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Roger Barbee: Lying to our children

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By Roger Barbee

There is a black and white photograph on my desk. In it is a man and six children, four of them are his. All of the children wear Easter clothes and the two kneeling girls in front, who are cousins to the other four, hold Easter baskets. The bare trees in the background tell that it is an early Easter, and the 1953 Bel Air parked in the driveway helps date the photograph.

The three youngest children smile into the camera and the others, along with the man, stare back as if they are doing what they were told to do. The photograph was taken at his mother's house on some Easter Sunday when my father was visiting from where he was living. He does not look happy. Four of his six children in the photograph by my mother do not hold Easter baskets like their cousins. Maybe he forgot the baskets, or he just did not bother with getting us each one.

I don't know why, but I know that with six children to feed and house and clothe, my mother could not afford such luxuries. And we knew that fact. We knew we were poor because our mother, in loving words, told us that we were poor. It was a fact of life and one that we learned to accept. Words such as "disadvantaged" were not in our vocabulary; poor was.

I have no memory of the particular Easter Sunday mentioned above. I do, however, have memories of going on Sundays to Maw Maw Alice's house for Sunday dinner. After church, our mother would send us to her house if our father was going to be there. I have memories of that being a time to have plenty to eat and a time to play with cousins.

I remember those Sundays as pleasant because of the abundance of food that stilled our bellies. But not one of the eight adults present thought to get any of us an Easter basket. No one saw it as a situation that was damaging and in need of correcting. We were poor, and the poor had no money for such things. We had the necessities, and that was what mattered.

If that Sunday were to happen today, I suggest that someone would swoop into action and make sure that all children present had a basket. Why? Because the well intended aunt or uncle or parent would feel that some irreparable harm would come to a child who had no Easter basket or trophy at the end of a sport's season or a certificate for participation or an A grade because he/she had worked hard. But when we award even the mildest effort with a trophy or A or empty applause, we lie to our children. And I suggest that they hear and see the lie because they know what work has gone into the endeavor by themselves or their friends. They know that not 22 percent of our high school graduates are true honor students or that every kid who played a sport deserves a trophy.

Of the six children in the photograph, all have grown and accomplished much in life. Those that had baskets are happy as are those without baskets. That is my point: by being told by our mother that there was not enough money for such frills as Easter baskets, we were given responsibility to share in our lives. We were poor, so get over it and go one.

However, today we are so concerned with each child being happy that we lie by rewarding effort and not result. When we reward effort, we teach our children that life will accept their efforts, that all they have to do is try for some result or wish for it and it will materialize. It is a lie because life does not reward effort, but hard work. By over-indulgence we do not prepare our children for life but set them up for disappointment.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net



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