A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All

The thing about siblings…

This is the first year all three of my kids have extra-curricular activities and life seems to have gotten a bit more unmanageable all of a sudden.

Bucket Head taking Taekwondo

Tell you what though, as much as I sometimes envy my friends with only one child, there really is something special about the life-lessons and social skills kids with siblings have to endure get to experience.

Recently we had a very interesting situation dropped in our laps.

Bucket Head was selected as his classroom’s Principal Pal for the month. 

I cannot begin to tell you how bittersweet this is for me.

It’s no secret that I once harbored an absolute obsession with this seemingly unattainable award. Yes, three years ago, when my oldest son Vince FINALLY got his first (and only) Principal Pal award as a 5th grader, I *may* have excessively celebrated the long-overdue event by wearing his commemorative bag tag as a necklace.

"Who is Mommy's yittle Principal Pal?"

“Who is Mommy’s yittle Principal Pal?”

Just my luck, that was the ONE year they stopped giving out the car magnets and switched to the bag tags instead. (DAMMIT!)

That’s okay—I found a work-around…

"Finally, one of my kids is a PRINCIPAL PAL! They don't give out magnets anymore, so this will have to do."

“Finally, one of my kids is a PRINCIPAL PAL! They don’t give out magnets anymore, so this will have to do.”

In my defense, pretty much everyone in my neighborhood has at least one Principal Pal magnet on their car. Living without one all these years, I may as well have the word “LOSER” tattooed on my neck.

(Side note: one of my kids went through a biting phase in preschool. I have often dreamed of creating a bumper sticker that says “My child bit your Principal Pal.”)

So, when Bucket Head’s teacher informed me a few weeks ago that he had been selected (and as a 1st grader, no less!), my initial reaction was sheer pride, followed by exuberant hope that maybe they are bringing the magnets back, and then ending with dread…

…dread, because Bucket Head’s big sister Mini-Me (a 5th grader) has never once won this award, and possibly never will.

How can I put this?

Mini-Me is not your typical Principal Pal material.

Don’t get me wrong—she’s a great kid.

But elementary school exemplar? Apparently not, except in the area of attendance. (Did you know this child has not missed a single day of school since Kindergarten? True story.)

Her teachers have always said they love how creative, intelligent, and enthusiastic she is. She’s in the gifted program, she goes above and beyond on all her work, she’s on the Science Olympiad team, she sings like an angel, she’s a loyal friend.

mini-me larger than life

Truly, she’s an absolutely remarkable kid and I wouldn’t change a thing about her.

But for some reason, none of her teachers so far have appreciated her strengths enough to publicly acknowledge her with a Principal Pal award.

And when you’re 10-years-old and it feels like you are the only girl you know who has never been chosen as a Principal Pal, and both of your brothers have won this award, you start to wonder: “What is wrong with me? Why don’t teachers like me?”

It can break a mother’s heart, let me tell you.

And I’m sure my over-the-top reaction when her big brother Vince finally got a Principal Pal award only added to the pressure she must feel. (Oy. The guilt.)

Now Bucket Head, on the other hand—that boy is a world-class people pleaser. He likes to organize things. Following directions is his jam. He’s the kid who makes a big production about pushing other kids’ chairs in and cleaning up other kids’ messes. He’s cute. He’s polite. He’s helpful. Teachers want to eat him up with a spoon.

But truth be told, he’s a little bit of an Eddie Haskell. It’s a good thing he’s taking Taekwondo because sooner than later, other kids are going to want to beat the shit out of him for being such a suck-up.

Naturally, I was a bit worried about Bucket Head telling his big sister about his award. I thought it would crush her. I also thought he might use this as an opportunity to make her feel bad. As the baby of the family, he doesn’t often get to be “the best” at anything so he can be a bit of a bragger.

I can’t believe I’m about to tell you this—but I emailed Bucket Head’s teacher to ask her if she had already told him or not. I was actually going to ask her to pick another kid instead. 

What kind of a mother would do such a thing?

Look, I realize this is no Sophie’s Choice situation here. But relatively speaking, this was a pickle.

And let’s be real, Bucket Head is the kind of kid who could get picked for this award every single year. This year is Mini-Me’s last shot.

