Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Gold Star Winner

I may be the world’s worst mother and the world’s biggest hypocrite. Yay me! Would you like to know why? Because I recently had the opportunity to test one of my convictions and before I even realized that I was being tested – I HAD FAILED. You see, I believe that the Competitive Mommies of the world are a truly destructive force. I try and avoid them but they’re a fairly ubiquitous presence where I live. There are all kinds, but the ones that are the most frightening to me are the “Super Stars." These are the highly educated moms who gave up successful careers to focus on raising their kids. My kids and I are also super stars, but a totally different and more awesome kind.

There are moms out there who feel like, if their kids don’t succeed at everything, then they’re failing as parents. That’s a huge mistake. I mean, how much pressure can a nine-year-old take? If they don’t make it into the “good” math group, they have to hear their parents moan crap like “where did I go wrong?” If these kids DO make it into the “good” math group, then the parents preen like it’s their accomplishment instead of allowing their kids to feel like they’ve earned their own accolades. Children learn a valuable lesson from this; that their parents will take responsibility for everything that they do – good or bad. Doesn’t that set off ginormous warning bells? These kids have the potential to either become success-hungry weasels or total slackers who figure, why bother? (And get to put the screws to their parents, to boot).

And let’s not gloss over the fact that the Super Star Mommies also have the effect of making the rest of us feel like crap. You know what I’m talking about. Their kid was potty trained at 18 months and all her kids could read (Latin) before kindergarten. And if you’ve ever talked to her for fifteen minutes, she’s told you all about it. And if she finds out that one of yours needs speech therapy, she looks at you with such pity that you want to square up and kick her in the lady parts or her perfect teeth.

But sadly, I recently discovered that I'm not much better.  I have been so vocal in my opposition to Perfect Mommy. I have been so strident in my cries of “Let kids be kids!”, “Just relax, Lady!” and the lesser known pirate cry, “Loosen yer sphincter!” I have said again and again that I would rather have a child with backbone and heart at community college than a liar and a cheater at Harvard. Then Thumbelina won the first Gold Star in her class, and I went temporarily insane. Gold Stars are monthly awards for kids who exemplify one of the school’s values. They’re a big deal. That was when all my walls came tumbling down and (at least between when school let out and dinner) I became all that I abhor.

First, I called the Cap’n and the grandparents. Then I casually mentioned it to a couple of dozen people (and strangers). I contemplated updating my Facebook status and then decided to wait until I had a picture of her with the gold star pinned to her shirt so I could really send the message home. I started having the following really repulsive thoughts:

• She got the gold star on the first month, which means her teacher must really like her. (I may have done the Mr. Burns wicked hand thing at this point, there’s no telling)
• If the teacher likes her, then she’ll get extra attention and good grades. (Then came the evil laugh)
• She’s starting the year off strong and that’s great because this is the year they start tracking student achievement. (And my little precious must be tracked into the extra special group… My precious… Yes, by then I was Gollum - imaginary conversations and all - I’m not proud.)
• She’s right on schedule to take over the entire world. And all because I made her copy out her challenge words ten times… (And that’s when I became Super Star Mommy, because it was all about ME.)

I spent an inordinate amount of time at dinner that night telling Thumbelina how proud I was and how wonderful she was. Then Hawk, her little brother, asked the million dollar question: “Yah yah yah. Gold star. But what’s it for?” Thumbelina replied that the value that she exemplified was responsibility. She was really proud because in our family, we always talk about how important it is take responsibility for the things we say and do.

Oh my sweet melons… I am such an ass hat.

I crumpled. I actually started sniffling at the dinner table. I hadn’t even asked her. I only cared about The Gold Star. I didn’t care about what it was for. Responsibility. I was suddenly so proud and this time, for her. For who she was. For all the good things that she must have done that whole month of school. For the recognition that SHE earned.

