It was October. All bags, booster seats, backpacks, and porta-cribs were perfectly stowed in the back of the car. We were just about to buckle the kids into their seats for a trip south when the letter arrived. It came from the elementary school informing us Eliza had won an award of excellence with this watercolor painting.
I wasn't sure what "award of excellence" meant, but the letter said her work would go on to the school district for judging.
Several weeks prior, she was all a flutter about what she wanted to paint. With some discussion, I helped her select an idea that fit the theme for the 2010 Reflections contest -Together We Can.
While I was in Boston, Eliza and Sami had the grand idea of raking leaves together to surprise me when I came home. So she titled her painting, "Raking Leaves for Mommy" and wrote this explanation on the back: "I raked leaves and my sister held the bag. We did it together!"
I peeked over her shoulder as she worked, I asked a few questions, made a few comments, but she wanted no help from me. She knew exactly how she wanted it to look.
I love the way she swabbed each tree limb in its own color. I love the small red crab-apples lining the boughs, the pile of leaves on the ground next to her, the smiles on their faces as her yellow sun rains down light.
We missed the award assembly because we were out of town, but when Eliza returned to her Kindergarten class, her teacher presented her with a big bue ribbon. I learned there were only two awards of excellence given and hers was for the age category of K-2nd grade.
At that moment, I experienced a mothering first. Do you know it? It's that feeling you get when you're suddenly swollen with pride over your child's accomplishment. The feeling that his or her success belongs in part to you. It's weird actually. And an emotion to keep under wraps. I can see how parents get heady over things like this.
When she came home, I expected her to announce her accomplishment first thing as the burst in the door. Nope.
She blew into the kitchen out of breath, no ribbon in hand, exclaiming, "Mom! It snowed!" She said she received a ribbon but I had to dig it out of the bottom of her backpack. When I tried to explain to her that she won first place out of three grades, she cut me off so she could show me the reading prize she'd won - a gooey globby egg thing that sticks to everything and comes with a red disc-like catcher. Realizing rather quickly that I thought the award was a bigger deal than she did, I dropped the conversation.
We took a picture and I stood back to watch her play with her sisters. I marveled at how easily success slid off her back. She didn't feel the need to parade her ribbon around for everyone to see. She was just herself. Confident, caring, happily engaged in whatever the moment was handing her.
When she finished her painting she told me "Mom! I think I will win an award." Worried that she might be deflated when she didn't, I tried to curb her expectations. "Lots of kids will be painting pictures. You do it because you love to paint. Not because you want to win."
But she did.
And here's the beauty. She is young enough that gooey eggs sticking to the wall are more exciting than a ribbon. She is meek enough that success doesn't keep her from telling her sisters their picture is just as good as hers. She is pure enough that wining or losing doesn't define who she is. Her blue ribbon is simply pretty. It's not an indication of her worth.
So much to learn from these little souls. So many reasons why we ought to be more like them.
We're framing this one.
For the art. But also for the lesson.