Communicating effectively with others is the key to success. I want my son to get comfortable speaking in front of others so this year I encouraged him to enter a speech competition through his school.
He worked hard on it.
As parents we all suffer from delusions of grandeur regarding our clearly exceptional progeny but between the two of us, I had no expectations that he was going to win. I just wanted him to participate. I was fully prepared to just celebrate the achievement of his participation.
But then? He was given a red ribbon with “Excellent” emblazoned across it in gold letters.
At first I was overjoyed. In my day, a red ribbon meant that you placed second. Excellent meant that you did pretty damn good.
Did he really do so well?
During our practice he struggled with speaking too fast and was not making good eye contact. Was it possible that he listened to me? That he took my advice to heart? To be honest, that would have meant more to me than the ribbon itself.
Eventually I was given his judging forms. There were three judges. Apparently in this private school league they only score as Good, Excellent, or Superior and the kids are not ranked into places at all. Color of the ribbon? Yeah. Meaningless.
Two out of the three judges gave my son a Good. Only one gave him an Excellent. From the judges’ notes, he fidgeted, stumbled, had to be prompted, and did not make eye contact. They gave him an Excellent ribbon for that. We worked on all of those things but it was his first competition and he is a first grader so I am not surprised or embarrassed or upset with his performance. I am so very proud that he was brave enough to get up there in front of strangers.
But how can I reinforce to my son that hard work pays off when mediocrity gets him an Excellent rating and a red ribbon? How can I make the point that he should listen to his mama’s advice about eye contact? How can I help him work through rejection and loosing and the unfairness of life while in the safety of childhood before he becomes a fragile adult who is devastated by the realization that the world does not in fact hand out participation trophies? And what about how this demoralizes and minimizes the kids who really did perform exceptionally well? They deserve to feel the full glory of their achievements, don’t they?
I just don’t understand.