It was too late though. His teacher said he already knew.

We were driving on our way to his Taekwondo class later that day when he broke the news.

I held my breath and nervously tried to keep my eyes on the road and on her through my rear view mirror at the same time.

This could be bad.

What if he rubs it in her face? What if she says something mean? What if she invalidates his achievement? What if he shames her? Should I pull over?

But without skipping a beat, she squealed with genuine pride and excitement for him, “Really?! Oh my gosh! That is AWESOME! I’m so happy for you!!!”

And he DIDN’T brag about it, or rub it in, or say anything untoward or obnoxious.

I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. They can fight like cats and dogs at times, but there’s no question how much they truly love each other.

sibling love

Bucket Head seeking solace from his big sister at a Japanese steakhouse.            (He’s afraid of fire…like Frankenstein.)

I was disappointed with myself for underestimating each of them, and so proud of them both for handling such a potentially tricky situation with such grace and compassion.

“I hope I win it sometime before the end of 5th grade,” she dreamed aloud. “It would be a miracle!”

“That would be nice,” I agreed. “But if you don’t, that’s okay too. It will just make your biography all the more interesting someday. ‘President Marinelli was consistently overlooked for the Principal Pal award.’

That made her smile.

Then I reminded her of the time I lost the high school election for senior class president, “And I turned out okay!…SQUIRREL!” I joked, with a dramatic eye-twitch for effect.

At the award ceremony later that week, I watched her wave at her brother and friends up on the stage, give them the thumbs up and mouth, “Good job!” She was such a good sport. I could not have been more proud of her.

Life lessons for kids with siblings by The Bearded Iris

But as tickled as she is for her brother, I can tell that this is eating at her. And as her mother, it’s been pretty difficult to walk the line between being happy for Bucket Head and being sensitive to Mini-Me’s fragile self-esteem.

How ironic, I finally got my car magnet, but now I don’t really want to put it on my car.

When I shared the story with my mom, she encouraged me to call the principal or my daughter’s teacher, “Maybe they don’t have a system for knowing who has and hasn’t won it over the years. You should call.”

“No mom. She has to win it on her own, or it won’t mean anything. That’s what’s wrong with kids today–too much parental over-involvement. She’ll be fine. And if she never wins, it will build character.”

“Suit yourself. But it wouldn’t hurt to at least let the teacher know.”

“I’ll think about it.”

And that was that.

Or was it?

Will Mini-Me ever be a Principal Pal? Will I listen to my mother for once and intervene somehow? Will Bucket Head continue to be a good sport about his award? Stay tuned for the surprise twist ending to the riveting Parable of The Principal Pal Predicament. (Coming soon!)

The thing about siblings by The Bearded Iris


  1. Famous SpokesGoat Pricilla

    She may not be Principal Pal but she can be Pricilla’s Pal.
    That is even better

    • The Bearded Iris

      She’d probably like that better anyway, since she loves animals so much. Is there a car magnet I can get with that?

  2. Menopausal Mother

    Awww…Leslie you made me cry with this one, dammit. I went through this MANY times with 4 kids. It’s a tough situation because we believe that if one kid succeeds, the other will get jealous. Not so. You know why? Because you’ve done a damn good job raising your babies. I loved watching my kids cheer one another on–it validated every I lesson I tried to teach them about love. Just keep reminding each child of their individual gifts and strengths, and you’ll be fine. You are rockin’ this parent thing and don’t ever forget that! P.S. your kids are gorgeous and your daughter looks JUST LIKE YOU!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Thank you, sweet Marcia. You are a gem. No wonder your kids are so loving.

  3. Jenn @ Something Clever 2.0

    I’m so invested in this now, *I* might call her teacher.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Oooh – I didn’t think of that! My mom offered to call, and I was like, “DON’T YOU DARE! I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO SHOW MY FACE IN THAT SCHOOL AGAIN.” But an untraceable-out-of-state-anonymous-call? *makes Dr. Evil face/laugh/hand gesture*

  4. Hollow Tree Ventures

    So sweet – I love it when they surprise us by behaving exactly how we hoped we raised them. 🙂

    • The Bearded Iris

      Exactly! What you said. Now if only they’d do that a little more often, right? Excuse me, “STOP SPITTING ON YOUR SISTER AND TAKE YOUR HAND OUT OF THE VCR!”

