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The Trophy Kid

Like The Insecure Middle-Aged Man With The Trophy Wife, Have We As Parents Tried To Quell Our Insecurities With Trophy Kids?

I have an absurd photo of my son. He is 5 years old wearing a karate outfit, holding a trophy nearly half his size.  If he were some sort of child prodigy, a mini Bruce Lee, destined for martial arts greatness, the scene, perhaps, would make more sense.  The fact is, he got this piece of hardware for showing up.

With three kids, our house was soon filling up with trophies for ... showing up to all sorts of things.  Sports, singing, cooking class and then there are the boxes of diplomas, one for each year of pre-school (that’s 6) and for graduating kindergarten.

I don’t recall getting a trophy until I was in high school, yet I believe I  showed up for 4 years of softball, including one year in the nationals, broom-ball, flag-football. I also entered my guinea pig every year in the county fair and graduated kindergarten. 

I thought my mom was a great mom but by today’s standards she would be a candidate for a child welfare investigation.  I learned to swim in the Mississippi river, we had a rope swing that looked like a noose, walked the train tracks, wandered the neighborhood well after dark, and hold on to your hats for this one, played with sticks and never lost an eye! 

So it was like a bucket of cold water in the face when I realized how far I had strayed in my feelings about what a childhood should look like and a mother’s role.

I was at the typical Westchester, NY birthday blow-out for a first grader, complete with ponies and the requisite goody bags.  (Don’t get me started on goody bags.)   We mothers had gathered off to one side and in an artfully, self-depreciating manner were trying to trump each other with the number of activities, accolades and accomplishments our children were accumulating.  The host of the party’s  70-year-old father overheard us and said, “Jeeze you girls act like you’re the first generation to ever love your children”. 

The truth hurts. I know because I was smarting after I digested what he had said.  In a world where so much is based on tangibles that can be measured--homes, salaries, vacation destinations--I wanted to apply the same measurability to myself as a parent.   But being a parent is one of those great life experiments with no definitive answers.  Perhaps, I am of the generation of parents where there has never been more uncertainty, insecurity or powerful outside influences tugging at our children.

Being a mom or dad is not divided into graded semesters, it can’t be measured like stocks with profits and losses and it never neatly wraps up like a sports game where there is a clear winner and loser.  No, parenting, I find, is a continuum of days filled with equal parts confidence and uncertainly. 

Like the insecure middle-aged man with the Trophy Wife, have we as parents tried to quell our insecurities with Trophy Kids?  The sports, the pageants, the grades, the colleges, the magnetized athletic figures on our minivan doors that all say, in some meager way, I am winning as a parent.

The competition has never been fiercer.  And I am not referring to wrangling between parents, but the competition for our children’s hearts and minds.  I feel that never before have drugs and guns been more attractive or available. No matter how we serve up the lesson of body image and sex, MTV’s message always looks more delicious.  Conflict resolution is not learned on the playground but through video games.  Tweeting, texting and Facebook are all vying for the communication we are so desperate to engage in with our children.       

Media reports say the dream of giving our children a better life than the one we had, is becoming increasingly elusive.  The measurement of a better life is being calculated not in terms of happiness or self-esteem but on our sons' and daughters' ability to make more money and buy more things than their parents.  Are these kids not only inheriting our debt, but our sense of materialism as well? 

Could we perhaps still achieve the dream of giving our kids a better life by leaving a legacy of kindness, tolerance, and hard work? By showing them that all that glitters is not always a golden trophy but sometimes it’s the sun skipping off the water, laughter at the end of a long day, or complete and utter silence?

I showed my son, (now a teenager) the picture of himself with the over-sized karate statue.  “Oh,” he said “I learned and important lesson that day.”

“And what was that?” I excitedly inquired.

“I learned to never eat a cupcake bigger than your head.  I tried and puked all over my uniform.”

Ah, very good grasshopper, very good.

