Friday, November 11, 2005

A tough day for a growing boy

Our eldest son just turned 11. In many ways, he's like me and my wife: reserved and thoughtful. Outside the house, he's always been quiet, shy, and insular. Like me, he observes from the sidelines, bides his time, considers his options. He's not a frivolous child.

So we were rather surprised when he came home from school this week brimming with news: he had decided to run for student council.

A year ago, he wouldn't have stepped forward. Even six months ago, he would have been content to remain on the sidelines. But not now. He came through the door rattling off ideas for boosting school spirit, and making his school a better place for students and teachers.

On a purely logical level, it was nothing I hadn't heard time and again during my own journey through elementary school. But now it was my son saying it. And the fact that he had never previously had the guts to step forward made this seem - at least to me - a defining moment in his life.

He sat beside my wife at the computer as she patiently helped him craft his speech. I chimed in with the occasional editorial suggestion to punch it up, but the ideas were all his. My wife made a couple of posters for him. After what seemed like an extended period of brainstorming and creative activity, his campaign package was ready.

We discussed best practices for delivering his speech, and coached him through a couple of dry runs. He had given a brief talk a couple of weeks ago in front of 350 people at the community centre, and I think it was that experience that may have lit the public speaking fire in him. We were immensely proud of him then, and we were immensely proud of him as he carefully packed up his stuff and left it in the front hall before heading up to bed.

Fast forward to today: the tears as he got home told all the story we needed to know. He wasn't elected. In a halting, hauntingly sad voice, he recounted how another child who hadn't prepared a speech or a poster was allowed to run. His teacher had earlier laid out the ground rules, one of which was the need for at least one poster and a speech. When Zach challenged the teacher after the fact, all he got was a set of shrugged shoulders.

Part of me wanted to undo the obviously unfair way it all played out. Another part of me wanted to go over to said teacher's house and share my unfiltered thoughts with him. Zach had done everything by the book, even taking the time to support other friends who were running for council. That's just the way he is; good to the core, always thinking about his friends before considering his own needs.

That the outcome wasn't fair was a given. That it was facilitated by a trusted teacher was - and is - in my view unforgivable. But it was what it was, and my wife and I couldn't change the outcome no matter how much we wished we could.

Pizza was hastily ordered as a form of pseudo-comfort food for a sad young man. I took him with me when we went to pick it up. The crying had stopped, but his voice seemed oddly fragile, as if he had gotten younger in the intervening hours. In the darkened car, I repeated, endlessly, how proud we were of him, how glad we were that he stepped forward, stuck his neck out, took a chance. We spoke about how some of the world's most spectacular successes were preceded by even more spectacular failures. We spoke about some of my own failures, and how I applied what I had learned from each one to whatever I did in future.

In the end, he enjoyed his pizza, and we tucked him in with still another reinforcing story and extra hugs for good measure.

Today, we watched our son get bruised by life. It won't be his last experience, and in that he's becoming just like anyone else on this planet. But he's our son, and it felt oddly unsettling to not be able to step in and just make it right.

He grew today, and we couldn't be more proud of him.

Note: Although I haven't identified any of the protagonists by name, I'm fully aware that anyone can read this and make the connection. That's one of the pitfalls of using my real name on my blog. If said folks surf on in and feel uncomfortable after reading this, so be it. I write for a living. My words get out there. And if it bothers the people about whom I (anonymously) write that their behavior came under the scrutiny of my pen, they're eminently free to comment here or start their own web log. I refuse to self-censor out of fear of offending those whose own conduct falls short of the bar we teach our own kids to target.

Your turn: If you're a parent, how do you cushion them on days like today?


WendyWings said...

It is always a hard lesson to learn that life is not always "fair" and even harder to learn when at a young age the adults in our lives are the ones shrugging the shoulders at the injustices.
Our 13 year old is "house captain" of his year as well as being the lead singer in the school rock band. He has had a pretty charmed life in that so far he has not had a major rejection.
I think the best you can do is just be there for your son and encourage him to try again should he be tempted to withdraw and not put himself out there again for another challenge ( sorry that was rather a long comment )
Here from Micheles again but I am blog rolling you anyway)

The Mistress of the Dark said...

That's just a hard thing. Hopefully he handles it well. Again, I'm heartily glad I'm not a parent, because I don't know that I'd be able to handle a situation like that.