      • Phyllis

        Wait! You still have a VCR?

        I loved this post. We have 3 kids (9, 2 and 8 months). As an only child, I have absolutely no concept of siblings and this warms my heart.

        • The Bearded Iris

          Ha!! I actually do, in my basement, just in case (classic hoarder mentality!) As I typed “VCR” I thought to myself, “Why not write 8-Track Player, Dinosaur?” It’s a lot harder to stick a hand in a Blu-Ray. Yes, your children will cheer for their siblings when you least expect it. I’m pretty sure they do that so you don’t sell one or more of them on the black market.

  5. lisa thomson

    What cuties your kids are. Your Mini-me is quite the exemplary ‘big sister’! Maybe you could give her a big sister award at home after Bucket head is finished his time to shine. Keep us posted! p.s. I’ve never heard of that award program…it’s sounds really cool.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Oh – I like your thinking Lisa! That is a great idea and she will love it!

  6. Crystal Green

    Siblings make life so enjoyable! My kids are totally best friends with each other (of course, that’s really the only people they get to play with a lot because of being homeschooled.) However, they learn many skills from each other.

    Love this post a lot. It’s definitely a remarkable tribute to your kids love for each other. You have every right to be proud.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Thank you Crystal! They really are such sweet kids…when they aren’t destroying things or shaving the cat. 🙂

  7. Angie Chapman

    Love it when they suprise you by being happy for each other! This made me happy…thanks for sharing:)

    • The Bearded Iris

      Thanks, Angie! Made me happy too – and happy to share.

  8. Alicia @ Naps Happen

    I’ve actually never heard of the Principal Pal award, but I can imagine what it must be for – being a great class member/rule follower/ productive student? I totally hear what you’re saying. I think school rewards kids who have certain social skills that allow them to easily comply with classroom requirements. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it’s tough for the kids who are a little more…free form. I definitely have at least one free form kid and I suspect the other is very much like your youngest. Good times ahead for me, too! Good times. I am wondering how this will turn out, too!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Yes – exactly, Alicia. Well said. I struggled with how to put that part of it because I don’t want to fault the teachers for never choosing her. I totally get why certain kids get this award and other kids don’t. It’s a great motivational tool for getting some kids to toe the line. Other teachers use it to reward the kind of kids who have shown a glimmer of improvement. It’s really up to the individual teachers based on their classroom makeup and what kind of behaviors they are trying to encourage (plus the individual kids’ needs), etc. I also feel like if everyone won it, it would be much less special (like sports participation ribbons and trophies). It’s certainly never a dull moment. I’m just glad I only have three. I don’t know how Octomom does it. 😉

  9. Brigid

    My son got TWO last year in kindergarten. My daughter got one in second grade but she practically wrote a thesis on the fact that YOU’RE NOT EVEN ALLOWED TO GET TWO IN ONE YEAR!

    • The Bearded Iris

      TWO IN ONE YEAR?! Shut the front door, Brigid. That is so not fair. Bucket Head never got it in Kindergarten, which is shocking, but I fully anticipate him being the apple of every teacher’s eye from here on out. (Brown-noser.)

  10. The Shitastrophy

    I fully endorse creating a stick figure family on the back of your car and an arrow to her slot that says Position Open for Principal Pal. If they see it they see it, if not you didn’t open your mouth per se…

    • The Bearded Iris

      Brilliant. True story – I tried to make my own stick figure family once, but the company didn’t have the bearded-man-face-wearing-an-apron option, or the dog-biting-the-delivery-lady-who-was-beating-him-with-a-concealed-weapon option. Jagoffs.

  11. Claire Wait

    Don’t call the freaking teacher. Everyone in the universe reads your blog. A phone call at this point would just be redundant.

    (And if your children’s teachers do not read your blog, can you share your secret?)

    • The Bearded Iris

      Ha! Girl, what universe are YOU living in? I want to go to there. My secret? What secret? I did get an old grease stain out of a t-shirt yesterday. That was a pretty major accomplishment over here. (OxiClean. I put that shit on everything.)

