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

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