Saturday, October 6, 2007

Special

"Do you have an opinion? / A mind of your own? / I thought you were special"

Tomorrow, Dusty and I are headed to Las Vegas for a few days with our friends Drew and Jen. We are all celebrating the unofficial end of Mass Effect, savoring the culmination of our hard work. We're seeing two shows--Spamalot and Zumanity--checking out all the casinos built since we were last there nearly five years ago, and, of course, rollin' dem bones. Vegas, baby, yeah!

Speaking of celebration, my niece sent me a DVD compilation of her talent show performance, flute recital, choral concert, and fifth grade "graduation." I admit that I fast-forwarded through the entire ceremony; I slowed down to 1x Fast Forward when Munchkinface went up to the stage to get her certificate, then sped up to 3x again. I am almost sure the Seventh Layer of Hell has a section where you have to sit through your child's "I am a special and unique snowflake, just like everyone here!" certificate-bestowing ceremony. And your last name is Zyvtrushky.

My friend Melanie and I had a lengthy conversation last night about this celebration of mediocrity. Before coming to work at BioWare, she was a teacher who struggled with making sure her students felt special while maintaining a healthy sense of competition. We both cringed at the thought of kindergarten "graduations", complete with mortarboards and "diplomas" wrapped in red ribbon. Congrats, kid! You color inside the lines! You do not run with scissors! You no longer shit your pants in public! Here's a certificate printed from the teacher's home computer. Good luck with the rest of your life!

How much celebration is too much? Too little? I remember bringing home a math test for my dad to sign when I was in fifth grade. He solemnly looked over the test and the red 98% grade, then asked me what happened to the other two points. I didn't know what to say, so I just bowed my head. "I know you can do better," he said, and handed me my test. I did better the next time, but I still felt like I had been punished for my 98% grade. The same thing happened for a few more tests, instilling in me a sense that nothing I did was ever enough.

How do we find the balance? How do we celebrate our kids' real triumphs while still encouraging them to do better next time, especially if we know they can? How do we stop ourselves from overcompensating, making them feel special, wanting to protect them from the harsh reality of "survival of the fittest" as long as possible?

A few days ago, I called Munchkinface to thank her for the DVD. I told her she was awesome for doing all these extracurricular activities and still maintaining good grades. She said she was "ohmigosh, like, SO nervous" about her flute and singing performances, but glad she didn't mess up too much on any of the songs. She was proud of herself for working hard to learn the songs, practicing every day after school, and performing well. She didn't mention the graduation ceremony at all.
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