Mary Patricia Lamberti April 01, 2011 at 10:45 AM
I like your comments about your childhood swimming and railroad tracks and neighborhood ramblings and your mom's style of parenting. Makes me nostalgic.
Susan Berenzweig April 01, 2011 at 11:28 AM
More on "goody bags" please! This is wonderful.
Jeff April 01, 2011 at 12:18 PM
I've always liked the bumper sticker that says "my dog is smarter than your honor student!"
Risa Kent April 01, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Risa We are definitely not the first generation to love our children. However and whenever, if a child feels loved, safe and nurtured, then you are doing it right.
Lisa Nee April 01, 2011 at 01:26 PM
Hey Mary thanks for reading. I am very fortunate to live on Chestnut Hill next to the creek that runs into the Hammonasset River so I've tried to keep a portion of the childhood alive. Come on over and skip stones if you like. Best Lisa
Lisa Nee April 01, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Hey Susan thanks for your comments. There really needs to be a training manual on goody bags. I remeber the first party I had for my two year old and had not gotten the goody bag memo. I am very surprised I avoided deportation.
Lisa Nee April 01, 2011 at 01:29 PM
Risa, thanks for your comments. Favorite song by the Beatles "All YOu Need is Love". Have a great weekend. Lisa
Susan Wivell April 01, 2011 at 01:47 PM
I love starting the day with your column :-)
ilovehorses3@comcast.net April 01, 2011 at 01:52 PM
You make me laugh! The "trophy" kid column needs to be read by every parent and senior receiving accepted, rejected or the dreaded "wailisted" news this week. I am sending this on the guidance at DHHS!
Lisa Nee April 01, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Susan, what a nice comment. Thanks so much. I'll try to keep it coming. Have a great weekend. LKN
Lisa Nee April 01, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Hey thanks for the comment. My guys aren't at the college stage yet but this is the week right? My heart goes out to those kids, parents and those who love them. We should set up a massage stand somewhere. Best lisa
Pem McNerney (Editor) April 01, 2011 at 05:17 PM
As someone who is in the midst of all that college stuff ... I second that. All in favor? =) And if the folks in the guidance office at DHHS do read this ... thanks to you all for all you do for our kids to make it as stress free as possible.
Caroline Davey April 01, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Lis! Love this article! Jimmy and I have been wanting to create a magnetized car sticker with a person relaxing in a barcalounger with a clicker in hand.
Lisa Nee April 02, 2011 at 09:56 AM
I think you have a gold mine there. Put me on the list. Thanks for reading. And being a great neighbor. Lisa
Jennifer Cohen April 04, 2011 at 02:22 AM
In the age of the Tiger-Mother this comes at just the right time to try to bring people back to what is really important. Thanks, Lisa!
Cathy Marsh April 04, 2011 at 10:00 PM
I thought my son's wrestling coach was very brave, last season, for making the decision to only honor 5-6 wrestlers with trophies, presenting the rest with certificates--Bravo!!
Lisa Nee April 05, 2011 at 12:42 AM
Cathy, that coach deserves a trophy....or maybe some brownies in the off season. Thanks so much for reading and sharing his story of being the brave coach. Best Lisa
Lisa K. April 05, 2011 at 03:35 AM
The best party my mom ever threw for me was an inside-out, upside-down party. We ate dessert first (ice cream cake) sitting under the ping pong table, wore our clothes inside out and then ate spaghetti with whatever utensil name we picked from a bowl -- chopsticks, your fingers, corn holders, etc Cost next to nothing -- and is STILL talked about by my friends today!
Lisa Nee April 05, 2011 at 09:39 AM
OK that is wonderful. She sounds amazing and knowing youm the amazing part has been inherited. I can see this scene and smile and giggle and feel 7 again, what a gift. Thanks so much for sharing. Lisa
Daria Novak April 05, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Lisa, I have an idea for a column. How about resurrecting the word "No" in Madison? Too often I run into parents who act as if their children are in charge. And, I meet children who expect parents to immediate supply them with whatever their heart desires and demand it on a moment's notice. They seem to think it is their "right." Growing up I knew if I worked hard & competed I might be THE student who won, who "earned" the prize. It should be equal opportunity, NOT equal result. And yet, somehow, we've twisted around this idea until now, when we have a culture accepting of dumbing down education to the point where Americans can't effectively compete in the world. In my house here are some places I use the word "No." When asked to... Watch TV during the school week, esp. when my kids have not completed homework AND studied. Play XBox during the school week. (Sun-Thur night) Stay up late on a school night. Have a FaceBook account I cannot fully view. Invite friends when I have not met the parent/s or at least spoken with them on the phone. Skip too many chores. And it's No to anything when it is preceded by "All the other kids get to..." Here is where I say "yes:" -- Ask to volunteer at church. -- Ask to have their known friends over because it's a safe place here. -- Ask for legitimate exceptions to the rules. Once they learned the rules, we occasionally celebrate by breaking them. -- Ask for love/affection and legitimate attention.
Pem McNerney (Editor) April 05, 2011 at 06:55 PM
No!!!!! Actually I was just practicing. =) Love this for a column idea. Yes!
Lisa Nee April 05, 2011 at 07:02 PM
Yes Daria, you are on the money! I feel your passion. You have the great start to a column I'd be happy to be your brainstorming partner and proof reader or emotional support and I say that with a big fat YES. Keep in touch on this. Let's see it happen. Best Lisa
Daria Novak April 05, 2011 at 07:09 PM
Lisa - I was thinking YOU might be interested in writing on this one? I like what you say here. If not, I would be happy to contribute a piece. Of course, my kids who are 13 and 14 years old, might not like it! lol
Pem McNerney (Editor) April 05, 2011 at 07:43 PM
Either way you guys want to do it is fine with me! Just let me know. I do love the idea for the column ... keep me posted.
Lisa Nee April 05, 2011 at 09:15 PM
OK Daria, would you like to share e-mails and we will make a plan mine is Lisa@allennee.com best lisa

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