What does it feel like to have three boys awarded first honors in their respective schools?
Saying that you’re happy seems underwhelming. Even these words: cheerful, cheery, merry, joyful, jovial, jolly, jocular, gleeful, carefree, delighted, smiling, beaming, grinning, in good spirits, in a good mood, lighthearted, pleased, contented, content, satisfied, gratified, buoyant, radiant, sunny, blithe, joyous, beatific, thrilled, elated, exhilarated, ecstatic, blissful, euphoric, overjoyed, exultant, rapturous, in seventh heaven, on cloud nine, walking on air, jumping for joy, jubilant, chirpy, over the moon, on top of the world, tickled pink, on a high, and as happy as a clam… feel inadequate.
It is indescribable. Priceless.
But above this indescribable joy is an overpowering sense of thankfulness. As a parent, you know and feel that you’re probably doing ok by your kids.
“Congratulations!” the other parents say. “What are their rewards?”
Then I explain that these children received their rewards even before the grades came out. When their parents saw them exerting effort, studying by themselves, and enforcing self-discipline during study time, they receive our warmest thanks, our love, and sometimes a small treat.
I see some quizzical looks.
We reward effort, not outcome. Which is as short an explanation as I can give.
Don’t you want to give them toys, treats, or a trip to Disneyland? they ask again.
A slippery slope, I say. If we start rewarding for good outcomes now, then might the prizes in the future be too grandiose or unrealistic?
One parent remarked, “Maybe all your kids do is study at home. No play at all. Or maybe you spend much on tutors. You must be so rich!”
Hello! Our house is a mess because these children play all the time. They play hard, which has left our house looking like some giant beast has moved in. The table is chipped. The cabinets are creaking. The mattresses have sprung springs. The walls are covered with chalk and crayon drawings.
Most damage can be erased or repaired. Some, like our broken drinking glasses, are thrown away and replaced.
You see the effects of hard play on their faces, as my eldest now sports three diagonal slashes on his face, after a tangle with his brother’s fingers yesterday. I had to clean it with hydrogen peroxide last night through his tears. As he goes to school today, he wears this injury as a badge of courage, a testament that he survived a vicious attack from the monster in his house.
They take some basketball lessons. They do some taekwondo. One plays the piano. Another is having voice lessons. They have managed to convince me that they should enroll in soccer training.
All the tutoring they receive is from the unending patience of their mother, who sits with them during study time. Ok, I sit with them some times. But mom is always there looking over what we had covered that day.
“When I have my own children,” a childless colleague starts, “I will have to ask for your advice on how to raise them well. You are doing a super job.”
So this is what first honors feels like.