Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Pleasure to Have in Class

“And now it is time to announce the winner of the Golden Bear award!” the coach yelled from the front of the room. The 7th and 8th graders on the track team began to whisper to each other. The nervous parents sat up a little straighter in their plastic chairs. The Golden Bear award was the last award given out at the end of the year track banquet. The prior awards had been a reflection of superior athletic ability and talent, reflected in only a handful of the team’s superstars. The Golden Bear award, however, was chosen by the coaches and didn’t necessarily have anything to do with athletic ability. It was an award for the “good” kids. Everyone had a chance.

The track kids stopped whispering to each other as the coach began to list off the qualities the Golden Bear award winner possessed. The parents looked ahead with their heads held high, their smiles full of hopeful confidence and anticipation. It was an unspoken assumption among the parents that the Golden Bear award must somehow be a reflection of superior parenting. Good kids were always a product of good parenting. Challenging children were, of course, a result of an unlucky genetic draw…right?

“This award is going to someone who is just the nicest kid, who was always pleasant to be around and who always had a smile on their face.” the coach announced.

A few of the parents immediately looked uncomfortable.

“This kid was helpful every single day. This kid helped put away the hurdles every day after practice without being asked to.”

A few more parents began to look down at the floor. Their smiles were quickly fading.

“This kid did what was asked of them without complaining or talking back.”

Quite a few parents had now looked away from the coach and many more were fidgeting in their seats.

“This kid was respectful of the coaches every single day.”

The majority of the parents were now wiggling uncomfortably as they looked randomly around the room and pretended to drink from their empty cup.

Who was this phantom child the coach was speaking of? It must be a foreign exchange student. Or maybe a Mormon child. Perhaps even an Amish child. Most of the parents knew the coach couldn’t possibly be talking about the very real, typical, emotional, unpredictable , challenging and defiant teenager they struggled with at home. Their child did not regularly exhibit the qualities the coach was listing off--at least not at home.

It’s often been said that kids will save their best behavior for school and then fall apart at home where they feel comfortable and safe. Just like at the track awards ceremony, this behavior can also be seen on the dreaded report card. It may or may not be a surprise that Junior received a B in math class or a C in science class, but parents might be surprised at some of the positive remarks in the comment section of the report card. Regardless of the grades, parents can be stunned to learn their teenager “is a pleasure to have in class” or “is a good role model”. A parent might be shocked to find that their teen “demonstrates superior achievement in class” or was “highly motivated” or “possesses good self discipline”. Many astonished parents have asked, “Who the heck are they talking about? Are you sure this is your report card? Why can’t you be more like this at home?”

If parents were to issue report card comments reflective of a child’s home behavior, they might come out a tad more negatively. Comments like, “a pleasure to have around only when sleeping quietly in her bedroom” or “a good role model for all aspiring video gamers” would be included. Parents wouldn’t be at all shocked to see that their teen “demonstrates superior achievement in dirty laundry accumulation” or was “highly cranky before noon” or “possesses a selfish, ungrateful attitude”.

When the Golden Bear award winner was finally announced at the track banquet that night, the winning parents seemed to exhibit an immense and surprised sigh of relief more than a prideful, boasting smile. The Golden Bear award was confirmation that their child functioned a bit better in society than they sometimes did at home. They might feel like parental failures on a daily basis, they might wonder where they went wrong with their kid and they might seriously wonder how their kid will ever become a responsible adult. But one thing was for sure. If their kid could somehow be worthy of the Golden Bear award, well…..maybe there was hope. Hope, not just for their kid, but for themselves as parents as well. Because, after all, winning the Golden Bear award, or reading positive report card comments such as, “is a good role model” or “is a pleasure to have in class” isn’t just about the child. When translated into parenting language these comments really mean-- “Hey, hang in there! Parenting is tough but you seem to be doing a decent job. Keep it up!”

Unless of course, the report card comments are negative. Then we all know that is just a bit of bad genetic luck. And there’s nothing any parent can do about

Check This Out!
Then teenager and I recently read Night by Elie Wiesel together. Night is Wiesel’s account of his survival of the horrors of the Holocaust. The teenager and I were both quite hesitant to read this book for fear of it making us feel uncomfortable. Within the first few pages, however, we were hooked and couldn’t manage to put it down. This small but gripping book should be required reading for every person on this planet.

Another book that raises a few questions is The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. Pollan traces the origins of the food we eat today including food from industrial farms, large scale organic farms, small family farms and even hunting and gathering your own food. Do you really know where your food comes from, how it gets to your table and the ramifications of deciding what you will eat for dinner tonight? It's a fascinating book that really makes you think.

The teenager and the boy are also highly recommending the movie Wall-E. Our family has made our half yearly trip to the movie theater and I can report that all members of the family laughed, cried and were moved by Wall-E. 4 stars and two thumbs up.