Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Everyone's A Winner! Or Are They?

I am going to go on record and say that after the age of say, 6, I do not, repeat I DO NOT believe in the notion that every kid should get a trophy. While 90% of success in life is indeed showing up, I don't think you deserve a medal just for doing so.

I was on a run (translation: a slow, labored jog) this morning with my sister Chrissy and she proudly shared some great news about her 9 year old son (and my nephew) James. James had done an excellent job at playing catcher for his entire baseball game last night, showed exceptional sportsmanship in trying his best and cheering on his teammates and gotten a single, 2 doubles and a triple, leading his team to victory. The coach of his little league team, a 23 year old volunteer, insisted that James get to keep the ball from the game.

"Wait!" James's father Jim (my bro-in-law) objected.

"What?" asked the coach.

"Um...James got the ball at the last game." Jim stated. "Another child should be given the ball." he suggested.

The coach looked at him.

"I gave him the game ball at the last game because he pitched an amazing game," the coach explained.

"You really don't need to. Please give it to another kid," Jim repeated in an attempt to be fair.

"No," the coach responded reasonably. "James earned that ball."

While I was happy to see that my brother-in-law hasn't become one of those sports-crazed competitive dads with which Monmouth County is rotten, I also felt gratified that hard work and extraordinary effort gets rewarded. Yes, James got the ball for two games in a row, but it was based on his performance. Isn't that what we want to teach our kids? That being amazing equals reward, even if, in this case, the reward was just a game ball? And that "just" a game ball means a lot to a child...I know because I remember mine.

Let me take you back to the year 1989.

My little league softball team, The Hollies, were down by 2 runs, it was the bottom of the last inning, the bases were loaded and I was up. Whoever won this game would win the entire MYAA championship. In a moment of sheer joy that I will never forget, I got over my nerves and hit a triple, driving in 3 runs and winning us the game. It was a beautiful moment, especially since playing sports has never really been my strong suit, and it was made all the sweeter by the fact that the Coach handed me the game ball. It was the only game ball I have ever gotten in my life. I still have it, to this day, and when I come across it every so often it brings me back to a moment of which I am proud. I wonder what my feelings would be if I received a game ball after every single game...if the entire team did...regardless of how we played. I doubt I would have kept any of them, as they would have been far from special.

I think participation certificates are awesome. But every child cannot be a winner at everything. I like when being outstanding is acknowledged and rewarded. What's next, there will be no "lead" roles in the school play and 10 different girls will all play Annie, at the same time? I'm not sure this kind of thinking is inspiring our children to anything other than mediocrity. They learn that they don't need to try too hard and they will still be rewarded. I'm not certain that this is good preparation for adulthood nor does it foster the desire for greatness.

When our friend Griffin won the school's spelling bee, I was delighted to see his name on the big board outside the school as "Bee Champ" It was nice to see they didn't squeeze on the names of the rest of his Fourth Grade class with the proclamation "Nice Try!" I like when hard work is celebrated. We try to instill that in our children because it's for their own good. A kid is not entitled to someone gazing at their scribbles and insisting "You're Picasso!" I mean, that's what grandparents are for. You're not entitled to an "A" in math if you haven't yet learned to subtract. And wouldn't a trophy mean a lot more to a kid if they know they've earned it?

I know I'm in the minority here. I also know that my 5 year old came home and burst into tears because he didn't win something he called "The Christopher Columbus Coloring Contest" a few months back. Apparently, this was a loose competition where the kid with the best colored Columbus won a sticker. I didn't call his teacher to object, nor did I say "That's NOT fair! Everyone should have won a sticker!" His tears led to a nice discussion about how you can't win everything but if you try your best, then you can rest easy knowing you have done all you can to achieve. He wiped his eyes and admitted "But I didn't try my best. I colored super fast so I could go play." And a few things seemed to dawn on his young psyche. He seemed to have made the connection between effort and reward. How proud he was last month when he was 1 of only 5 students in his class of 20 who got an award for reading the most books online. He had been diligently reading a few books each night for weeks and he was so happy to see his hard work paying off. We hung the certificate with pride, knowing that a) it meant something and that b) it was his very first award for merit. I am convinced if every child had received one, whether they read 100 books or zero the reward would not have meant nearly as much. And I wondered what message that would have sent. And I wonder, as parents, educators and coaches if we really want to be sending that message.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Hunger Games

