I know this song and dance – every step of the usual routine. I just wish that I wasn’t always the understudy. That’s what I was thinking during the first day of the new Sunday School class. It seems to me that most of the ladies who were there had a connection to the nearly school, either as a parent of a student, a teacher, an administrative employee, or some combination of the above. So it didn’t surprise me that the conversation turned to the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality, the evils of the helicopter moms, and how their kids grow up to be adults that fail out of school and don’t really grow up at all. They all agreed with each other about how terrible these things were and how society had gone off of the rails because of them.
I was thinking about what it felt like when I was a little girl as I watched the first, second, and third place teams get their trophies. I had tried my hardest, but my team barely scored that year. I clapped politely as the most valuable player was awarded her metal. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do another year of sports. A few minutes before the award ceremony was over, the speaker said, “There’s a team, the Chicago Cubs. They haven’t won in decades – probably longer. But they have a saying: ‘There’s always next year’ It means that they have a little time to practice and exercise. Next year is a fresh start. Next year means that everyone starts off at square one. So we have something for you, a small trophy to remind you that next year is coming up really soon. Next year you could very well win a first place trophy to take the place of this one.” To me, that trophy was more precious than gold. Every time I saw it, I remembered that ‘next year’ was getting closer a day at a time. It was lesson the whole team took to heart, as we grew a year older, our skills increased by leaps and bounds. Most of my trophies are first, second, or third but that one participants trophy made that possible.
Then I remembered about a documentary I had seen, how a girl named Xiaofei (sounds like Zhow Fay) decided to run for class president. Two boys were also competing for the honor. Her parents set aside an hour to ‘coach’ her to make a convincing speech about why the other students should choose her president. One of the boy’s father’s told him to remind the students that his father worked at the transportation ministry and would arrange for them to go on an extra field trip. The other student’s parents were also equally involved in preparing him for the election by suggesting that he points out how Xiaofei was a crybaby last year and was not mature enough to be class president. After all, family honor was on the line. All the of the students were almost as competitive as their parents – it was, after all, a natural part of their culture. Failure means dishonor and therefore it cannot be tolerated. I imagined how a Chinese teacher might conclude that the lack of parental involvement in every aspect of their child’s education means that American parents could care less. Perhaps these people hadn’t seen that particular documentary.
And in defense of the rest, they’ve had to play the game with ever changing rules. The terrible economic down-turn caused college graduates to make due with being employed at McDonalds trying to pay off their debts – causing the person who would have had that job to do the best he or she can with any opportunities that are left over. People who should have retired couldn’t afford to when their 401Ks were wiped out. People lost their homes. Factories weren’t really hiring for a very long time, but even so more people kept on graduating every year. My grandmother paid a total of $300 for her college education. My brother and sister would be lucky to pay $30,000 each. If either are particularly successful, they might find themselves with the opportunity to pay $30,000 for one year of education at a prestigious university. Spending so much on education doesn’t exactly leave them very much for housing or saving or having families. But they aren’t playing on a 1950’s playbook. They’re going by the 2015 rules of taking advantage of every opportunity. Yes, it might look like not having a job because the government cares for them better than being penalized at tax time for working minimum wage for two hours a week at Wal-Mart. It also means that barely qualifying for financial aid means that much less time they spend working multiple jobs (if they can find them) can be spent studying the materials for their classes ensuring they understand it more completely to prepare them for the work they will do. They can’t help that. They didn’t make the rules. They don’t live in a world where a job is guaranteed to last for decades. They don’t live in a world where they can live debt-free on their own. They don’t live in a world where everything is certain to never change. They are doing the best they can given the resources allowed to them.
In a lot of ways, I’m just like them. So I felt the weight of every word they said. Then I remembered the sermon I had heard a few months ago about the evils of homosexuality. I used to think that I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to be told that I’m evil, vile, an abomination, terrible, lost, heretic, sinner, and destined for the deepest pit of burning hell-fire by my very nature. But I had a smallest taste of that this morning and it wasn’t pleasant. I felt so isolated and so different from everyone around me. I don’t know what it is to be a wife and a mom, or a teacher or secretary at the school but I do know better than to hold a conversation about some of the ‘worst’ traits about millenials in the presence of one. Granted, they couldn’t have known – they never asked and I never volunteer information. But I know the steps of this dance routine. I know that if I can’t say anything nice that I ought not say anything at all. And I know better than to question it … it wouldn’t do anybody any good.