Reflections of a celebrity judge

As usual I’m sitting at my cluttered desk in my cluttered office struggling with the challenge of having an uncluttered mind.

“Mom, I have a favour to ask you!”

As the mother of three adult children, all of whom have spouses and children and busy days crammed from border to border with ‘to do’ stuff, I am well aware that sometimes this stuff spills over into the category of “too much.”

That’s why when I get the 9-1-1-mom/grandma calls, I’m not too surprised.

As usual, I get such a call when I’m sitting at my cluttered desk in my cluttered office struggling with the challenge of having an uncluttered mind.

I have the phone cradled on my left shoulder, a pen in my left hand and a notebook in front of me. I’m ready…..for what I’m not sure, but I’m ready.

“Of course,” I respond automatically. “How can I help?”

“Well, I need you to judge a poetry contest at my school. I want you to be the celebrity judge.”

“Really, a celebrity judge,” I muse, and immediately the little thought flashed into my mind, quick as a lightening bug. “She meant to call someone else.”

“Me?”

“Yes, mom,” she said patiently. “You! Can you do it?”

“Well, of course,” I reply. “I would love to.”

And so it came to be that last Thursday I found myself outside the school where my daughter teaches Grade 8. Although it was early, I must admit to being amazed at the hub of activity that was already happening.

It was like the world and everyone in it suddenly got very busy because the bell was going to ring at any minute.

Kids were all over the place, kind of like the pieces of a moving patchwork quilt. In between the pieces were cars and school buses and in between those pieces were the adults.

That’s where I fit in. The adult. The celebrity judge.

I found my way inside the front door and finally to the front desk where I was greeted by the teacher (my daughter) and one of her students (my granddaughter). Already feeling slightly overwhelmed and somewhat less that celebrity like, I followed them to the band room (where the contest was held) and finally to the judges’ table.

They brought me coffee and also, because it was someone’s birthday, cake.

Slowly I began to relax and even feel a little more celebrity like.

Several students were already milling about, going over their contest submissions, gathering in little groups, talking,giggling, and, every now and then, sneaking me quick looks, no doubt, to see if I was looking back.

I was.

Suddenly, the bell rang and the students arranged themselves in rows, their chatter momentarily lulled, their attention on the loud speaker.

As their attention shifted away from the upcoming contest, I faded into the background, becoming the observer, the noticer, the fly on the wall.

I sipped my coffee slowly. I was curious as to what would come next.

When they started their day with a short prayer and the singing of O’ Canada I was momentarily taken aback.

“I love this school,” I think, feeling a sudden rush of pride, mixed with a good dose of humility as I observed these students and the simple, respectful way they started their school day.

My daughter, the teacher, then walked to the front of the room. She explained the rules of the contest and then went on to talk about me, the celebrity judge. She briefly mentioned my career as an editor and a columnist, graciously leaving out any of my shortcomings, which would have taken far too long, anyway.

And then she said the thing that I am the most proud of which is, without a doubt, my best accomplishment ever.

“And she’s also my mom.”

The students clapped obligingly. And so the contest began. One by one the students came to the front of the room. Some sauntered, some came quickly, some kept their head down. Some walked, tall and straight. They were brave, they were fearful, they were shy, they were flamboyant.

But they all came and once again I was humbled and impressed. The students’ work was diverse, thoughtful, clever and original. It was deep, simple, funny, serious, poignant, heartbreaking. All was filled with nuggets of wisdom, as seen through the eyes of the youth.

How to judge? Impossible!

To me they were all winners! Each and every one.