"Nanay, Nanay, look, look at what Mrs L gave me at the big school assembuhly!!!"
I took it and read:
S___ H___ Primary School
Certificate of Excellence
Putting 110% effort into all homework every week
achieving excellent results in spelling tests!
[Sgd] Headteacher Mrs L__
Date 7 April 2006
Let me tell you, I hugged that boy till he nearly turned blue.
Not that I don't usually hug him, because I do, certificate or no, about a dozen trillion times a day.
Not that it was the first certificate he ever brought home, but it was the first BIG one, printed on BIG paper, and given at the BIG school "assembuhly" (as B calls it).
As early as July 2005, barely 3 weeks after his first day in SH Primary, he had gotten on their school's "Golden Times Board" (where they put all the names of children who achieved something noteworthy that week) for "Settling in well at school."
A few months later, in October, he got another certificate for "Always being first on the carpet and sitting well."
In January this year, he was praised for "Increased success in daily tasks."
And a month later, he was again recognised for "Working hard all week."
Now, far be it from me to use this blog to flaunt B's successes in school, as all proud mums are wont to do from time to time. Many parents unconsciously drive their children to excel, to be the best in class or to reach for high marks in school, or to get recognition, awards, medals, trophies... And maybe they don't know it, but maybe their children are getting the wrong message. Perhaps it is possible, just possible, that their children feel they have to earn their parent's love and approval with success. And when these messed-up children grow up, that makes for extremely messed-up adults, as well. (But I'm not ready to judge anyone here, no, not me. Judging others is not my style, as I would not want to be judged myself.) But while taking reasonable pride in one's children is forgivable and natural and instinctive, let me just say that pride isn't what drove me to post about it here.
Long ago, while B was still inside my tummy, and long before we had any inkling that some of his brain's neurons were not developing as normal, I had made a covenant with him, making promises about how his Tatay and I will love and raise him. One of those promises is that I will love him for who he is, unconditionally, and not for what he can or can not do. That he will never be my personal trophy, that I will be quietly proud of him and will express my affirmation in private, but that I will never embarrass him by showing him off to my friends. I promised to do my best to let him feel that he is loved and lovable no matter what. That he never needs to earn my love by any kind of success, or any kind of exceptional achievement. I did not want a child laden with medals and plaques, acclaimed by the world, but secretly doubting if he would be loved and accepted by me even without them. I did not want a genius or a child wonder, a gifted prodigy or an Einstein-in-the-making. I wanted to raise a child who could look back on his life and know he was loved, and loved greatly, for himself, for who he was. I wanted a child who thrived on hugs and smiles and cuddles and kisses, not one who needed awards or fame or medals to complete him. I wanted a child who knew what it truly meant to love and be loved, to be accepted and to be whole.
Which is why I am happy about all these certificates he keeps getting in school. Instead of praising academic excellence alone (best in numeracy or literacy, for example), they place a premium on hard work, on cooperation, on being capable of adapting, on overcoming one's personal challenges, on pushing oneself to one's limit in a daily way. They make no bones about what they value in that school. They appreciate what truly matters.
Just to make it clear: I have no qualms about excellence. I have nothing against trophies, medals, plaques, certificates or awards. My husband and I have a few of these ourselves and we know how good it feels to be acknowledged for one's talent or work. But I'm completely against making children (and grown-ups) feel that their excellence or their achievements ought to define them or their value, their acceptability, their lovability. No one need be excellent to be worthy of being loved. No child needs to get a medal first to earn a hug.
This is why I am proud of B. Not that he is the best in something, nor that he is gifted in anything-- the innate talents and extraordinary abilities we have discovered in him are clearly a given, and they are there to be nurtured and given room to thrive, but they are not why I am proud of my son, my child who has ASD. What I find most admirable in B is how he never gives up, how he pushes himself, how he works his very darnedest. How he picks himself up after a fall, dusts himself off, and tries again.
Someday, because of his hard work and his perseverance, and despite his present challenges, B may excel, win contests, get medals, awards, trophies, diplomas, degrees or what-have-you, and you know what? I will be happy, yes, and a very proud mum. But it can't possibly make me love B more than he knows I love him now. And if he doesn't excel, if he lives a very ordinary, mediocre, undecorated but otherwise happy and fulfilled life, with good friends and loved ones around him, I will not be disappointed or less proud of him in any way. It will certainly not make me love him less.
From B, I have learned the real meaning of the words tenacity, courage, determination and hope. His persistence and doggedness in daily tasks, his calm ability to surpass expectations leveled at him by textbooks and medical journals-- I see him at it each day and I am amazed.
At 5-going-on-6, B has taught me much more than he can ever learn from me.