Have a great weekend.

Plumkrazzee said...

How do I handle it? I cry wayyyyy more than they do. (I'm overly sensitive/sentimental) Then it's lots of hugs, lots of reinforcement, a few corny jokes, and a bedtime prayer. We are bruised just as much they are, at least I am. And good for you, Carmi!! For speaking out in this blog, for using your voice, and for passing on words of wisdom and reflection. Good luck until the next time!!

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Hi Carmi..
I have to come back to read this.. but I wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog and --before I forget--ask you where that street you mentioned Cotswold ?..(see I'v already forgotten...OY!) where that is? Is it in The Cotswolds in England?
I WILL be back in a very short time....

Kristal said...

I always try to find something positive to focus on. And make sure they know how proud I am. Life isn't fair. It is important for them to understand that and to learn to do the right things for the right reasons, even if they don't get the recognition they deserve.

Pizza is always good, too. ;-)

michele sent me

Suburban Turmoil said...

I have to say... The same thing happened to me. Sort of.
I ran for eighth grade class president, crafted a brilliant speech, made lots of brilliant posters and convinced every girl in my grade to vote for me.

Unfortunately, the boys outnumbered the girls. And it turned out they had gotten together and decided to vote for the girl with the biggest boobs.

Yep. It wasn't me. I was devestated for a number of reasons.

However, it is a valuable lesson. It won't determine his self-worth. It will teach him that life isn't fair, an important lesson that's better learned sooner rather than later.

Michele sent me!

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Dear Dear Carmi..I'm not a parent, but YOU trily are, a wonderful wonderful parent. I found this post sooo very touching and so filled with the love both you and your wife feel for your children. I personally feel you handled it PEFECTLY! I truly wish I had HAD a father, like you! Life is not only not fair, sometimes it really beats the shit out of you! What is so terrific about what you shared with all of us, to me, is how you and your wife supported your son from 'second 1'!!! And after he was dealt this awful UNFAIR blow, youcontinued to give him ALL the love and support and encouragement that he truly needs and deserves! Bravo to you and your wife. BRAVO to your son for putting himself 'out there'...
Thank You so much for sharing so much of your depth Carmi. I send your whole family ALL my love.

Thumper said...

It's hard to NOT step in and do something about the overt harsh lessons our kids get slapped with...but you did what I think I would have done. The easy thing would have been to try to correct the injustice, but our kids have to learn about life as they're growing up, and that they have a safe place at home when it gets brutal out there.

I appreciate that you took your son's disappointment so seriously; I grew up when the teachers were always right, no matter how badly it made us feel, or how much it shok our trust in them. I probably would have been told to suck it up; your son will learn to suck it up, but also that you CARE how much the unfairness hurts him.

zazzafooky said...

First I'll say I admire how well you wrote this peice, full of wisdom and insight - without the ranting. You seem like an excellent father who handled a tough lesson with integrity.

I agree with your refusal to self center, this is your blog so never feel awkward about anything you write about.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Hello Dear Carmi..
I just followed you at Michelle! So I'm here again and happy to say Hi once again.
You are a lovely and special man!

kenju said...

You cushion them by doing just what you did, Carmi. You show them you love them anyway, by being a sounding board, by commiserating, by sympathizing. All children go through something like this at one time or another. It is a good learning experience and it makes them appeciate their achievements more.

scrappintwinmom said...

Wow. This story brought tears to my eyes. Because lately I've been thinking of how I'd handle things like this. I've got a while to go before this happens. But I hope when it happens to my kids, I'll do as good a job as you did. I don't think you could have done anything differently. Here via Michele as always.

Unknown said...

You ask a hard question. I try to be honest with my kids and I tend to agree with them when something so obviously unfair touches them like it did your son. I'm a mamabear and I'd probably shoot off an email to the teacher expressing my disgust at how she broke her word and how sad your son was to see her be dishonest.

But otoh, adults lie just like kids do. The teacher was lazy and didn't do her job or follow thru on her promises. That's something that you can point out to your son because he's starting to learn the fallibility of adults. It's a hard lesson to learn, but a valuable one. Last year we had a principal who was a lying scumbag and it so affected our family that we all ended up in family therapy over it. My kids lost trust in authority because of this principal and all I could do was sit back and watch them hurt and try to boost them up when I could.

