I was sharing with a contemporary a couple of experiences from our childhoods. On Valentine’s Day each student had a box on her desk to collect valentine cards from fellow pupils. We would count up our cards at the end of the day and would be regularly sad that we had fewer cards than students we knew were more popular. In gym class, two of the most athletic girls would be chosen as team captains by the teacher. Then in turn each girl would pick members from the remaining girls. I was nearly always chosen last.
A much younger(by fifty years!) gym member said “They don’t do any of that now.” When questioned, he told us that for Valentine’s Day each student has to either bring no cards or one card for each student. Teams are no longer picked by student team captains, but assembled by the gym teacher. He went on to tell us that in soccer leagues each player received a trophy. Also in Boy Scouts each boy who made a pine derby car got a trophy. Apparently it was important no one left with “negative” feelings. We used to call these feelings “disappointment.”
I was indeed disappointed to receive fewer cards than more popular girls. However, I did know I was not one of the “in” crowd, so I wasn’t particularly surprised. In a similar way, I knew that I was the smallest and least athletic girl in my class. I wouldn’t have put me on a team either. I had feelings about both instances, but I never expected that everything in life would be fair.
So I went into life with the ability to deal with disappointment. It would have been easier if my parents had helped me with that, but they didn’t. Neither did many parents in the 1950’s, most of whom figured we had to learn to be disappointed on our own. I asked a mental health professional about the things the young person told me. She said that in fact all that cushioning from disappointment has a very negative effect. She said by preventing children from maneuvering challenging situations, adults send kids into the world unequipped to deal with the real ones they will encounter. She said, in fact, that many of those “treated all the same” kids fall apart in college when such accommodations are no longer made.
A child in my life really wanted to win the science fair. She didn’t. She was very disappointed. She didn’t get a trophy for trying, though, since her school doesn’t operate that way. We have felt her disappointment with her, but we haven’t taken it away. As the Rolling Stones once put it so crudely,”You can’t always get what you want.” It’s a good thing to know how to handle.