Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's the true worth of an achievement medal ... really?

The room was freezing, but we didn't care. After all, it was our daughter's middle school graduation. Yes, middle school - not high school, not college - but she'd worked hard to get here and she was very excited, so we were, too.

After all, she'd made straight As all year, worked her butt off, and frankly, we were happy that her efforts would be recognized and the relaxing days of summer could begin.

The principal cleared his throat and began announcing the students who had maintained a 4.0 GPA all year. Seated in the back, we couldn't see our daughter,  but we could hear the names, see the students as they climbed on stage and smiled as they bowed their heads and received their achievement medals.

J, K, L ...N, O, P ... no M. No Majeske. Where was Katie Majeske? Our daughter's name wasn't called. My husband and I looked at each other, confused. We were certain our girl had earned the ranking. In fact, I was absolutely positive. A bit of a hoverer, I had checked the online grading site available to parents earlier that week and seen she'd earned all As.

The ceremony went on. Diplomas were distributed. At the end, we met Katie in the gym for cake, ice cream and photos. She was excited and giggly, posing with her friends. She mentioned the medal briefly.

"I was supposed to get one," she said, rolling her eyes. "I don't know why I didn't." She opened up her diploma folder and pulled out a second sheet. "Honored for Academic Achievement," it said.

She didn't seem particularly upset. But for some reason, I was. I found the principal and politely mentioned the omission. He looked dutifully disturbed, then clicked a message to  himself on his phone. "I'll see if that's correct," he said. "I'll talk to the teachers who compiled the names ...and I'll be in touch with you."

No one contacted me that week. Or the next. My frustration faded. Then report cards arrived, and it flared again. I sent emails to the school, to the teachers involved, to the principal.

I received a reply from a teacher: The documents they'd reviewed indicated my daughter had a lower GPA. That was incorrect, I wrote back. They had been misinformed - and I would like her medal, simply as a keepsake.

I got it. It was left for me in the main office. It had a sticky note on it with her name attached - spelled incorrectly.  I brought it home and hefted it in triumph in my quiet house. My daughter, lying on her bed with her laptop, just shook her head.

"Oh, yay," she said with a small smile. "You beat the system, mom. Way to go."  And we laughed. I don't know why I cared so much about that medal. Having Katie is my real award - and  that's what I need to remember.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In the lazy days of summer, I dream of my brand-new fence

As summer kicks into high gear and my friends talk of warm days and new bathing suits, I dream about fences.

In fact, I obsess over them. As I drive to work, I note their styles from the corner of my eye. Solid wood, chain-link, split-rail, vinyl. I look to see if each board is notched or placed straight across. I can tell the do-it-yourselfers, the professionals, the old-timers, and the brand-new additions.

And I wait and wait for mine.

I'm putting a fence in my back yard. Not a full fence, mind you - just two sides and a gate. A back fence already exists. I just wanted a simple privacy fence. You know, room for the dog to run around. A little place to relax.

The project has been far more complicated amd expensive than I ever imagined, and I tell the kids this is their trip to Disneyland, their summer vacation.

They seem strangely unappreciative.

My co-workers get unusually busy when I talk about my fence project - it's almost like they're not interested. It's so odd.

See, I thought this would be so simple - it's half a fence, after all. But after the installer came out, he shook his head. Nope, he told me. Our township has a new rule - no more simple privacy fences allowed. All fences have to be "mirror-image," or shadow-boxed.

That involves more lumber, for you fence novices out there. It's more expensive. "But I live on a cul-de-sac," I whined. "Who cares?"  Then the installer squinted over at my neighbor's house. He shook his head again.

"That house is set really far back - it's actually in your back yard," he said. "I can only put a six-foot fence to the edge of that house ... then the height has to drop down - I think. We'll have to see."

One survey and two permits later, we found he was correct.

Just recently, my neighbors inexplicably began digging around their back fence - apparently to reinforce the bottom with chicken wire to discourage their dogs from digging. They also unearthed a giant cable that snakes into my yard. I'm hoping it won't impede my installers. So far, so good.

Yesterday, the posts went in. And my excitement grew. If the rain holds off, the fence might go up soon. The kids don't seeem that interested.

But the dog is very excited.