      • Claire Wait

        I live in Universe Private School, where everyone knows everything and if they don’t, they look. Ooooohhhhh how they look. (No doubt someone has already read THIS VERY COMMENT and connected me to my kids’ school and our church. I’ll be getting the shame-shame eyes in carline in t-minus 50 minutes and counting.)

  12. Crista

    My littlest girl isn’t Principal Pal material either, but neither were three out of her four older siblings, so I’m trying not to worry about it!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Know what? I think it’s harder for girls. There, I said it. It would be an interesting study.

      • JD @ Honest Mom

        I agree – I think those awards are harder for girls to get. They’re “expected” to be good! Right?

        I get how Mini-Me feels. My summer camp that I was a camper and counselor at had “counselor of the week” awards – and I never got one. I wish I could say it didn’t bother me. But it does. Did. Whatever. I kicked ass in the “camper of the week” awards. I guess I peaked early.

        • The Bearded Iris

          Ugh, JD – if you were my camp counselor, I would have LOVED YOU, and totally would have given you Counselor of the Week, Month, hell…SUMMER. Sometimes awards like this are total bunk. And sometimes they are given to people who need an extra push, rather than the kids who don’t make a lot of improvement because they are already at a high level. My oldest son Vince who is a SAINT (truly…no exaggeration…the kid has a halo) was the only child in his third grade class who was never the “Star Student of the Week.” The teacher just forgot. FORGOT! You know why? Because he’s such a good, self-reliant kid who doesn’t need a ton of constant attention like some other squeaky wheels. He still feels bad about it. 🙁

      • Courtney

        I think it is harder for girls! I have a son, so we’ll see how the theory plays out, but I know for me it was harder. Not only a girl, but a first born. I was well-behaved (but girls are expected to be, right? ugh) and self-motivated. And I think those two things threw me out of the running for awards. On top of that, I’m not a suck-up. So even now as an adult, at work, I watch some accolades go by because of those very traits. Not that I’m complaining, just interesting to observe. My gregarious younger brother on the other hand, totally got all the school awards!!

  13. julie gardner

    Life would be so much easier if we didn’t love our kids so damn much.
    The curse and blessing of being a parent.

    Still, you’re handling an impossible task very well, LM.
    Hang in there. Mini-me will move mountains all on her own.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Thank you Julie. Either way it works out, it will be the right thing and we’ll make the best of it. Every rejection I’ve ever gotten has always been a blessing in disguise. Thanks for being here with us!

  14. WhenCrazyMeetsExhaustion

    I applaud you for not automatically picking up the phone; so many parents would do that today…says this high school English teacher. I feel your pain for Mini-Me, though, (she’s gorg, btw); it’s nearly impossible to watch your kiddo struggle with something and not jump in and try to erase the hurt. Hell, that’s how I feel about my little brother–can’t imagine what kind of psycho I’m gonna be about my own offspring. They’re so screwed.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Wow – thank you, Steph! That’s high praise from a teacher (and fellow Pittsburgher.) I think I used to pick up the phone a lot quicker than I do these days, but my oldest is 14 and one thing I’ve learned the hard way time and time again is to try to put myself in the teacher’s shoes. I’m also usually terrified that I will make any situation worse by getting involved. You know that mean voice in our heads? Mine is convinced that I’m not very diplomatic, or graceful, or smart. She tells me to STFU pretty much every day. I really hate that bitch sometimes.

      Now I can’t wait to hear your response to the second half of the story!

  15. L. Hewitt

    I cannot believe you left us hanging

    • The Bearded Iris

      Ha! I know, right?! It’s a better story this way. Trust me. XOXO

  16. Megan at declutterdaily

    She’ll have her recognition for one thing or the other. Her time will come.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Aw hayle to the yeah it will. 🙂 Thanks, girl.

