Benny: Man, you think too much! I bet you get straight A’s and shit!
Smalls: No, I got a B once. Well, actually it was an A minus but it should have been a B.
Benny: Man, this is baseball, you gotta stop thinking! Just have fun. If you were having fun, you would have caught that ball!
(from The Sandlot, 1993)
I got a lot of A’s as a kid. A lot. I was, like, a genius. Gifted even. (/snark)
After hearing my classmates brag about their monetary awards for good grades ($20 an A, $10 a B and so on), I was rather annoyed. All I got for my good grades was encouragement and praise. Who wants that?
When I was 11-years old I found the courage to bring this up to mom and dad. I offhandedly suggested that they get in line with other Glenelder Elementary parents. Mom laughed. She must have done the math in her head and realized she’d be paying out over $100 each quarter just for my grades.
“No, mija,” dad replied.
Then he started with the lecture. Oh no. When we got to a certain age, we no longer were spanked. We were lectured. That was worse. While a spanking only affected the wrongdoer and was over in a few minutes, the lecture often involved all siblings and lasted half an hour. Whenever Danny got in trouble or decided to talk back, I’d have to sit through that lecture too. The time paled in comparison to the guilt. Dad was good at making us realize how much we’d disappointed him and mom. I still dread those lectures. Actually, dad didn’t lecture this time. He told a story with a lesson (close enough).
Dad took his stance on cash for grades from Paco, the former co-director (along with his wife, Alba) of the Spanish-language choir. Paco insisted that he never gave his daughters money for their grades. Why pay them for doing well in school? They’re supposed to get good grades.
I was enlightened. Paco made a lot of sense. Plus, I couldn’t argue against the logic of a man who had recently passed away. It was clearly disrespectful to retort something like, “Paco’s advice is dumb” or “why do you have to raise us like he raised his daughters?” I was satisfied for time being. For the next seven years or so, I just kept earning A’s and B’s without expecting any award aside from being placed on the honor roll and getting a bumper sticker.
On a nice April Saturday, dad told Adrian he’d pay him $20 if he hit a home run at his Little League game that afternoon. Dad didn’t go to the game that afternoon. He was working. Lori, Danny and I all went to the park to support Adrian. My injustice feelers didn’t go off then. After all, I didn’t think Adrian would hit a home run. I’d been to plenty of his games. He was a good player, but he didn’t hit home runs.
Until that day. Adrian hit one out of the park. Lori, Danny and I cheered for our little brother as he ran the bases and was greeted with high fives from his team. Neither mom nor dad were there to witness the home run due to work.
I immediately thought of the promised $20. “Do you think dad will pay up?”
After the game, Danny drove us home. We pulled in to the driveway, to find dad’s Jeep parked besides mom’s Durango. (Don’t judge us and our SUVs!)
Adrian ran out out of the car and rushed in to share his good news.
“I hit a home run!”
“Wow!” dad smiled and hugged Adrian. He looked proud and a little sad he’d missed Adrian’s home run. Dad got out his wallet and handed him a crisp twenty dollar bill.
I watched with disbelief, jealousy and a bit of anger. I pulled Lori into our room.
“This isn’t fair. Why does Adrian get $20 for a home run and we don’t get anything for good grades? Dad said we don’t get paid because we’re supposed to do well in school. Well, isn’t Adrian supposed to do well in baseball too? We need to talk to him.”
Lori nodded, clearly annoyed too. As the girls, we were used to bringing home better grades than our brothers.
She followed me out to the kitchen where dad and mom were eating a late lunch.
“I need to talk to you,” I said, feeling myself get nervous. I didn’t have much experience questioning dad, that was was Danny’s job.
I sat down at one of the empty seats and began, “I don’t think it’s fair that Adrian gets $20 for hitting a home run.”
I stated my case as if I’d written out my argument beforehand. While I didn’t want dad to take back the $20, I thought a reward for hitting a home run was similar to a reward for earning an A grade. It was wrong to reward his sons monetarily for doing well in sports while not doing the same for his daughters’ academic success. It was sexism!
Dad listened to me until I finished.
“You’re right, mija. We’ve never paid you girls for your good grades, but you’re already getting paid and you’ll continue to get paid.”
He then brought up the cost of applying to college. There were AP and SAT tests to take, applications to submit, colleges to visit, and college itself. And then there was all the money they’d put in to our extracurricular activities. How about that trip to England and Scotland with the band? What about how he and mom did not ask us to work as teenagers and just expected us to be students and help out at home?
Damn. Why was dad so smart and why did he have to make sense? Even if I had the “talk back to your parents” gene, I couldn’t come back with anything other than whining, “but it’s still not fair!”
Adrian kept his $20. Dad finished his dinner. Lori and I returned to our bedrooms to finish our homework. We had more A’s to earn.