the one about the Christmas pumpkin

Last week, a letter came home with my Kindergartner about a pumpkin decorating contest at school. Students could decorate a pumpkin and submit it for judging in one of four categories -- religious (it's a Catholic school), funny, creative, and scary.

Oh yeah, Baby. Challenge accepted. We're gonna win this thang.

I began thinking of ideas in my head about what would be a creative and winning pumpkin. Surely, Pinterest would have some real doozies.

We could paint it to look like a favorite character. We could make it funny like those emoji pumpkins that are circulating on Facebook. A trip to Hobby Lobby was certainly in our future.

I left to go to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon, and when I returned, Noelle was so excited to show me something. She was covered in paint, and so was her pumpkin. The pumpkin. The contest pumpkin.

Noelle came up with the idea that she would create a Christmas pumpkin. She hand-drew and painted snowmen and Christmas trees all around the giant pumpkin. She outlined the drawings in black Sharpie and could not erase the grin on her face.

At first I thought that maybe we would just keep this pumpkin at home and buy a new pumpkin to decorate for the contest, but she was insistent that this was the pumpkin and she could not wait to take it to school.

She began looking for a way to stuff it into her backpack. Unsuccessfully.

At that moment, I knew I couldn't squelch her excitement and crush her spirit with my recommendation that we create a better new pumpkin for the contest.

This, after all, was a contest for the kids, not the parents. And this is a lesson I tried to teach over and over again when I was a 4th grade teacher.

That super awesome science fair board with perfect hand-lettering and precision-cut shapes and computer-generated photos? You know, with the experiment that the child cannot even attempt to explain or make sense of because the parent did. the. whole. thing?

That report with zero misspellings and confusing vocabulary? Over the book that child probably didn't read in the first place?

That perfectly imperfect log cabin replica, animal habitat, or human cell model made of clay that was just a bit of a hot mess when the child went to bed, but then was transformed by the Project Fairy by the time the child woke up?

You aren't fooling anyone, Guys.

And I get it now. I totally do. We as parents know that neatness counts. And presentation counts. And creativity counts. We see the rubrics and know that our kids will need help (quite a bit) if they are going to score in the highest checkboxes.

We see the hand-drawn stick figures and dripping glue. We see the coloring outside the lines and the cutting that would make Edward Scissor Hands embarrassed. Hell, we see that the kid can barely keep gum out of her hair and food off her chin. How can she do an award-winning, A+ project, by herself?

Well. Maybe she can't.

Maybe it won't be an A+. Maybe it won't win first prize. Maybe another project will be better.

And maybe that's ok.

Because knowing that there is something to work on...something to improve upon...something to try next time...

That's where the magic happens.

Growth. Self-reflection. Responsibility.

And the satisfaction that the grade, the place, the prize-- it all belongs to the child.

It's not the parent's A. It's the child's.

It's not the parent's ribbon. It's the child's.

It's not the parent's C-. It's the child's.

I am reasonably sure that when Noelle goes to fill out a college application, she will not be asked about her design for her Kindergarten pumpkin decorating contest.

However, the ownership of her work, the justification of her thought process, and the execution of her planning will all be skills that she will need from Kindergarten to college and beyond. That, to me, is worth more than any prize.

So, here's to you, Christmas pumpkin. Go get 'em.

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