Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Thanks for coming!

One of the kids' friends showed up for a sleepover fresh from School Track & Field Day. A homeschooled friend, no less, who thanks to a receptive teaching staff, joins the schoolkids every now and then for fun projects and activities. Anyway, she showed up with 5 ribbons. Apparently everyone got at least four. Some got more, if they'd placed well in races and competitions. Her ribbons all said "Excellent", except for one which said "2nd place". An "excellent" ribbon was a 'participation award.'

At the end-of-year soccer wind-up a couple of days later, every child received a commemorative medal. Erin, Noah and Sophie compared this approach to that of the track and field day. Did the track & field ribbons meant anything in terms of the excellence they superficially stated. What did "Excellent" mean if "2nd place" was better? Was there any value in a "Thanks for Coming" award if there were real awards to the winners? Were the soccer medals awards or souvenirs? Did calling a ribbon an "Excellence Award" make it more or less meaningful?

A couple of days later Noah asked Sophie who her best friend is. The idea of comparing and rating came up again in this context. I expressed my discomfort with the idea of rating friends as "Best", "Second-best" and "Third-best". What if, I said, you were kicking the soccer ball around after practice with a couple of kids, and you told one "you're my best friend" and the other "you're my 'thanks for coming' friend" -- how would those kids feel? Sometimes a "thanks for coming" award is demeaning or hurtful. The kids laughed at the idea of a 'thanks for coming' friend.

"Grandma gives 'thanks for coming' awards" said Erin with a smirk, referring to the stickers that are dispensed at the end of violin lessons.

"True, she does," I said, "but she doesn't try to pretend they say anything about the worth of the lesson. They don't say 'excellent', and she doesn't give out 'first class lesson' stickers some of the time."

The kids all seemed to understand the difference, even without me articulating it. There is no implied comparison or judgementalism in grandma's "Thanks for coming" stickers. They're just part of the ritual of lessons. A souvenir, like the soccer medal.

The kids have latched onto the "Thanks for coming" phrase though, as a humourous put-down. It fits in anywhere they want to say "nice try, too bad about the results." Now they just quip "Thanks for coming."

All of this is particularly funny because it was about a week ago, before all these discussions, that Fiona began shouting out "Thanks for coming!" any time she's taking leave of someone. She goes to grandma's house, has a nice long visit, and upon leaving, cheerfully shouts out "Thanks for coming, grandma!" She soaks up social niceties like a sponge, this kid, but she doesn't always quite sort out their precise social contexts on the first go around.

It was odd that this one phrase should take on two quite different, but equally funny, significances in our family in one week.

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