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On Distinction

May 15, 2013

There’s a three-part round of awards ceremonies for the high school around here, and mostly the same group of kids get all the awards. Eleanor was one of those kids, and now Walker–who we found out last night is number three in his class–has been on stage a lot, receiving accolades (and, last night, a scholarship!). It is of course fun to see, and it’s fun to trade congratulations with the other parents, especially the ones who haven’t seen Walker much since his elementary school days or his traveling soccer team days. It’s interesting to find out where the other seniors are planning to go to college, or what they plan to do next.

What is the most fun is seeing Walker and his friends crossing the stage, being celebrated repeatedly as the best and brightest. I never get tired of that.

Once I told Walker that the deadly sin I am most prone to is pride. Is there anything bigger and more obvious than a mother’s pride for her youngest child? All these ceremonies are the last ones, and the splendor of his accomplishments has whisked us through them with a sense of culminating triumph. I hardly even have the decency to act modest, which reminds me of the opening line of “On Distinction” by A.F. Moritz:

We won’t pretend we’re not hungry for distinction
but what can ever distinguish us enough?
This country, this language won’t last long, the race
will die, later the cockroach, earth itself,

and last this beer bottle: silicon fused by man,
almost indestructible, like a soul:
it will go spinning ever farther from the nearest thing
until space, continually deepening, drowns in itself.

Yet we keep a hungry eye on old schoolmates
and everyone born in the year of our own birth,
and spend the nights in ranting over them,
their money, fashionable companions, pliant critics.

To live just a little longer than they do:
that would be triumph. Hence exercise and diets,
and the squabble over who will write the history
of this paradise of demons casting each other out.

After all these years of noticing whose kid appeared in a photo in the local newspaper, next year I won’t be at the awards ceremonies, to write about the accomplishments of the kids Walker started school with. They will blaze for a moment, while he will be finding his way in a bigger world, where the other parents will not remember the song he sang at the fifth grade talent show or who wore the plastic breastplate at his sixth birthday party.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. RonG permalink
    May 15, 2013 9:58 am

    The small town awards ceremony also gives us one last chance to observe the progress of that collection of kids that grew up with your child. Our children aren’t exactly big fish in a small pool, but the pool is small enough that they are individually recognized fish. We have one last time to recognize them and remember them before they scatter, like a school of fish scatters when a rock is thrown in the pond.

    Lots of people have laughed at, criticized, praised, scorned, swooned over Hilary Clinton’s statement that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Perhaps it should be “only a village can raise a child.”

    • May 15, 2013 10:03 am

      Yes, as usual, you’ve said explicitly what I thought I was saying implicitly. And I love the phrase “individually recognized fish.”
      It took me a few years to get used to small-town life, and the collective raising of some of the children was a big part of what drew me in.

  2. PAJ permalink
    May 15, 2013 12:22 pm

    Congrats to Walker on all his current accomplishments. My friendship with his parents means that I’ll get to learn of his (and Eleanor’s!) many accomplishments-to-come. But today we celebrate the journey to now and all the triumphs that are Walker’s.

    • May 16, 2013 9:49 am

      As we’ve said before, the best thing I can wish for my kids is that they will find friends in college as good as the ones we found there.

  3. May 16, 2013 12:20 am

    To belabor Ron’s metaphor, the fishing changes, depending on the body of water. While they’ve been in fresh water thus far, your children will be moving into the ocean. You will still be in attendance for those higher education milestones–special activities, honors convocations, banquets that recognize extraordinary achievements. And you will still be proud, perhaps embarrassingly so, as Ray and I are. And then there are more moments…graduate school (if they are interested in such things); first real jobs; going out to dinner with you and picking up the check. The pride doesn’t change, but the body of water, the type of bait, and the difficulty of success increases. It is a wonderful ride.

    • May 16, 2013 9:52 am

      Moving into the ocean is a good metaphor, and I think that’s what I was sensing but not articulating well–that part of my pride at the high school events is that I know all the other kids, and all the other parents know my kid. At events to come, I’m assuming that I won’t know as many of the other kids or parents, so the milestones become more individual in an interesting way.

  4. lemming permalink
    May 24, 2013 2:03 pm

    Liking the fish imagery on all levels as I head toward graduation.

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