Michele sent me.

Anonymous said...

Carmi, I think it's wonderful that your son had the guts to run for office AND then to stick up for himself after the fact.

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I was chosen to attend a summer event called "GIRLS STATE". It was a big honor to be chosen. Basically, many high school girls formed 12 states and then formed governments... complete with governors and state officials. That was my first experience at corrupt government! Those damn high school girls were SELLING THERE VOTES! (I'll give you 2 votes for your mayor if you give us 2 votes for your lieutenant governor!)

IT SUCKS... IT'S LIFE! PIZZA HELPS! you are a great dad. xo

Anonymous said...

It must be hard for him to be confronted with the unfairness of life, but I can imagine on you being proud of him. I think the best thing a person can do for their kids is 'being there'. Having loads of hugs and comforting words for them. Sharing your love and laughter and listening. Listen to their needs, their sorrow, their happiness... even though my little one, is still little.. I try to understand his feelings and react to them in the right away.... give your 'little one' a big hug

Anonymous said...

I worry about this, I worry about the times that are bound to come when I can't do anything but let my baby hurt and learn.

Good on your little man for having the balls to try. There so many kids that didn't have that confidence... you are doing something right.

Here from Michele's (kind of - I'm not following the rules very well)

Anonymous said...

Hey Carmi. I just ran you through one of our little software mc'doo'dads. Without giving too much away congrats on having almost 100 link back to your corner of the universe! :). Oh and get a description & keyword or two in your template champ. If you don't know how, well, you know where to find me.



Anonymous said...

you can't really cushion them against something like this, a teacher is someone trusted, you expect them to comply by the rules, if they aren't following them, who exactly will. you can't change the outcome of this now, but i do think you should approach the teacher, because of what they stand for in your sons life. there is more to being a teacher than just teaching math concepts and geography, the teacher should explain why this happened to your son.
and you can't go wrong with pizza!

Easy said...

That sucks. I really think that you should press on with the complaint. I don't believe that it would do any good to overturn the results, but perhaps next year they'll do things properly.

Anonymous said...

I am well and truly apalled that a teacher would act in that manner, it's terrible. To have one rule for one and another rule for someone else is just unacceptable, especially when the person making the rules is a teacher.

I'm not a parent but I'd say you handled the situation the best way that you could, I'm sure that the pizza helped!

Anonymous said...

Meant to say that I'm here from Michele's and your son sounds like he's got a great future being so caring and forward thinking!

ribbiticus said...

you've got a great kid there, carmi. much as we would like to cushion loved ones from enduring the hardships that life brings, it cannot be done as it would depreive them of the lessons those events were meant to teach them. good thing he had you and your wife to succor his flagging spirit and give him something to be proud of.

here via michele today. :)

Anonymous said...

My son is young enough so that this sort of disappointment hasn't happened yet, but he does deal daily with being "different" due to his diabetes, and we've had many talks along that line. I think you handled your son's situation beautifully and I hope that when my turn comes, I will do it as well.

You must be enormously proud of your son, for his courage in trying in the first place and for handling an obviously unfair situation with such grace.

kenju said...

I hope by now the pain of loss has softened somewhat for your boy, Carmi. I am sure he is resiliant; how could he be otherwise since he is your son?

Michele sent me today.

Anonymous said...

I think your son got the better end of the deal; he learned a few valuable life lessons with the support and guidance of his fabulous parents. What did others learn?

As a parent I would try to nurture the desire to lead -- like encourage him to start a club at school (toastmasters, drama, debate) or find a similar activity outside of school that focuses on confidence building but not necessarily on "winning".

I too had tears in my eyes when I read the post. This is just one moment in life. There will be lots of opportunity for your son to shine and sometimes it comes in the most unexpected places.

Mitey Mite said...

You did a great job of handling the situation. I hope your son doesn't get discouraged, but keeps trying. Sounds like he has a lot to contribute.

I would let the principal know what went on, though. You can't stop anyone from being a jerk, but this was a RULE that got changed, and that is measureable, not subjective. Isn't school the perfect place for kids to learn that those in authority, as well as the rest of us, should be accountable for their actions? (I'm thinking if that message spread, we might even vote out the bad ones, instead of saying, Aw, they all do it.)