  17. Mappermom

    It’s funny that you posted this because I have been dwelling on this dilemma with my 15 year old twins. The boy hit the ground running (literally) as a freshman in high school and has been mopping up accolades as a cross country runner and is now moving onto a promising winter and spring track season. Oh, he’s also an honors student. Meanwhile, my dear sweet daughter, because of a mild learning disability, fights for every B grade she gets except in math, where a C is cause for celebration. The teachers love her because of her kind demeanor and hard work, but they don’t exactly give out awards for that. She will also run track in the spring but she knows that no matter how hard she works, she is not the gifted athlete her twin is. We emphasize that it’s all about being part of the team, having fun and doing your personal best. But, she KNOWS, just like your daughter KNOWS. It’s hard to figure it all out.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Ohmygosh, twins – an even MORE challenging comparison game. My heart goes out to you with the struggle of trying to help her value her own unique talents. And 15 is a tough age. Hugs, Mappermom. Thanks for the great conversation.

  18. Heather

    Thanks a lot for making me tear up whilst I was getting new tires at BJ’s. That was uncalled for (and uncomfortable for more than just me, I can assure you). 🙂

    • The Bearded Iris

      Is it wrong that I giggled when I read you got “new tires at BJ’s?” Because most of my friends get new tires BECAUSE of BJs. Oh wait, no, that’s porch furniture. Whatevs. And three cheers for tears in public. That’s the good stuff!

  19. Cath

    I laughed, I cried. Classic Bearded Iris. Thanks for a beautiful piece.

    As a teacher and a parent, I feel strongly that if awards are to be given out for random, subjective things (behaviour, effort, friendliness, a sudden developmental leap forward, etc), the school/teachers should make an effort to ensure that EVERYONE gets one at some point. There are just too many kids that make great strides, work really hard, and fly under the radar. Doesn’t everyone need a boost of self-esteem from time to time? If we can’t find something to award each student for, over the course of the year, then we aren’t doing a very good job as teachers or as a school community.


    • The Bearded Iris

      Thank you so much Catherine. That’s a very eye-opening perspective. Part two of this story should be very interesting to you! (Please come back!)

  20. Jane

    This was such a good piece – I loved it. And I cried too at how hard these situations are. But your kids are so wonderful! And what a great mom you are- I am sure Bucket head will always get awards- and Mini-Me she’ll be amazing because she already is.
    I can’t wait to read part two. Thanks!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Awww – thank you Jane! What an awesome thing to say. I have shed some tears over this myself, so it’s nice to feel the solidarity. Thanks, sister! XO

  21. BadSandy

    I am the youngest of three and my parents made everything equal, except it wasn’t. By overcompensating for what are kids aren’t, we miss what they are. Your lady sounds fabulous just the way she is.
    Love this

    • The Bearded Iris

      You know what, Meredith? You would love her, because she is a multi-talented bad ass just like you. 🙂

  22. Kristin Shaw

    What a beautiful piece! I love seeing your softer side. 🙂
    I love how much you love your kids, and I agree with you on every level. You are a terrific mom, and I can’t wait to find out what happened!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Ha! Yes, I have a soft-chewy center Kristin, and it is a hot mess of bittersweet deliciousness…like molten lava cake: best in small doses and not very often. But on the plus side: CHOCOLATE! Mmmmm, chocolate. Sorry, distracted. I guess I’m going to have to write part two now, eh? Dammit. What have I done?

  23. Andrea

    Ooof. We have this situation, too. It’s the girl who always wins, the younger who gets the recognition. The suck-up. The teacher’s pet. The helpful one.

    It does break a mama’s heart. So I’m going to start emblazoning my son’s unrecognized accomplishments on my car. Thanks for the idea.

    • The Bearded Iris

      DO IT. My oldest *pretended* he was embarrassed (fine, mortified, whatever), but I could tell, as soon as he stopped crying and hiding under the seats, he was actually very proud and happy that we cared enough to brag about him to the whole world like that. And his twitching totally went away after a few months.

  24. Carrie

    Good Lord you have raised some good kids.

    And could they all look anymore like you???

    Anyway…can’t wait to hear if you listened to mom or not. I’ve got a little internal bet with myself going on here.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Oooh, if you win the bet, will you please share the spoils of your victory with me? (It’s cake, right? Please say it’s cake.)

