“I think I might get the Sunshine Award tomorrow,” Micah, my third-grader, informs me one evening recently.
My heart sinks. I happen to know that if he was the recipient of this award, I would already have been contacted by his teacher. I’ve received no such phone call or email.
“Really?” I respond with interest to Micah, “why do you think you might get it?”
“Because I’m nice to people. And I haven’t gotten it yet. I’m pretty sure I’ll get it this year,” he responds confidently.
Little does Micah know how much my heart has been hoping (for four years now!) that he would receive this award. And that year after year, when he has not been the recipient, I’ve had to do my own soul-searching: Why hasn’t anyone noticed Micah? Have I failed as a mother? Why is this award so important to me?
“What do you have to do to receive the award?” I ask him, knowing the answer, but curious as to how he perceives the Sunshine Award.
“Be nice to others and do kind things.”
“And are you nice to others? Do you do kind things?” I ask.
“Yep,” he replies, not even feeling the need to further explain.
“Like what?” I probe.
“I don’t know,” he says, “I’m just nice to other kids.”
I prod him for some examples, so he shares a few.
“Those are great, Buddy,” I respond. And I take the conversation a step further: “What’s more important,” I ask, “being nice or winning an award for being nice?”
“Being nice,” he responds, casually.
“You’re right,” I said (as much to myself as to him!). “And you know what?” I continue, “sometimes we do nice things that others may not even see. What’s important is that you know that you are kind and loving to others. Even if teachers don’t always notice. Even if you don’t win the Sunshine Award. I hope you win the award, Micah, because I know that you’ve been kind to your friends. But you know what, Buddy, even if you don’t, I love you. Even if you don’t, you can be proud of the nice kind things you’ve done for others.”
Honestly, this speech is as much for myself, as it is for him. I struggle with these things. With wanting to be recognized, admired, thought highly of. I’ve had to work through these issues personally, and now I find myself working through them in connection with my children. Not just for their sake, but for mine. It’s easy for me to feel like a good mother if my kids do well, succeed, win awards, and are recognized.
I’m all the more aware of this tendency in relation to this award because Kiersten was a Sunshine Award recipient in kindergarten. I was proud…too much so, I’m afraid (quietly proud, but proud nonetheless). Not just proud of my daughter, but proud of myself as her mother. Clearly, her kindness was due to my great parenting skills. Silly, silly me.
Of course, this set the stage for my hopes for Micah. Kindergarten came and went for him. No Sunshine Award. First grade…nope. Second grade. Once again, no award for Micah. He has to get it in third grade, I told myself (the final year it is given). I had done the calculations. Each class in each grade has two recipients (a boy and a girl). No one child can receive the award more than once. So, if there are seven classes in each grade, that means that by third grade, twenty-one boys in Micah’s grade have already received this honor. And by the end of third grade, twenty-eight boys altogether will have been Sunshine Award recipients. Surely Micah is one of the twenty-eight “nicest” boys in his class!
So when I realized that Micah will never receive this coveted award (coveted in my mind), I had some real soul-work to do. Part of me wanted to proclaim that is is unfair to give out such awards. Part of me wanted to promote my own son to his teachers. A big part of me ached for him (and, quite frankly, for me).
But I must step away from the award, from the outward recognition of an inner quality. I must remind myself what I told Micah. What matters is who you are, even if others don’t see it. I know Micah to be tender-hearted and kind. He loves his friends. I know he’s not perfect, either. He talks when he’s not supposed to. He’s active and struggles to sit still. He’s shy around teachers and adults and engages in minimal conversation with them. This is my child, for good and for bad, and I know where he shines and where he struggles. And I (along with Randy) am working on these areas of weakness.
Recognition is part of life. Awards will be given and awards will be received. How wonderful it is to receive them! How heartbreaking it is to not! My job as parent is to help keep my kids grounded, both when they receive awards and when they don’t. To not allow the winning or not-winning of awards to dictate one’s sense of goodness and character.
I want my children to make choices based on who they are, what is right, and the values Randy and I are (hopefully) instilling in them. And to do these things, whether they are honored for them or not. And when it comes to the Sunshine Award, I want them “to love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). That’s reason enough.
A few days after the Sunshine Award incident had come and gone (and Micah handled his not-receiving-the-award amazingly well. He barely seemed phased by it!), I observed Micah with a group of friends. This group of eight boys were picking teams for a football game. Micah was one of the team captains.
On his second pick, Micah picked a boy who was not very athletic. I took note of that. When it came down to the final two boys, and it was Micah’s turn to pick again…I saw him hesitate. Then, he did “eeny-meeny-miney-mo” to make his choice. Again, I took note. I wondered if Micah did both of these things out of kindness. Sensitive to the fact that the non-athletic boy wouldn’t normally be picked early in a “draft.” Careful at the end to not leave one boy as the “last one chosen.”
Later, I commented on my observation to Micah. I asked him why he did both of those things. He shrugged and said he didn’t know. I pressed him a little more (why did you pick the non-athletic one? Why eeny-meeny-miney-mo?). Finally, he admitted he didn’t want anyone to feel bad.
Never have I been more proud of my little boy. He had made kind choices, simply with the motive of caring for others, and not for the motive of being noticed or recognized. The timing of this observation is just what this people-pleasing, recognition-desiring momma needed. I realized I was more proud of catching his private acts of genuine kindness than I would have been to observe a ribbon placed around his neck for all to see.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”