My daughter got 4th place in an archery competition the other day. Fourth place is good, but disappointing when you are just one point shy of third place and qualifying for the national tournament. It was especially poignant because my child, who is not materialistic, dislikes odds and ends, and isn’t particularly sentimental about stuff, said wistfully that it would be nice to just once earn a trophy to have something to show for all the hard work. (The picture above is one of the ubiquitous soccer medals and trophies still in the house from her childhood).
My brain immediately flashed to other trophies and awards I have made for people over time. I could, I thought, make her something like the “You still bowl me over” trophy I made for my husband for our anniversary a few years ago. Or I could make her some kind of archery medal, crafted from all my jewelry in the basement. Or I could take the top of one of those Simply Orange juice containers (which are great bases for making small trophies or displays) and glue some cute things on top of it to make her a special trophy. I could pull one of the many amethyst crystals we have (leftover from decorating her bat mitzvah dinner) and make a little sign that said “You rock.”
But I didn’t. It occurred to me that this was one time where homemade wouldn’t do. Now mind you, homemade rules in our house. We bake our cakes and pies from scratch,
do elaborate handmade Halloween displays each year, and every corner of our home is crammed with craft supplies.
Halloween costumes, in particular, were handmade (even when I didn’t want them to be. There was the year that Rebecca wanted to be Kim Possible and there were many many Kim Possible costumes available and I was desperate to just buy one and be done with it, but Rebecca wanted Kim’s battle suit, which just couldn’t be bought. Ultimately, it turned out great, but I probably wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t expressed her clear preference for homemade, as in “Mom, I want you to make this for me because ours are better!”
Sometimes, however, that cheap plastic trophy can’t be duplicated. Yes, years from now it would have ended up in a box somewhere in the attic or in the bottom of a landfill, but right at this moment, it represented an intangible made concrete. Proving to yourself and your peers that you can do it, your are WORTHY, you know what you are doing–all of that stuff that is so deeply felt when you are a teenager once in a while requires outside validation in the form of a trophy or a ribbon or the top score on a test. At that point it isn’t about being good or talented or proficient; instead, it is answering one of those deep questions that burn within–do I, can I measure up?
My daughter is fantastic and talented and skilled. And she knows that she has much to contribute. She loves the pure feeling of calm and determination that comes from aiming and letting her arrow fly. But I can’t fault her for wanting a little statue that says, “hey, you did good!” And I can’t duplicate that particular one, because it is deeply tied to a particular moment, and contest, and time and place that won’t be repeated. Moreover, there were only three trophies per category–three high school girls; three trophies. That was it. And as with commodities everywhere, the scarcity makes the reward that much more desirable. So we had a good lunch and a long talk and she got some high fives and some hugs and we all moved on. She will remember that, too, I hope, and know she is loved.
We like to think we can make everything better for our kids, whether it is with a hug or a shoulder to cry on, chocolate cake, or even a homemade trophy, but sometimes, we can’t. Being sad and facing disappointment are part of growing up. Sometimes a homemade trophy is the best thing in the world, but sometimes it just says we are trying too hard to substitute or supplant an emotion that must be faced. I guess knowing when to make that call will always be part of parenting, whether your tools of the trade are your shoulders, your arms, or your crafty hands.