Saturday was the big end-of-camp Tennis Bonanza at Randolph Tennis Center (soon to be named the Jim Refkin Tennis Center).
G., my wandering boy who likes to pretend his racquet is a machine gun when he is in a certain mood, did really well with the 7 a.m., 5-week camp. Well, for him. He participated in warm-ups, tried hard on most games, and socialized pretty well with the other children (minus the machine guns.) For him, this was big. He spent most of last spring in Little League counting how many players were on the field. When his team returned to the dugout, he would keep running through the dugout, out the gate, and into the stands to check in with us. He couldn't remember his teammates names, for the most part. He spent many music classes this year, when the students were supposed to sing or do movements in unison, rolling on the floor and refusing to participate. It was good to see him, for the most part, checked in. The biggest issue was that he wanted more stars for the star chart, but still wasn't a completely focused team player, not a top star-earner.
When, during the second half of the Tennis Bonanza, Coach Megan announced that each site would be awarding three trophies (one for stars, one for improvement, and one for sportsmanship), G. immediately started crying. He knew none of those were for him, and boy, did he want a trophy. I scootched him close to me and whispered in his ear that he would get a t-shirt, whispered how well he had done and how much fun he had had, how most of these kiddos would not be headed home with a trophy, and how what was really important was that he knew for himself that he was learning a lot about tennis and getting better. I reminded him that I worked really hard as a teacher, and hadn't gotten one trophy, but that what was important was what we knew we could do, and what we decided to do better next time. He tried so hard to be a good sport, but he couldn't manage to clap and be happy for the others who had won.
He cried all the way to the Parents' Lounge where we stood in line to pick up his T-shirt, pointing out along the way all the bouncy children holding trophies, unable to see the other dozens of children without trophies.
As we stood in line, a mom came up behind me, surreptitiously holding a star trophy: "Would he like to have this?" I said, "Are you sure?" She said that her son was big, and didn't care at all about the trophy. I turned to find him and make eye contact, and found the friendly face of a 15 year-old who clearly loved tennis, and had learned that the little 4-inch trophy was not what it was all about. He waved off the trophy, and I mouthed a thank you and hid it behind my back while G. got his T-shirt. He turned back around, and I held the trophy up.
"What's that?" he asked, still teary-eyed.
"It's for you." I handed him the trophy and the tears dried up. A look spread across G.'s face: happiness, relief, accomplishment. Two thoughts swirled in my head: "Miracle" and "Cry and get what you want." I had decided to allow him his moment and get what he wanted.
He commenced with a long list of questions designed to tell him exactly how this trophy came into his hands.
I asked him, "Do you think that you deserve it?"
He said yes.
I said, "Then it's for you!"
We passed another 7-year-old perched on a wall, wearing his new NJTL shirt over his other clothes. "Lucky!" he called out to G. That boy would go home with no trophy.
What stays with me is the sweetness of the teen boy and/or his mother who had the thought of making G.'s day, without even knowing if he deserved it. They may not realize that they helped to recognize the growth he made this summer. I do hope that G. will learn that it is not all about the trophy, and that he can't always expect trophies when it is a competition, and that he needs to focus on himself, what he can do, and what he can do better, but for the moment, he feels acknowledged and validated in a way that apparently ice cream and t-shirts can't do.