Thanks for your comment on my blog. You seem to be as good a parent as you are a writer, so I consider it extremely high praise.

Anita said...

Oh, Carmi,

My heart was breaking as I read your story. I'm just so glad that Zach has you and your wife as parents to cushion his fall.

I went through this in 9th grade when I ran for Vice President of the student council. I was devastated by the loss. As you can see, I've gotten over it, but I do think it is a blow to the self confidence at these young ages.

Personally, I'd be in favor of expressing your views to the adults involved who allowed the rules to be changed. It can be done in a nice way, and I wouldn't tell your son that you are doing it, but I think people need to know that they've done something that's unacceptable and that others have noticed.

I always stand behind the adults at school in front of my child, but I will convey my opinion if I think the teacher or administration is totally off base. I feel I owe it to my sons and to future students.

I sincerely hope your son feels better quickly and will try to take a risk again sometime in the not so distant future . . .

Mitey Mite said...

I wrote a long comment but your blog ate it. No bad words, I promise! Anway, the gist was that you handled the situation beautifully. Your son sounds like a great kid with a lot to contribute. I hope he tries again.
I would talk to the principal, though, not to try to change anything but so the teacher can understand that rules must be made carefully because they have to be enforced consistently. The seeds of the indifferent citizen ---(They're all crooks, why bother to vote this one out?)--- are sown by this sort of behavior.
Thanks for your comment on my blog. You seem to be as great a parent as you are a writer, so I consider it extremely high praise.

Aginoth said...

That sucks Carmi, an adult in a position of trust hads to be seen to abide by the rules. I'm not sure i would have been as restrained as you, I would have gone and shared a piece of my mind with said teacher.

Jenny said...

Oh, Carmi - I feel a blog entry coming on about all the elections I failed to win, and my pigheaded refusal to recognize that I was unlikely EVER to win.

It takes a lot of guts to stand up and submit yourself to a vote. He's a brave kid, and he's got great parents. Kudos to him - he'll get 'em next time.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Not being a parent, it's hard to say, but it's a good time to tell them that life isn't always fair, and the best person doesn't always win. It's a good lesson for life ahead.

Michele sent me here.

dena said...

First of all, you and your wife used perfect parenting skills throughtout the election. And yes, today was painful for him, and possibly even more for you, as parents. It always hurts to see our children hurt. But the message of love that you've shown your son will be what matters in life. You have done a shining job of helping him to realize that life throws us painful lessons, but in the end you were able to rally as a family.

Carmen said...

You are, as we already know, an awesome dad. This post just cements it.

I'm both saddened and angered for your little (big) boy.

Michele sent me, although I usually make it by on my own at least once a week.....

Anonymous said...

What a sad story. I hate things like that and yet thats life. So unfair. Sometimes I am glad I don't have kids. I get so upset over my nephews and niece getting hurt or reading stories like yours that I don't know if I could handle it. I'm afraid I would be the parent trying to protect the kid too much or fighting his battles. Its a tough job being a good parent, kudos to those who are.

craziequeen said...

with pizza and hugs and encouragement, carmi :-)

Everyone gets days when they are bruised by life - but a mum and dad who are there to put salve on the hurt is worth more than gold or silver.

You stay just how you are, your kids will benefit from having such strong supportive parents.

night [yawn]


Unknown said...

Carmi - Your story brought forward memories of the very same emotions your son went through. It's unfortunate that people who don't play by the rules get ahead, it's not a very good lesson for the children to learn. It has probably hurt that teacher's credibility with the children.

Sandy said...

Wow. My heart breaks for both your son and his parents. I'm learning that what hurts our children hurts us worse than it would have had we been in their shoes.

Growing up is awfully hard -- and that's just about the parents. ;) Seriously, we're all still growing up, even us adults. And the important lesson, perhaps, is let Zach know that it is ok to be upset. It is ok to feel angry and disappointed. But, when he's through with that, he ought to look at what he *did* do. It took courage to run. It took courage to get up and deliver a speech - to put himself out there. He ought to be proud of himself for it as I know you and your wife are.

Of course, if you can figure out how to deliver the "get back in the saddle" message without triggering pre-teen eye-rolling and groans of "Dad! You're so corny!" please do let me know.