One day while we were killing time in the lobby before karate class, I noticed a flyer taped to one of the pillars advertising a local tee-ball league. Your registration fee of $40, the flyer informed me, covered the cost of a uniform T-shirt and a trophy at the end of the season.
I read the flyer a second time, puzzled at how you could buy a trophy.
If only I'd known then what I know now.
That was my first introduction to the 21st century parenting mantra: everyone gets a trophy. Since then, I'm dismayed to say that I've bought many trophies, medals, and ribbons for my children.
You participated in school field day?
You were on the soccer team?
Came in last in the spelling bee? Have an award!
They've been flung at my children for every organized event they managed to show up to since they were tiny. And all those years, I've felt extremely conflicted about it.
My kids don't even know what a trophy is. They think it's just what you get on the last gymnastics class of the session. They treat their Happy Meal toys with more reverence than all the medals they've won, probably because they're honestly harder to come by in my kids' eyes.
About 6 years after the tee-ball flyer incident, we decided to sign up one of our boys for his very first race. I'd personally rather spend 20 minutes staring directly at the sun than running for the pure enjoyment of it, but Phillip's into running and it's one of his "daddy" activities with the kids.
We found a nearby race with a kids' Fun Run, which we assumed meant 1 mile. On the day of the race, we found that the "Fun Run" was actually the silliest little 50-yard dash I'd ever seen (serves me right for not reading the fine print) and at the end every child was handed a shiny medal.
I was furious, and not just because we'd spent weeks training and psyching our son up for a race that was shorter than the distance from our front door to our mailbox.
Plastering on a big smile, I asked at the finish line, "So how was your very first race?"
His answer, as he brandished the medal at me, was exactly what I dreaded it would be: "It wasn't hard at all, Mom, and look what I got!"
And you know what? He was right. If he'd walked the entire course, or even if he'd laid down and taken a nap in the middle instead of finishing, he still would've gotten a medal.
But I'd wanted it to be hard. I wanted him to sweat and get tired and almost give up but persevere and be proud of himself for doing his best — with or without a medal. Meaningless awards can't replace actual achievement.
Kids aren't so dumb. You can't fool them into having higher self-esteem with a trophy. I cringe when my kids get awards they haven't worked hard to earn.
I hear that sentiment echoed a lot. This subject comes up often when moms get together, and I've never heard one good word about the now-standard practice of giving trophies just for participating.
Everyone shakes their head and agrees that it's terrible how medals and ribbons were once signs of great achievements and now they're just given out like Tic-Tacs.
So if everyone feels that way, then how did we get to this point? And why are we still doing it? Surely someone could say something.
And then I realize: I haven't said anything, either.
So this year I just might be the mom asking the head of the local youth soccer league not to give out participatory trophies on the last day of the season, but I don't have very high hopes. For a trend that no one likes, I have a feeling it'll be a hard one to eliminate.