30

Today Richard turns 30.  It’s one of those round number birthdays, divisible by ten without fractional results, that we tend to think of as especially significant.  Of course, in reality it’s just the turn of a calendar page; it’s not as if the adulthood fairy taps you with her wand when you turn 30 and converts you into a real grown-up.

And yet, it’s significant just the same, isn’t it?

I think we tend to focus on those round number birthdays, especially the early ones, because each decade of our existence can be aptly captured by a word or two.  From zero to 10 you’re just a kid, happy and unselfconscious and wondering at the world and soaking up just about everything.  From 10 to 20, you’re the self-absorbed teenager, fretting about your popularity and your place in the social, sports, and academic order at middle school and high school and college.  And in your 20s, you’re trying to figure out which way your life will go, finishing college, taking your first long-term job and then leaving it, moving from one city to another, and perhaps getting a second degree.

0001993830, though, seems to be the jump-off point for real adulthood.  You’ve settled on your career, and your personal situation is more settled, too.  People treat you like a fully functional, contributing member of society.  You stop getting carded at bars.  And for some of us, your parents start to lean on you for help and support and — gulp! — advice and decision-making.  After you hit 30, Mom and Dad start to seem a lot less iconic and a lot more human.

I distinctly remember when Kish and I turned 30.  We hosted a party for our friends at a local joint called the Grandview Cafe.  All of the people who were there were couples about our age, early in their careers, with little kids at home.  It was a fun party, but not the kind of wild, kick out the jams, loud-music-and-on-the-edge-of-barfing revelry of earlier days.  At the time I had worked at the firm for about eight months, Richard hadn’t quite hit his first birthday, and unbeknownst to us Russell would be joining the family a year later.  We were no longer on the cusp of adulthood — it had arrived.

Parents tend to hold on to a mental image of their kids as kids — or at least, I do.  When I think of Richard, my brain begins with the skinny, blond-haired kid who loved Home Alone and liked to build elaborate Lego worlds and created a comic-book character named Blurby and loved roller coasters.  That mental image is no longer accurate, and hasn’t been accurate for a long time.  He’s built a successful career as a talented professional journalist, he’s engaged to be married, and he’s been thoughtfully navigating the shoals of adulthood, on his own, for several years now.

In short, he’s 30.

Happy birthday, Richard!

Good For The Dads!

I never thought I would write something complimentary about members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the day has come.  Of course, my kudos are for their parenting, not their exploits on the gridiron.

Two members of the Steelers, James Harrison and DeAngelo Williams, have taken a stand against the “participation” awards that are now given to kids for pretty much everything they do.  Last year, Harrison made his sons give back participation trophies and wrote:

trophy-300x271-300x271“EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

This year, Williams made his daughter return a participation ribbon she received at a school track event, and reported that she went out the next day and won first place.

I think the notion of “participation” awards are one of the worst brainstorms ever devised by the fevered imaginings of school counselors and helicopter parents — and I say this not just because the participation awards the boys received cluttered our basement for years.  Whether it’s sports, or chess, or science fairs, the ribbons and trophies should go to those who compete and win, not just those who show up.  Kids know the difference between phony trophies and recognitions for true achievement; they discount and quickly forget the former and actually value the latter.

I’m with the two Steelers on this one.  Forget the stupid participation trophies, and don’t try to make kids think that the world won’t draw distinctions between performance when adulthood arrives.  Participation trophies teach kids exactly the wrong life lesson.