  25. Naptimewriting

    This post is so sweet. I love that Mini-You has such a good heart. I love that Bucket Head has been recognized. And I adore that you’ve tied yourself into knots for your children and your sense of fairness and what’s right. You’re adorably wonderful.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Will you please call me and leave this on my voicemail so I can listen to it every morning as my daily affirmation? This. Is. Awesome.

  26. Amy

    I was the only one of 3 kids in our family who did not receive a certain scholarship award. I was initially bummed, in part because I thought I had disappointed my parents. But my mom’s reaction was so the opposite – she seemed unphased, and she was so great at celebrating my other accomplishments, that I did not wallow in it for long. Your daughter will be OK even if she doesn’t win it because you are obviously a caring mom who believes in her. (and/or, if she is like me, this will fuel her to outscore them in something else – like the ACT maybe? – which she will then occasionally remind them about for the next 20+ yrs as a means to make herself feel better about never being a Principal Pal. ;))

    • The Bearded Iris

      Your mom sounds like a keeper, Amy. Glad you found an opportunity to excel in your own way rather than just following the herd. 😉

  27. Linda Roy - elleroy was here

    You’ve got some amazing kids there, Mama. Something to be very proud of. I can’t wait to find out what happens. Don’t leave us hanging for long!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Thank you Linda! I promise…part two is coming, probably early next week. 🙂

  28. Allie

    I love this story. I have four kids and I so get it. We’ve had different variations of this, but unfortunately no always such gracious reactions!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Ay-yi-yi…I bet it gets exponentially more difficult with each additional child, Allie. My husband is one of TWELVE kids! Can you even imagine? And of course they ALL have their own unique skills and interests. What a huge job it must have been just to meet their basic needs, let alone nurture their emotional ups and downs. I tip my hat to my in-laws! 🙂

  29. Kelly Fox

    A beautiful story–I love how supportive your daughter was of your son. It can be so hard, but it is really a valuable lesson. You all handled it with such grace and humor. We talk about how each one of us has our own special gifts. So when my crazy-smart son outscores my crazy-artistic daughter on nearly everything, she can smile and admire “his gift.” Well, it works most of the time anyhow.

    And I LOVED “because sooner than later, other kids are going to want to beat the shit out of him for being such a suck-up.” because that’s exactly where we are with our son. He’s athlete tho; luckily he’s really, really tall.

  30. Snappy

    Way to go Bucket Head! And what an amazing daughter you have. 🙂 Love this new post of yours! Especially digging the work around you made for the lack of a magnet a few years ago.

  31. Allysgrandma

    We think they are scarred for life and then Mimi me is so sweet.we have lots to Bree grateful including my oldest (age34)getting married March 20 th in Maui!!

  32. Kim- One Classy Motha

    THIS is exactly why our household embraces mediocrity. The last time my son came home with straight A’s, my husband glanced at our daughter, looked back at our son and said, “Great job! But it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you got a B once in a while.” No lie.

    PS- It warms my heart to hear that your daughter was super supportive and excited for her brother. A little reminder that you’re actually nailing this motherhood thing.

  33. Allison

    Our new 5-8 principal has instituted the school bus, where kids get “on the bus” by teacher recommendation for going above and beyond, in some way. Each month they enter the on the bus kids into a drawing for a prize. 5th grade daughter has won the prize for both sept & oct and I am praying she does not in again for Nov with 5 entries. 7th daughter is on the bus 1-2x per month, but the whole thing is getting ridiculous.

    So glad that you are feeling up to writing again, Leslie!

  34. Rachel

    I know I’m late commenting, and reading, but I’ve been under my own rock.

    Your kids are awesome. I’m so impressed with Mini-Me’s attitude! Plus, she’s gorgeous. Wow. I’m also impressed that you aren’t calling. I’m not sure I’d have that much restraint.

    My mini-me is very much like how you describe yours. Her sisters (1 older, 1 younger) are adored by the teachers, and are both frequently award-recipients for brown-nosing, and she isn’t. Finding a place where she felt comfortable helped, but mine is quite quirky, and has only been a teacher’s pet twice (ok, both times with the same teacher, she had her in 5th and 7th). Admittedly, she only spoke in that one teacher’s class during all of 7th grade, so the other teachers couldn’t know how awesome she was, despite getting fabulous grades. It’s hard.

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