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I always worried and wondered what sort of mother I’d be.

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I always worried and wondered what sort of mother I’d be. I’m a little impatient — make that very. Multisyllabic words are my favorite kinds and I have a low tolerance for mindless stupidity (which is the Webster definition of children right?).

I had one comfort though: I was an awful kid and I have a million stories to tell. I figured at least I’d always be able to relate to my kids. I’d comfort them when they were down be there for them support them — the good stuff the stuff that really counts.

I never won an award. By now it’s almost a boast because I think I turned out all right and look what all those teacher and counselors didn’t appreciate. Growing up though it was very painful especially as I didn’t realize I wasn’t the type of girl who won awards.

I remember the last night of camp when they gave out the awards. “Best in Bunk” was awarded a siddur. It was my first year in camp a freshie just coming out of fourth grade. My bunk sat on the bottom left-hand bleachers in the social hall.

“Please let us know whether you daven nusach Ashkenaz or Sefard” the camp director announced. I turned to a staff member sitting next to me.

“How do I know what I daven?” I asked.

“Do you think you’re best in bunk?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know” I said. And in my head I thought Why not? Maybe? I had loved camp become alive there. Of course it would love me right back.

“Or maybe you’re the best in davening?” the staff member asked.

Again I didn’t know but they both sounded right. I started to get excited. “What nusach should I tell them?” The announcements were about to start and I needed to know now!

“You’ll worry about it if you need to” she said. I didn’t need to. They gave the award to a different girl and almost 20 years later I still remember her name — I actually met her sister recently and the award was all I could think about.

In camp six years later I thought I had a chance at Best in Shiur. I was super engaged involved excited and my older sister was good friends with the shiur counselor — I thought that would help me. But not even nepotism could save me. The award was given to my best friend instead. Clich? or not I wept.

This was the legacy I had to offer my children: Sure I was hurt and underestimated and forgotten but I’m awesome today and you’ll be too! Awards don’t define you — you define you!

But my son came home today and told me something that made me cry out of nachas and frustration.

He smiled his sweet smile, eyes bright. “My rebbi said tomorrow I’m going to be the best of the half!”

He’d come home with similar statements all through the summer — “I was best in middos this week”; “I was best in learning”; “I was best in lunching and bentshing” — with extras ices and sodas in addition to the prize. I was so proud of him.

This final accolade, though, cemented him in the other corner. There was no legacy to share, no empathy to dole out in hugs — my kid is the one who gets the awards. I hate irony. It’s not that he doesn’t deserve them, he is (most of the time) as wonderful as his titles suggest, but really, the one parenting leg up I thought I had was unnecessary for my son.

I sat a while, brow furrowed, feeling a bit down “He’s not my kid,” I told my husband.

He laughed. “I know. He’s mine,” he said. Which is true, my oldest takes after my husband so much it’s uncanny.

But soon, I realized my message hasn’t changed. While before it was a rallying cry, now it’s, “Remember what it’s really all about.” And tomorrow, when my son comes home waving the piece of paper that tells him his value, I’ll hug him and kiss him and tell him how proud I am of him. And then I’ll let him know: “Awards don’t define you, you define you.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 506)

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Tagged: Lifetakes