“Thumbelina. I couldn’t ask for a better girl. And Hawk, if you get any more awesome, they’re going to give you a Gold Star for being a dang Jedi. And you baby – are the sweetest, stinkiest little monkey in the world, and I love you all day, every day.” And the kids looked at me like I was all crazy and just kept eating like things were normal.  If they knew how to whistle, they would've done so to break the awkward tension.

I owed my daughter an apology and she got it. But I think I may also owe Super Star Mommy an apology, too.

Dear Super Star Mommy,

Is it possible that I’ve gotten you all wrong? That you’re struggling and doing your best – just like me? Except without all of the visible flailing and boobstains? Is it that you can’t help yourself and then poof! You act like a braggy snitch and you don’t even know that you’re doing it? Because all this time I thought you were behaving this way to make other people feel bad because you weren’t very nice or you just didn’t get it. I thought you were trying to build up your kids and your ability as a mom at the expense of others. And I don’t like that. . . at all. Just because a baby needs to wear a helmet or a pre-schooler needs speech therapy is no reason to look smug. Or Maude forbid, say something obnoxious. I’ve got a sandwich in the van I’m saving just for slapping.

But then it sort of happened to me. The braggy part, anyway. Not the snitch part (I took a pledge on how to treat other people’s kids). So I tell you right now, I know that I’m no better than you. I’m sorry if I misjudged you and I promise to give you a chance. I’m going to listen to you. If I hear you say something yucky, I’ll go get the sandwich and return with a fiery vengeance of sammy slappage. But if I hear you brag, I’ll listen politely and then I’m going to challenge you to tell the truth. Because honestly, I’d rather hear about how you try not to drink before Oprah is over than how perfect your life is. I mean, Kate and I once thought we were too different to be friends.

Maybe there’s hope for all of us.

xo, Lydia

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2010


  1. I have lot's of friends who are better mommies than me, but they are still my best friends because they don't flaunt it. And I have heard their stories of paint-sprayer-puking and homework warfare. We all have our special mommy talents and evil mommy weaknesses. My own Super Mommy Talent is to keep a level head under horribly stressful situations (like someone elses kid choking on a nugget at McD's). My Evil Weakness is tuning out my kids out on a fairly regular basis when I am tired of hearing the play by play of last night's hockey game (the imaginary one in his head). I just know I am missing important details of his life hidden in all that, but I just can't listen! My point is, Super Mommy probably has an area of her life that is so out of whack she has to build up the good parts. Maybe her husband is a jackhole. And the Super Mommies I know make me want to be a better mommy. But it is wonderful to know their kids have flaws occassionally...

  2. The line between proud mom and braggy mom is so thin that it's invisible at times. You realize you've stepped over it only when you see listening fatigue on the other person's face.

    Thumbelina did good, and you wanted to share, that's cool. You're an awesome, proud, right kind of super star mommy.

  3. uhh, I am so you. I know Super Star mommy. I, too, became her this summer. Except, I think I still like her!
    Hopefully this link worked. If not, see "I'm obnoxious" at my blog at http://kimmiekuhl-babyfeet.blogspot.com

  4. Aww, I got a little misty-eyed reading this. We all get caught up in the moment sometimes. The validation that *something* is working despite the chaos of life is very intoxicating. Hey, if it were my kid, he wouldn't have a clue what the star was for anyway! ;)

  5. I think every mom has her moments. We can't help it. My oldest is the one who struggles at school and who needs speech therapy ... so when she went horse-crazy and riding lessons, I was all proud and embarrassingly braggy, I know it...I was just so excited she'd found her "passion". And then I realized um, the kid is 7...she could have a new passion by christmas...(blushing)

    I think most of us just try to keep it to a minimum..and yes, when we see the eyes glazing, we need to back off or expect the sammy slappage upside the head... ;)

  6. You deserve a gold star for admitting that you were a little Paltrow possessed. It happens to the best of us and that's why this is such an awesome post.

    I also sense and little 'sissy' creeping into this post which makes me want to stroke your hair and say "Shhhhh, it's okay. Eat something, I think your blood sugar is low."


