Recently I was nominated for the state association’s School Psychologist of the Year award. When the awards’ committee chairperson encouraged the nominees to bring their family to the ceremony, I casually broached the topic at dinner.
My 13-year-old first said, “Nah, I’m good,” but after asking a couple of questions about the award, he said, “Yeah, I can make that happen.” My 16-year-old replied, “Meh. I want my me time.” He begrudgingly ended up changing his tune weeks later, claiming that he did want “to support” me (even if it was only after hearing that the rest of the family said “of course” they’d come).
It was a bit of a juggling act in finagling early pickups from school and getting out emails to the coach and teachers about missed practice and class assignments. It also was a challenge in ensuring their proper dress (“No, you cannot bring Doritos with you in the car just so your slacks can turn orange”). And, it wasn’t easy ignoring their incessant grumbles about having to endure a three-hour drive up to the hotel, in a packed car with all seven seats occupied; I made sure not to bring up the fact that there would be another three-hour drive back, late at night.
With my two sons, mother, nephew, and best cousin and her son all accounted for, we finally hit the road. We were making good time–we were even going to get there a little earlier than I had thought. Even when traffic started building up, we didn’t think much of it, until it abruptly stalled to a near standstill. We were reduced to moving mere yards at a time, without even a nearby exit to try out an alternative way to bypass it all.
After an hour had passed, it was not looking good, so I tried calling the hotel. While we were about to break free of what turned out to be a serious accident still being cleared, we only had a half hour to make the hour-long ceremony on time, with 90 miles still to go. The awards’ chairperson was very sweet and understanding on the phone, yet still very encouraging for us to see if we could make it at all.
Well, the natives were getting restless, and patchy rumblings of frustration, driven by hunger, were fast beginning to mount. I had already been waiting for the inevitable pleas for a bathroom break.
It didn’t make sense to drive another hour and a half only to make it that much later for our drive home. And, for what? There was no guarantee that I was going to win. Somehow, I didn’t know how I could justify any underlying resentment of their sacrifice in activities, time, and essentially, a six-hour car ride, to the high probability of it turning out to be “an honor just to be nominated.”
We turned off the highway at the prospect of a good Italian restaurant for dinner–apparently, according to my kids, any restaurant with “pizzeria” in its name has to be “great.” I gave the chairperson another call from the restaurant to let her know that there was no way we would be able to make it. After a bit of hemming and hawing, she conceded, and simply said, “But you won.”
Seriously? I won?
When I announced my win at the table, my six fans clapped mightily and cheered. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of applause and attention I would have gotten in a room of hundreds. It didn’t seem real. I was missing out on snacking on fancy hors d’oeuvres, showing off my family, and having my ego boosted 10,000 times its real size with attention from colleagues, former professors, and some of the bigger names in the field. Instead, I found myself chowing down on a calzone, and insisting that my oldest inform our waitress to replace my nephew’s soda after he decided to be funny and pour some salt in it.
I didn’t get the esteem that goes along with being publicly presented with an award. But, esteem is not really what I signed up for when I adopted my two boys at 9 and 12 years old. Later that night, in combing through early congratulatory messages, a colleague so very astutely said, “We all know that the glory is not in the acceptance of the award, but the work that comes before. Your boys are so lucky to have such a good example in their father!”
Did I really need for them to actually see how well thought of I was, and be inundated with a stream of introductions to people who meant nothing to them? They already see that I work hard to make a difference, and that I am respected for my efforts, even if I’m not too sure how much they are all that impressed by it. Still, although it might not show as much as I would like, they do “get” the importance of putting in their best, especially when compared to the harshness of their earlier life experiences.
We were together as a family, with whom it’s most important to celebrate life’s accomplishments. The boys had not been very explicit in their excitement about my receiving the award. They still really don’t know how, and are hesitant to offer their support in more obvious ways. I felt it more through their subtle, random acts of affection–when my youngest nuzzled up against me more than once at the restaurant, or when my other more stoic one and I happened to cross paths to and from the bathroom, and he reached out to give me a bear hug.
I still sometimes forget that they become easily overwhelmed, and can stall in their tracks at the prospect of their world growing out of its newly secure proportions. Any instance of their success in life is the only reward I need.