Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Atta-boys Appreciated

There it was, matted on a poster-board, taped up on the gleaming tile wall of my elementary school, adorned with a blue ribbon. I think the title was something like Around the World in a Few Minutes. I don’t recall any lines from this poem which had been awarded first place for the fifth grade at Westside Elementary School that year, but I can still feel my heart swelling with pride as I stood there, enjoying the recognition for something I loved to do. Over the years, I didn’t collect a lot of “hardware”. Trophies were usually reserved for the kids with athletic prowess.  But being recognized for my God given ability to place the right words in the right places has always given me satisfaction.

I remember the first time my husband bought into my dedication to writing. We were attending an awards banquet in Eureka Springs. I received four second place prizes that night. He didn’t even mind the hugs I got from the handsome cowboy at the podium, because they were each accompanied by fifteen dollars.  Up to that point, my life partner had merely tolerated my penchant for prose. After all, Contemporary Inspirational Women’s Fiction is not his preferred genre. But that night, he was fully on board as my biggest cheerleader and business manager. (He kept up with the tidy little pile of certificates and checks.)

The Cub Scout Pinewood Derby has provided a venue for competition for two generations of our family. Creating a small race car out of a block of wood is satisfying in itself. Boys and their dads working together, designing and handcrafting, with moms and sisters advising about decoration provide lasting memories. But, for the boy, it’s all about race day. Never handled as a single elimination, the family’s proud creation gets many chances to prove its worth before awards are handed out at the end of the day.

Our oldest grandson learned some hard lessons when he designed a Pinewood Derby vehicle that resembled a boat, then one that looked like a school bus. When he finally got the race car idea conquered, he fared much better on race day. Though the trophy for best design may be just as large, it’s usually small consolation, and youngsters leave that day vowing to learn more about aerodynamics and equal distribution of weight. There is only one trophy they covet. The one for the fastest, unbeatable car.  Our middle son and his dad have an unbeatable car in their past. After all these years, it still makes them beam to talk about it.

While many high school football fans were stretching their legs, refreshing their popcorn and soft drinks at halftime, my hubby and I were watching the culmination of hours  of intense practice as the band performed each week. Like-minded parents squirmed on the hard bleachers in anticipation, and we cheered with every bit as much fervor as those whose main focus was the game.

Along with providing support for the teams, the bands have their own competitions, and we accompanied our musicians to many over the years. We learned that the hardest thing to do was to remain respectful as the second place band was announced. You see, if you knew your band was in the finals, and the fifth, fourth and third places had been awarded, that left only two possibilities. If you weren’t awarded the runner-up prize, then Wooo-Hooooo!!! Our esteemed band directors had cautioned the students to remain seated, keep your hoops and hollers quiet while the also-rans accepted their slightly smaller trophy. The band parents, however, were not as easy to control.

The “hardware” that came along with first place usually took two students to hoist in the air. Some of the best memories, though, occurred on the way home, as we rode those luxurious school buses (ahem) back to our hometown. The kids were very good at celebrating, and you would be amazed at how well they could sing together. They are musicians after all.

 One year in particular, the football team had been doing pretty well, and the local custom was for the police department to escort the team home with lights and sirens as they came home from each victory on the road. When the band buses had kept up, we sometimes got in on the tail end of this welcome. As we arrived in Saline County  that night after cheering through the announcement of both second and first place at the band competition, we were all a little surprised to see a policeman sitting at the city limits of our favorite town, waiting for us.  Heads popped out of bus windows as we realized that with no football team around for miles, our kids were being given the hero’s welcome.  Initial bedlam gave way to a hush as they absorbed the honor. Cars full of people along the streets waved and honked. All of the hard work and dedication suddenly became worth it.

Too much praise might lead to becoming full of yourself. But, just the right amount bolsters you for the job ahead. Let the atta-boys continue!!