Monday, June 6, 2011

The Graduated Eighth Grade Fairy

Still on the topic of my 14-year-old . . .

I went to his eighth-grade graduation ceremony last week. The auditorium was packed--standing room only. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and who knows who else filled the place. I told him on the way that I was the first of my own siblings (there are eight of us) to go to her high-school graduation. To the others, the event was less of an event and more of a reason to stay home and avoid the great hullabaloo. I don't recall much about my graduation except how strange I thought it was to see my classmates crying. I was so happy to be done with high school and so eager to move on to the next stage of my life that my eyes remained completely dry the entire night.

As I sat watching my son on stage, however, tall and handsome in his blue gown, I felt a couple of tears coming on. But I stopped them from actually falling because I realized that if I let myself cry or get emotional over every landmark, big or small, in my children's lives, I'll be a sopping mess by the time my youngest gets married. I decided last week to save my tears for my oldest's high school graduation, and even then, my emotions and I will have to negotiate how much I'll allow. This isn't to say I'm not an emotional person in general. I just have to pace myself. It's about staying sane.

Last night, my son told me his good friend had gotten his graduation gift--his junior high graduation gift: an iPad. I told him that was insane. "Mom, a lot of my friends got gifts like that. iPads, iTouches, $100 bills." I asked him if they'd asked him what he'd gotten. "Yeah. I told them I got a milkshake." And that was true. After graduation, my husband and I asked him if he wanted anything to eat. He wanted McDonald's and all he wanted there was a strawberry milkshake. So he got it, he shared a little with us, and we headed home.

Fortunately, he saw the whole graduation experience as a little nuts. "Why are we celebrating something we should just be expected to do? Graduate from 8th grade." And although I'm sure he'd love an iPad, an iTouch, or a few $100 bills, he doesn't expect any of that--which is a good thing since he won't be getting any of that.

I don't think we're creating a happier generation of children. In fact, I'd go along with those who believe we're creating a more depressed, a more easily disappointed, a more insecure, a more lost, a more confused, a more impatient, a more unsatisfied, and a more frustrated generation of children who will become adults carrying those same "mores" around with them into the work world and into their marriages and families. We're creating a generation of children who appreciated the Tooth Fairy well enough, but now also expect the Skinned Knee Fairy, the Cleaned My Own Room Today Fairy, the Managed To Shower This Morning Fairy, and the Graduated Eighth Grade Fairy. We're rewarding what should be the reward in and of itself. We're telling them that the parent-child relationship is about expectations they can have of us but not the reverse. The chore list on the refrigerator is now ours, and the "I know I disappointed you" admissions are ours.

Which leaves them with what?What do they get to claim as their own?

I'm sure his friends see my husband and me as the mean, stingy, unsupportive parents. And I'm okay with that, since I've never been one to give into peer pressure, whether as a kid or an adult. And if any of his friends' parents make their way here to my blog (which is doubtful) then I hope they're okay with me expressing my (albeit strong) opinion. I'm not saying I'm a better parent, which is good since this isn't a competition. I simply think that, as with our emotions, we need to slow down and pace ourselves before all of us--parents and children alike--end up as one big sopping mess.


mnmsalyer said...

Thanks for putting it into words again, Bobbie. Our middle school decided this year to put in a new field (which the 8th graders will never get to use, since it's been growing all year) instead of holding any kind of 8th grade ceremony at all. On the last day of school this year, 8th graders will, instead, scrape gum off the bottoms of desks, clean whiteboards, box books, move furniture, and do whatever else their teachers can think of to keep them busy. Several of my graduating middle schooler's teachers have announced to the class that they must come to school on the last day - all the while shaking their heads in a definite message to be anywhere but school that day. I'm not sure how thrilled I am about that and I haven't decided if he'll go for the day of manual labor or not, but I do know that we expected him to graduate from 8th grade and to do it with the highest level of success he possibly could. At this age, it's his job. It's what he should be doing. Will I hug him and tell him I'm proud of him? Absolutely. He has overcome some huge challenges and has really started to get excited about achieving some goals for himself. Will I pay him for his efforts? Not gonna' happen. I don't think I've raised kids who expect that. We are considering taking a few of his friends with him to the drive-in on Friday evening, but that's more of a fun way to kick off the summer and let him spend time with his friends while we're still able to supervise. He and his friends support each other in trying to do well, so we don't have a problem with taking them to do something fun together.

