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Slices of Life: A meaningful reward

Never underestimate the power of a single piece of paper — especially if the paper in question is a (genuine and authentic) certificate.

My first-grader came home with such a document this week. He brings papers from school just about every day. They are crunched and bent to fit inside his backpack. His certificate was neither creased nor folded. It was held, with great care and attentiveness, in his little hands, where he could keep it safe from the crowding and crinkling hazards lurking inside his backpack.

“It’s a certificate! I got a certificate at school today!” he practically shouted on his way in from the bus stop.

He threw his backpack down on the floor and couldn’t get his coat and shoes off fast enough. He literally ran into the kitchen and thrust the paper in front of my face so close that I had to take a step back to read it.

“What do you have here?” I asked using the interested mom voice that I’ve spent years perfecting.

“I dunno,” he admitted with the honesty of a 6-year-old. “But it’s signed by the principal!” He finished with a flourish.

Certainly any paper signed by the principal has got to be important and overflowing with good news — unless it’s a paper about a violation, detention, suspension, expulsion, unacceptable bus conduct or getting kicked out of the do-it-right club. Luckily, our paper was none of these things.

“It’s a Certificate of Attendance,” I said, smiling back at his eager face. “Good job!”

He grinned, pleased with himself, before running off, presumably to tell his brothers. I heard the phrase “Certificate of Attendance” ringing throughout the house as he spread his good news.

At dinner, his accomplishment was the talk of the table.

“Did the principal ever give you a certificate?” he asked his brothers.

And to his sister, “Do they give out certificates at the high school?”

Then he turned to my husband and me. “Were certificates invented yet when you were little kids?”

We found a place of honor for the certificate on the bulletin board next to his bed. We positioned the pins carefully next to the paper, without piercing it, so the certificate would stay put without being ruined by a pinhole.

Bedtime came too soon like it always does on special days that you don’t want to end. I tucked him in, with the certificate hanging on the wall beside him.

“You sure had a good day,” I observed.

“Yep,” he agreed with a sigh. “I got my Certificate of Attendance.”

His eyes were getting heavy as sleep crept up on him. I brushed the hair on his forehead and was glad that he had a good day where he had the chance to reflect on his accomplishments. His eyes were nearly closed, but then he opened them and looked at me earnestly.

“’Cept there’s just one question about my certificate,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked, adjusting his covers.

“I was wondering,” he mused. “What’s attendance?”

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