best laugh

January 7th, 2015

il_570xN.664617919_ill0They don’t give awards to people like me.

My daughter said this right before the eighth-grade graduation ceremony, when I learned that there would be awards for certain graduates that night. The fact is, I was instantly uncomfortable. I don’t like awards. I don’t like that we live in a competitively obsessed, elite-driven culture that creates phony contests out of false comparisons, but I tried to stay positive. Maybe you’ll get one, I had said.

There were lots of awards that night, for basketball stars and class officers, for those with perfect attendance and perfect grades, for teacher’s favorites and then two very special top awards for the one boy and one girl who in the principal’s opinion did absolutely everything best. My daughter was correct. She didn’t get one.

I sometimes forget how life really is, or at least, how life is for my daughter. As a parent, I’m usually tripping out on toxic levels of either false pride or fear. Oh, how I want her to do well! Oh, how I want her to keep up! Oh, how I want her to get in, get out, and move on! Oh, how I want her to be happy! Oh, how I want her to be liked, and loved and noticed! Oh, how I want her to be someone who does something important!

A few weeks ago the holiday cards started to arrive, and with them, the holiday letters. We still hear from folks we haven’t seen since our kids were in preschool or kindergarten, in scouts or swimming lessons, kids who are in high school now, where the pressure is amping up toward that final launch into . . . where, exactly? Our sophomore loves Pre-Calc and Latin and is extra busy with AP/Honors course work, staying up late every night and weekends while on the soccer team, volunteering, and taking ballet 18 hours a week.

I’m not that keen on holiday letters either.

Monday was the first day back at school, a cold and unwelcome day when my daughter would find out the results of finals and her semester grades. I texted her at lunch to see how she was doing. She was overwhelmed, she told me, and then came this. Apparently the class votes were tallied, and:

I won Best Laugh in the 9th grade!

She also won Best Friend.

She was right. They don’t give many awards to people like her, but that doesn’t matter to people like her.


Above: The most wasted of all days is the one without laughter. — a quote by E.E. Cummings hammered on a vintage, silver plated spoon on Etsy.

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  1. At some point in my teens, my dad told me not to peak too early in life. Still, no peak in sight. A good friend and a belly laugh…what a wonderful combination!

    Comment by Jane Duross — January 8, 2015 @ 2:55 am

  2. I have a 15 year old daughter going through the same kinds of things. She too has talents that cannot be measured by a yardstick. It is so comforting to read this passage, to have words to put to the quiet whispers in my heart. It is sometimes hard to watch her growing up in this society. They will find their way. Thank you so much Maezen.

    Comment by Kirsten — January 8, 2015 @ 6:06 am

  3. I really enjoyed this message. Your daughter sounds lovely. I am also not keen on awards, perhaps because it can be hurtful for those who have tried their hardest and are not recognized. Young people can be very sensitive. Also their home lives may not be condusive to extra study and some parents have overly high expectations which put undue pressure on their children to do well. It is all very complicated.
    Kind wishes

    Comment by Wendy — January 8, 2015 @ 6:55 am

  4. My son is 25 years old. This is such an interesting age because those school years are not so far behind that you can’t remember the awards and honors and the kids who got them. Many of the kids who are now engaged with the world in surprising and adventurous ways, were not the ones who strived for recognition early on.

    I remember being frustrated that my son didn’t go after those awards, and that he wasn’t the least bit bothered when he didn’t get them. Now I see that quiet confidence as one of his best attributes. Go figure.

    Maezen, you have a good laugh. It seems you’ve passed it on. 😉

    Comment by Clare — January 8, 2015 @ 7:46 am

  5. Those are great awards to have won.
    That said, I really hate the whole idea of awards. Sets people up to expectation, disappointment, inflated positive or negative views. (It might go without saying that neither I, nor my kids, were the ones who ever got any awards).

    Comment by Jan — January 8, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

  6. O man, I can relate to this. We don’t have an awardsystem like that here, but today I took a child home from school with me who was so stressed and trying so very very hard. I thought about it tonight, I don’t want her to start thinking that stress and over excerting herself and denying herself fun in life is the pavement of the road to succes. If a flower is meant to bloom it most certainly will.

    Comment by Simone — January 8, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

  7. I was one of those kids who got awards, and in some ways, it has been my downfall in adulthood. I can’t stop striving for them, even at the expense of my health. I’m just becoming aware of what a problem it is. Well, maybe I’ve been aware actually, for a decent amount of time, but it’s not been enough to change me–it’s been a slow release that hasn’t happened yet. Luckily, I’m getting older, and tireder. In a lot of ways, those who are not tethered to achievements have received a gift.

    Comment by Tara — January 8, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

  8. Best laugh and best friend are the best awards !

    Comment by Ayala — January 11, 2015 @ 11:52 am

  9. Thank you for this! My daughter graduates high school next week, and this is very appropriate for us. She is an incredibly bright and creative teen who has struggled these last 4 years with ADHD and depression. Things have just been hard for her in ways that we hadn’t expected. So when most kids are talking about where they are heading off to college, she is taking time off just to breathe and live some life without academic stress. I remember over and over that she has her own path and she is learning early to not even pretend to follow what the world tells us we are supposed to be and do.

    Comment by Amy — May 25, 2019 @ 8:20 am

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