Anonymous said...

Can I just say AMEN. I don't yet have kids but my husband and I were on the subject of rewards for good grades and I was appalled that he was PAID for good grades as a kid. I was the one who was a straight A student and that was a reward unto itself. I got "paid" in the form of a full college scholarship when I graduated high school.

Our kids need to learn the value of a job well done for the sake of doing it well, not for some external, excessive reward. Thanks for being one of the parents who recognizes that.

Bobbie said...

Marian, I completely agree that telling your kid you're proud of him is appropriate, especially if you *are* proud of them and they have a reason to be proud of themselves. And that's what they need to see is the reward. Pride (the good kind) is worth so much more and lasts so much longer than the shelf life of the latest Apple toy.

And Kait (sorry if I'm destroying your name), I got the good grades too . . . and a suitcase for graduation so I'd have something to pack my clothes in for college. It's great that you're thinking of all of these things *before* you have kids. So many people wait until their kids are halfway out of the house.

Val said...

I totally remember that feeling of being so glad that high school was finally over. I, too, got suitcases for my graduation gift.

I completely agree with your assessment of the effect that all these congratulations are having on our kids.

I'm surprised they did the whole graduation gown thing with S's class.

Tonight I've been dealing with a daughter who is trying to put together the perfect image for her 8th grade "closing exercises" tomorrow. The dress, picking out the jewelry, deciding how to do her hair, planning makeup, and painting nails. This is perhaps the 4th time she has ever done her nails, but she informs me the other girls probably spent the afternoon at the salon getting their hair and nails done (don't know how they're going to sleep on that hair). She also volunteered that she's only going to be wearing makeup because it's a special occasion; it doesn't mean that she's going to start wearing makeup all the time now. Aiii! Things are changing around here, but slowly enough I think I can handle it.

Brian Chapman said...

I think I'm a bad parent. At the two 8th grade promotions I've attended for oldest kids I kept thinking: "Why can't my kid get a citizenship or academic award?" Thankfully, after the hereditary middle school dip, they seem to find themselves. On another note, are you sure you want to give up/limit your tears so much? Lots of psychological benefits for crying.

Bobbie said...

Val, I can't imagine Z in makeup. I don't think I want to. She's still 10 as far as I'm concerned.

And Brian, I pace myself when it comes to scheduled events for the kids: starting kindergarten, finishing junior high, them leaving home one day. And as much as I'd like to control my emotions (b/c I have to), they get the best of me all the time when those unscheduled moments sneak up on me. Some days I feel that if I don't limit my tears, I'll never be fit for public viewing. I think that feeling must come with parenthood.

Christina said...

My 8 year old came home and said that her friend got $20 from the tooth fairy per tooth. We also had one parent bring in blockbuster gift cards ($10 per student) to class for each kid in the class as a celebration of their child's birthday in school ($220 to make their kid feel special in school on their birthday?!) I could go on and on about the craziness I've seen makes me wonder what's gotten into parents? I overheard A. excitedly talking to one of his friends about his new pair of basketball shoes. His friend was utterly unimpressed and said, "So what? I have like 5 pairs of basketball shoes." I'm grateful that my kids are stilled thrilled with the one pair of new shoes I buy them when they need them. My son finishing 8th grade didn't bring on the tears for me, but the day I took him to pick up his books for high school, I saw him standing (or should I say towering over me) in the halls of the high school and realized. . . only 4 more years and he'll be off to better things.

Holly said...

My only graduation gift, a little metronome when I finished high school. I thought I had been spoiled. My kids now use that same metronome which is currently held together with duct tape.

Wendy said...

A few days after graduation, Alec texted me "My friends all got about $600 in graduation presents." I wasn't sure how to respond. Less strongly than when he texted me that one of his friend's parents saved $60,000 for his friend's college education.