This week my family and I headed out to our daughter’s middle school for the End Of The School Year Awards Ceremony.

We were sent a real life letter in the mail (so we knew it was a big deal!) a week ago stating that Zoe would be getting recognition for something she’s done this school year.

She’s had all As in her first year of middle school.

Not too shabby for a kid who had radiation to her brain when she was 7 years old, huh?!

So, I knew she would be getting a certificate for her 4.0 GPA.

She came away with seven award certificates.

One for every subject, including physical education.

And the girl does not like to run.


Things have certainly changed since I was in the 6th grade.

For me, 6th grade was still considered a part of elementary school.

Middle school consisted of only 7th and 8th grade.

So, in 6th grade I was not given a locker combination to memorize.

I still participated in daily recess.

I was still using my fingers to try to add large sums of numbers together ( I still do this…)

I was not given a laptop computer to take home each night (computahwhat?)

I was not traipsing through the hallways giggling with my classmates as we went from Hour 1 Accelerated Math to Geography where we were finishing up our Diwali Festival of Lights in India projects.

Much was not expected of me in 6th grade.

But, much is expected from my daughter who is finishing 6th grade.

I started my 6th grade year in 1982.

Plenty has happened in the 35 years between my 6th grade experience and my daughter’s.

Even starting in kindergarten, children of the 21st century are expected to know a lot more than we ever were.

The expectations are mind-boggling really.

And it’s no wonder that kids have more anxiety, more inner turmoil, more daunting pressure.

Thursday evening, my daughter received many accolades for her hard work this school year.

In my 6th grade year I also received an award.

Awards at my school were handed out during the school day while our parents were all at work.

A bunch of kids…

wearing pin-striped jeans and oversized tortoiseshell-framed eyeglasses

whose hair had been permed the weekend before by grandma in her kitchen from the boxed set she had bought at the A&P

sat in the very hot auditorium sliding up and down on the hard wooden fold down seats anxiously waiting to hear if their name would be called.

No one got “Most Improved Student” or “Highest GPA In The History Of Our School District.”

No one received an award for “Most Reading Points Because You Have Read Every Book In The School Library Twice” or “Best Ability To Multitask While You Study 6 Core Subjects, Participate In Drama Club,  And Do Track-Volleyball-Basketball.”


What?  WAIT!

Did I just hear my name called?

There ARE five other Jennifer’s in my class…are you sure it was me?!

Up I jumped from my seat to get my award!

I ran to the stage in my Dr. Scholl’s tan sandals with my hand outstretched to receive my prize…


(…and I think I received the perfect attendance award like EVERYONE else because back in the Carter/Reagan eras, our parents always made us go to school no matter what was wrong with us…)

I think other awards presented included…

Best Michael Jackson Moves

Highest Jump From A Swing At Recess

Most Pizza Eaten In One Sitting At Lunch In The Cafegymnasium (or was it the Gymateria?)

I think I gave a speech where I thanked my Irish redheaded and freckled great-grandmother Stella for the genes.

A guy named Jeff got awarded for having the most freckles of the male variety.

He did have a lot, he deserved it.

We didn’t have much pressure put on us in 6th grade.

Kids today are pressured to:

Do More

Be The Best

Over Achieve

Competition is everywhere at school.

Zoe is given fake money as a reward for doing well on tests.

The fake money is going to be spent at a school auction next week where she may come home with a television or an iPad.

For turning in her homework on time.

For being polite.

It really starts in kindergarten now, though.

My children are rewarded while they are away from home and in their educational environments with food, toys, parties.

School has totally become a reality competition comparable to Survivor and America’s Got Talent.

It’s no wonder that my niece, who is in college, is totally stressed out and in need of anti-anxiety meds.

I sometimes feel like I may need to get my own prescription for myself as my daughters get older and more is expected of them in school.

Zoe seems to be doing fine with what’s expected of her.

She was in kindergarten when she fought for her life with a leukemia diagnosis.

We pushed her hard because we knew her brain was literally being inundated with poisons.

She had leukemia cells in her spinal fluid, which meant it was probably in her brain.

Cranial radiation and spinal-infused chemotherapy were part of her treatments.

It’s been 5 years since her hard-core treatments ended, but we really pushed her to get good grades early on because we knew she had much to overcome and we didn’t want her to slack.

Recently she came home with a C on a test.

I don’t even remember what subject the test was is.

What I remember is that she started crying when she told me.

Because she knew we expected more from her.

I told her it was okay.

It wasn’t the end of the world and she could make it up with studying harder for the next test.

And then I asked her “are we pushing you too hard?”

Through her tears she looked at me and said “no, you aren’t”

I’m a very laid back mom.

I don’t get on my kids if their bedroom (that they share) is too messy.

I don’t yell at them if they curse too much at home.

I don’t get too annoyed with them if they refuse to eat vegetables.

But, I’ve always wondered if we expect too much from them.

School is their job right now.

My husband and I are expected to be on top of our game and to get the job done correctly at our own jobs.

So, I do expect them to get good grades.

I want learning to be something that they enjoy.

I want them to be inspired by things that they see, by music that they listen to, by ideas that emerge as they wander around in a museum.

Expectations are challenging.

For both a parent and a child.

I mean, I never expected to get that award in the 6th grade.

But, I knew I had it in me.

Maybe that award isn’t out of Zoe’s reach either…



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