There are times when I think our little school system gets it exactly right, and I know that our decision years ago to move to this little town in Nowhereville was a wonderful gift to our children.
And then there are times when I think our little school system is run by amphetamine-addled monkeys who’ve never met an actual child.
When I am ESPECIALLY lucky, I get to experience both of those convictions within the space of just a few hours! Which is like the excitement of a rollercoaster ride except without the fear of heights and thinking I might puke! But there are no funnelcakes, which is certainly a drawback.
So. Um. I swear I didn’t stop taking my medication, I am just reeeeeeally tired, and a little bit on edge.
I have to say that I think the Invention Convention is a really great program, in theory. The idea of giving kids an outlet for some creativity paired with scientific problem-solving is the sort of thing I think education should be about. So, yay, school system!
I also have to say that holding the actual event 1) on a school day, 2) in a crowded cafeteria, 3) FOR THREE HOURS, and 4) until 9:00 o’clock at night is INSANITY. Sheer madness. There were kindergarteners there; I don’t know anyone whose 5-year-old can be up until 9 or 9:30 (by the time you get home and get into bed) and then get up for school the next day without chewing off the face of the person who dared rouse them from slumber. Heck, my seven-year-old is going to be in sad, sad shape tomorrow morning. That part of it was ridiculous, and poor planning.
To add insult to injury, they insisted on reading off every child’s name and project and handing out each participation certificate, one by one. There were over a hundred participants. We’d all been there for two hours already, milling around and–in the case of the kids who’d entered–sitting by projects, ready to answer questions for the judges. That hour of names and certificates was TORTURE. The mom sitting next to me and I started quietly cracking jokes to each other as the names wore on (and on and on). We didn’t know each other, but there is solidarity in the excrutiating droning on and on of school officials.
Her: Maybe they ought to tell people to hold the applause, between kids.
Me: Yeah… at this rate, we’re gonna be here til midnight.
Her: Don’t be silly. We’ll all be home in time for the late night news.
Me: If they don’t wrap this up soon, I’m gonna be ON the late night news. “Local woman dies at competition. Officials suspect terminal boredom.”
Her: Don’t they look cute all lined up up there, though?
Me: No. They would look cuter in bed, asleep.
Her: Does it always run so late?
Me: I have no idea, this is our first one.
Her: Ours too.
Me: I’m sort of hoping it’s our LAST one.
Her: Me too.
Me: Think anyone’ll notice if we just put the kids to sleep at their desks? That way they won’t be late tomorrow.
Her: Seriously, if I’d known, I would’ve brought pajamas.
So, it was late. Everyone was cranky. I knew that if Chickadee didn’t place, she was going to be crushed.
We had been talking for DAYS about how what’s important is doing your best and seeing the project through to the end. About how not everyone can win. About how winning isn’t everything. About how proud I am of her for doing this, and how she should be proud of her work no matter what.
They announced the kindergarten winners first. Actually, at the kindergarten level, there’s first and second place, and everyone else gets an Honorable Mention. They’re five; that’s fine.
Moving on to first grade. This time there were the top 2 winners and 2 Honorable Mentions. Okay.
Second grade. Chickadee’s grip on me tightened. I whispered into her hair, again, that I was proud of her no matter what. 2 Honorable Mentions, neither for her. My heart sank. I doubted she’d won first or second, based on the other projects I’d seen, and I also very much doubted she’d take it well if she didn’t win. I tried to stay casual as we clapped for each winner. Silver medal. Gold medal.
They moved on to third grade, and Chickadee sat motionless in my lap. I rubbed her arms and smoothed her hair and you know, she seemed okay. I was surprised. She was fine. We listened to the rest of the awards and the closing comments (“Stop commenting already,” muttered the mom next to me) and finally it was time to go.
Chickade stood up in front of me and her chin was nearly on her chest. “Oh, baby,” I crooned, “Are you tired?”
“NO,” she spat, suddenly incensed, “I’m not TIRED. I’m SAD!” And she burst into tears and was–from that moment forward, until I closed her bedroom door here at home–inconsolable. I tried to comfort her, but it was “Why didn’t they like my project?” and “It’s not fair!” and “I hate this stupid contest!” and all sorts of other lovely sentiments.
Her father tried to calm her down. I tried to calm her down. And in the end, there was nothing to do but put her in the car and head home.
I tried everything I could think of. I pointed out that there had been more second grade entries than any other grade; that the competition was stiff and the awards few; that she was a winner just for entering; all the standard things. She was having none of it. I fell back to the parental standard:
Me: Did you do your best?
*here is where the child is supposed to say yes, and then you assure her that that’s all that matters*
Chickadee: NO! *sobbing*
Chickadee: Yes! I mean NO! I don’t know!
Me: Well, honey, either you did your best and you should be proud of that, or you DIDN’T do your best, and you should try harder next time. Either way, it’s fine. But right now, you’re being a pretty sore loser. I know it’s disappointing, but–
Chickadee: DON’T CALL ME NAMES! *wailing*
I’m glad the contest is a genuine contest, and not everyone wins a prize. Truth be told, I’m also glad that she didn’t win. I don’t think she did her best, and I don’t think she had the best project (or even one of the best projects) there. I’m not upset that she didn’t win. I’m upset that I have no idea how to help make this a valuable lesson rather than just a crushing disappointment.
I’m also upset that I have to get that child out of bed at 6:30 tomorrow morning. Pray for me.