  7. Go update your status! She earned the gold star for responsibility! You taught her that and you both deserve to enjoy it. Congrats to you both!

  8. I was able to one-up Supermommy by chaperoning a field trip which she was unable to attend...and her child was in my group! Mwuhahahahahahhaaaaaaaaa...! And her child *gasp* misbehaved! But only slightly. Wow, if I wasn't mocking myself you'd think I was so jealous of Supermommy that I took delight in seeing that her child wasn't perfect. Actually, Supermommy has a lot of responsibilities in her life and probably is the way she is because she is uber-organized (if she wasn't, it would all fall apart). I think this applies to all Supermommies, and, to a certain extent, the not-so-super-but-still-quite-awesome-mommies. Bragging is OK, in small amounts...but when overdone, the sandwich-slap is appropriately meted out to the deserving.

  9. My kids' school has a big board in the cafeteria that they showcase students on for good behavior, sticking up for someone else. etc. I walked in one day for a teacher meeting and saw my son's picture on the board for being honest in a tough situation. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest! I walked around with my nose in the air for awhile, I admit. :) *Excellent*

  10. What a great reminder, Lyd. Thank you. As always, I learn, I laugh, I leave happy. :)

  11. Please tell me you've seen this: http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7148143/

    (and forgive my addled brain if you've actually posted it and I've forgotten)

  12. This post illustrates exactly why you are not an ass hat. You totally caught yourself before you spun out of control.

    I've said it many times...but this Mommy job is tough because there is no built-in evaluation. Us post-modern women have been out in the working world and received constant feedback on our performance. Then we became moms and we're like, uuuuh, where's my year-end evaluation? When's my performance review? How do I know if I'm doing this right? The only measurement, it seems, is when you feel pride for your child. So I say, take a moment to revel in it a bit! (After all, who taught her to be responsible, hmmm?) Give yourself a pat on the back and then turn the focus back to Thumbelina. You both are even awesome-er!

  13. "try not to drink before Oprah is over"... that'll be me today! ;-)

    You rock, Lydia. Loved the letter (and the pic of Gwyneth was icing). We all get caught up in "Perfect Mommy" syndrome. Why? Because we LOVE our kids, and we are proud of them, no matter what!

  14. Always enjoy your posts! Even listed you as one of my "Blogs I Follow" on my blog so all my friends can find you too!

  15. I totally understand where you are coming from. My son is in 2nd grade and all 2nd graders get tested for the TAG program (talented and gifted). Of course, I think my child is extremely smart and what parent doesn't want to think their kid are those qualities. However! - I had to come to decide I really don't care if he gets in or not. I had a talk with him about it and I didn't want to put pressure on him and I let him know they were doing this test and if he gets in fine and if he doesn't that's fine too. I'm proud of him either way because I know he works hard, does his homework and puts his best effort forward (most of the time...i mean, we do sit there nightly for far too long making sure the homework is done but that's mostly beside the point). The little sweetie looked at me and said, "But would you be more proud of me if I was in it?". I had to convince him that I would be proud of him no matter what. What 7 year old needs that kind of pressure?

  16. This post, more than any other, makes me think the world of you. We all find ways to survive the knowledge that we have incredible power over the fragile little angelic monsters that push us to the limits of our patience and then go one more step every. damn. time. Most of us deal with this by choosing our battles and focusing on those who suck in the areas in which we rock. We may yell or be crap for laundry, but we don't do THAT. In my case, I get great comfort from knowing that I don't pressure my kids to be super stars or judge other moms. No, I just judge the judgey moms, lol. Being able to see that they aren't the enemy, and that you (I!) have the occasional competitive or pride-based instinct to show off the little angel-monsters shows a greater humility and integrity than most of us are courageous enough to face. It's saying I'm not better than the other moms out there, even the ones that bug me the most, and that it's OKAY. That the kids will be alright because we love them and keep trying and drink lots of wine to keep from losing it completely. So, KUDOS. Also, congrats on recognizing the beast before it took over completely. :-)




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