loves.

Can he do that with 7 teachers?

I remember my second grade teacher. When he’s my age, will Brennan be able to remember his?