My 2 year old likes to "help" me make dinner by scattering food everywhere and refusing to budge from in front of either the dishwasher or the garbage can making it impossible for me to get into either. She also enjoys stealing my giant, fish-shaped cutting board and pretending it's her skateboard. She also points to the stovetop repeatedly and says "This is hot?" She knows it's hot but she keeps checking with me like she doesn't really believe me. But the great thing about Dilly (her nickname) is that she has the palate of a food critic. She eats raw red cabbage slaw, veggie sushi, eggplant parmesan, guacamole and hummus. I know a lot of kids possess this adventuresome trait but since my almost 5 year old is THE PICKIEST EATER IN THE UNIVERSE I really enjoy Dilly's desire to try different healthy foods. (She also scrapes frosting off of cupcakes, just eating the cake part, and hates chocolate chip cookies. This makes me wonder if she was switched at birth but since she still enjoys most pies, I think she's mine)

But back to my 5 year old, The Big A. He's a terrible eater in that if I let him eat plain macaroni every night he would be perfectly content. Red sauce is far too exotic for him. He never met a hot dog he didn't like. And besides carrots, he makes a big federal case out of eating any type of green vegetable. Although he's literally thrown up into his plate when tasked with eating asparagus, broccoli or spinach we still make him do it. I have to give my children something to discuss in therapy one day.

Last night was no different.

I made a salad plus a wheat pizza for Dilly, my husband and I, topped with fresh grilled chicken, balsamic, mushrooms, sautéed onion and asparagus. I topped it with aged provolone and fresh tomatoes for a sort of different type of pizza than the same-old same-old.

The Big A, who helped me grate all of the cheese, dubbed it "Garbage Pizza. It looks like garbage."

"Well, aren't you a treat?" I scoffed as I shoved it in the oven.

"Don't worry," he assured me. "Daddy will like it. He'll eat anything."

That is true. But how did two total foodies like my husband and I get stuck with such a finicky eater?

As I served Big A's dinner, neatly separated into quadrants as per Big A's OCD demands the whining began.

"We're not having noodles!?" he protests.

"Nope, not noodles." I said through gritted teeth.

I had served little chunks of roasted chicken, baby carrots, sliced apples, cheddar wedges and some bright green steamed asparagus with butter. A glass of milk completed what was a very fresh and nutritious meal.

"Arrgh" he grouses as he plops into his seat "Asparagus again?"

I am now sort of furious because I just served a delicious meal and he's already complaining. Also, considering the food that we are always collecting for Lunch Break through our church, I should not need to remind him how many children would be thrilled to get this meal.

And then the negotiation begins. Such as:

"Can I just eat the heads of the asparagus?

Do I have to eat all 5?

If I promise to have a tea party with Dilly can I not eat it?

Can I eat it tomorrow?

Can I eat it later?

I think I'm too full to eat my asparagus."

So now I'm past my breaking point, I already poured myself a glass of red and I'm taking a deep breath. He scarfed up the rest of his simple repast, including all of the carrots, which he has deemed the only non-evil vegetable.

Then he looks over at me.

"Do I really have to eat it?"

"No," I respond, "you don't have to. You can go straight to bed right now at 6:15."

So then, while mugging, gagging, moaning, flailing his arms and acting like I've just given him fish heads, poison or both, he takes tiny bites of the asparagus, chasing each one with milk and then slumping, in a heap, onto his chair. He's only eaten one spear at this point.

Then he does something that aggravates me so much I want to scream.

He begins talking to the asparagus. And himself.

"Okay Big A," he mutters, "You can DO THIS!" He's dead serious, giving himself a pep talk to eat delicious fresh steamed asparagus, crisp tender and smothered in butter. He eventually finishes it all, acts like he's just done me a great favor by dealing with this indignity and clears his plate. This was good night. Sometimes he talks his way out of eating all the greens or my patience runs out before his does.

I give up. I gaze over at Dilly who's polishing off her asparagus, a small slice of "Garbage Pizza", and some spicy beef empanadas my father brought over earlier from her favorite Latin restaurant. She loves empanadas. Like most 2 year olds. I guess if we lived in Argentina.

I don't know when The Big A will realize that boy cannot live by plain spaghetti and chicken nuggets alone. He also likes pancakes and birthday cake but that does not a healthy diet make. I can't help but wonder how two children that came from the same parents and who have grown up in the same home can be so vastly different when it comes to their taste buds.

I guess I'll keep wondering. And I'll keep in mind what every grandmother says with a shrug -- "When they're hungry, they'll eat." But will he ever eat his greens without a fight?