The assignment was to gather and correctly identify 12 leaves.
We collected with joy and identified with trepidation. Mama was so worried about some of the leaves, she made Gigi copy all the leaf characteristics for each leaf from the website and paste it into a document, which was then cut into panels - one for each leaf's page. (She hoped that by showing one's work and the reason WHY one had decided to identify each leaf as "x" or "y", one would obtain the benefit of the doubt should that particular need arise.)
Gigi, blissfully ignorant of Mama's concerns, vowed that her book was probably going to be the best one. After Mama let her emboss letter stickers and then adhere them to the cover, there was no doubt in Baby Girl's mind that this was, indeed, the leaf collection of the season. She expressed this opinion so many times that Mama got a little acrophobic.
Because, of course, this was a critical moment in the kid's development. And, of course, Mama is now on that tightrope - that oh-so-very-fine line that lies between telling your kid the right thing and telling her the thing that is going to contribute to her needing psychotherapy later on in life.
We want to celebrate the accomplishment, nurture the self-confidence, protect the fragile ego. But we also need to prepare the kid for what she's going to see: projects that will make her efforts look small by comparison because some parents are going to do too much. And how are we going to explain that in a kindly way (even as we want to punch said parents in the nose for endangering our kids' egos)? And you can't just ignore it because your kid's not stupid, and she's going to see all those leaf collections on display in the front hallway, with all the big kids ooohing and aaaahing over a masterpiece far beyond the ken of any 7-year-old.
And she is going to feel like a Loser.
So onto the tightrope I go.
"You know, Gigi, I'm so proud of what you've done here! You worked very hard, and you learned a lot about leaves, and you really did a nice job putting together your book. It looks awesome."
"I betcha nobody else's is going to look this good!"
"Well, now, I couldn't say. Other people worked hard, as well, so I'll bet their collections look pretty sharp, too. Which brings me to a very important point. Since you're seven now, I think you're definitely grown up enough to hear this."
(Appealing to her desire to be "grown up" always gets her attention in a positive way.)
"You should know that competition with others can be rewarding, but what really matters is competing with yourself. As long as you do the best that YOU can do, that's what matters. You shouldn't compare your efforts to those of other people. No matter what happens tomorrow, you need to focus on what a good job you did - because you did an EXCELLENT job.
"So it doesn't matter if you see somebody's project and it looks fancier than yours. You don't measure your worth or effort by what somebody else did. You look to what you're capable of and whether you lived up to your potential or whether you let yourself down, okay?"
"Okay. Can I have a snack?"
Did any of that get through?
Spouse takes Gigi to school, and he returned yesterday morning with news that was not at all surprising. There were some "super" projects in evidence - large, looming, extravagant displays that were striking fear and a sense of failure in the hearts of some of the children - our daughter being one of them. After escorting Gigi to her room, Spouse examined the other projects. Gigi's book was the "smallest" at 8" x 8", but it was definitely the nicest looking (we had gone for classic simplicity: one very large Sycamore leaf with "Grace's Leaves" spelled across in black American Craft letter stickers - all atop a red SEI scrapbook with a black binding).
At least four of the parents had their fingerprints all over their kids' projects - the most intimidating being a tree sculpture with laminated leaves hanging from its branches and a large triptyche with a tree mosaic made of carefully arranged and glued-down bits of twigs. And they had taken the extra-credit to the extreme, logging some 30+ leaves. (We suspect they got on eBay and purchased leaves from Europe or something. Those posers....)
We had prepared 16 leaves in the hope that, should we misidentify some of our leaves, we might still manage to get 12 right.
Anyway, Gigi was hurt by these enormous projects and it was obvious that her little book - the source of so much pride - was now small and mean in her eyes. At that moment, all I could think of was her teacher and how I would scratch her eyes out if she didn't give Gigi an "A." (The child's been struggling in school, and she really needed this to boost her confidence.)
But I had confidence that all would be well, dang it!
And that was even before Spouse told me that NOT ONE of the other projects had bothered to include a picture of the identified leaf and the list of its characteristics. Wow. That's such a no-brainer and so easily accomplished by a second-grader - at least it was the only thing I could think to have Gigi do that she really could do all by herself, thanks to copy-n-paste technology. (We cited our source, of course!)
Spouse also noted that we were either going to get squashed or they were because a lot of folks had our same leaves but identified as something different - and that included the over-achievers.
However, Gigi came home today with her grade: 16 points for 16 leaves plus 16 points for identifying every single one of them correctly!
She was quite excited, and I praised her to no end. I also tried to do a little reinforcing about doing her best and being her own yardstick, etc.
It probably went in one ear and out the other (if it even managed to make an entrance in the first place).
And speaking of ears, she's been wanting to get hers pierced. Given her fine accomplishment, Spouse and I decided to ask her if she would like to reward her hard work with the requested self-mutilation.
"Gigi, since you worked so hard and did such a good job, you should have a reward. Do you still want to get your ears pierced?"
She was already beaming - this question lit her up like Apollo 11; and she squealed loud enough for the Man in the Moon to hear her, too.
In true Gigi fashion, she had an opinion about it all.
"This is great! I'm the only one without earrings! Now I'll have earrings, too!"
"I'm glad I have ears... and I'm glad I have a BRAIN!"