The timing struck me as particularly amusing. I had just finished listening to a re-broadcast of President Obama accepting the Nobel Peace Prize when the e-mail arrived from Holly's second grade teacher. "Because the children have done so many good deeds and acts of kindness recently, tomorrow is going to be Crazy Hair Day," she wrote. I submitted to the impulse to reply immediately. "Crazy hair day? And all President Obama got for his good deeds and acts of kindness was the Nobel Prize!" Of course, his deeds are still a little incomplete. Maybe crazy hair day at the White House is yet to come.
I have every confidence that the teachers at my kids' school know far more about children than I do, but I'm frequently surprised by how they reward large-scale good behavior. I think one reason this has become such a prominent issue recently is that a couple of years ago, our school made significant advances toward becoming a snack-free classroom zone. With the start of a new school year, it became widespread policy that classroom celebrations -- ranging from individual kids' birthdays to Halloween and Valentine's parties to classroom plays -- bypassed any kind of refreshments. As a result, the teachers now seem to strive harder to find ways to mark celebrations that once would have simply required cupcakes or mini chocolate bars.
It seems that every few months both of my kids' classes earn a special celebration for good behavior. Holly's classroom uses the term "compliment chain," which means that a paper link is added to a chain whenever a child earns a compliment. (I think it would be kind of fun to do the reverse as well -- ruthlessly rip paper links off the chain when a child deserved an insult -- but as far as I know, that is not considered an effective classroom discipline method.) Little did I know, when I wrote to Holly's teacher after having indoor recess duty one day last month to say how impressed I was with the kids' resourcefulness and lack of rowdiness during the half-hour I supervised, that they would earn four compliments as a result. I'm not sure exactly how my words were parsed out into four compliments (though knowing me, it's altogether likely that I used four complimentary adjectives, and probably at least that many adverbs), but I was happy to be an agent of their success as they worked toward the next big event.
And now they've reached their big reward: Crazy Hair Day. This is the first crazy hair day they've had this year; other analogous rewards in both kids' classes over the years have included pajama day, stuffed animal day and movie hour. Pajama Day has never been a favorite of mine. First of all, every year I assume it's the last grade in which this reward will be bestowed; but so far we haven't aged out yet. Aren't fifth graders too old to wear pajamas to school? I also think it's unsanitary to have pajama pant cuffs drifting across the bathroom and cafeteria floors, although I can see the argument that it's no different from other clothing in that respect. Pajamas just seem more porous somehow. And I'm always concerned my kids and I will forget they wore those same pajamas to school and go to bed in them that night, cafeteria crumbs and all. Ick. Stuffed animal day is fine with me -- innocuous and cute, in my opinion -- but a recent lice outbreak put an end to any extraneous items with soft, absorbent surfaces in the classroom.
Naturally, all of these rewards are optional on the kids' part. Holly said last night she couldn't decide whether she'd do Crazy Hair Day or not, and when she left for school this morning it looked to me like she'd made a compromise along the lines of Uncombed Hair Day. But it made me think about all the rewards I could benefit from, if my friends and I decided to start rewarding ourselves with theme days rather than with whipped-cream-topped coffee drinks. Frizzy Hair Day would be great in the middle of August. I Feel Fat Day would suit me just fine in early January, and Wear Your Oldest Clothes Day would make me feel a little less insecure about my wardrobe.
President Obama looked pleased with his Nobel Prize, but his acceptance speech underscored how much work he believes he still needs to do in order to be truly deserving of it. Holly had no such reservations about Crazy Hair Day. She seemed certain that her class earned its one hundred compliments. I hope Crazy Hair Day is enough fun that it serves to motivate Holly and her classmates ever onward onto greater accomplishments. Who knows, maybe someday she'll accept a Nobel Prize of her own. And maybe that will even inspire her to comb her hair. Or maybe she'll just ask the King and Queen of Denmark if they'd consider proclaiming a nationwide Pajama Day instead.