I hate school projects.

I’m sorry if that’s terrible to say, and don’t let my kids’ morahs find out.

But as soon as my children bring home a project or some artwork, I begin to gauge their level of distraction and how many minutes must pass before I can surreptitiously place it in the garbage.

You might say I’m the opposite of a pack rat.

I love throwing things out.

I love the feeling it provides, the sloughing off of old skin, the feeling of freedom, of lightness. I love things clean and neat and organized.

One can’t do that with hundreds of drawings lying around.

I’m not totally coldhearted, though, and I recognize that perhaps my children will appreciate keepsakes as they get older. So I keep a small collection of artwork in a drawer, a stack of projects brought home from school.

As I peruse through the papers of my kindergartener, I look at the comments: Shimon is a gaon!; Shimon draws like he’s in kitah alef!; Shimon knows how to write his own name!

There’s a pattern here, I realize. I have only saved the papers that comment on Shimon’s brilliance, that highlight how smart my four-year-old is, that compliment his intelligence.

Growing up, intelligence was revered. My father, a lawyer, and my mother, a financier, were bright, educated, well-read.

I remember my nerves as report card season came upon us each semester. Anything less than an A was a cause for displeasure. I don’t recall there ever being serious repercussions for a “poor” grade, but the look of disappointment on my father’s face was enough.

Then there were the ongoing shouting matches about my sibling who just couldn’t figure things out, no matter how hard she’d try, who was the opposite of an academic success. My mother felt my father was being overly demanding, and needed to lower his expectations; my father felt my mother was overly coddling, and needed to employ stricter punishments.

I made it my business not to be fodder for my parents’ fights, and reveled in the attention when I won awards, bees, competitions. My grades would bring my parents together. Shared pride over my successes would mend their marriage.

Awards and certificates lined the walls of my bedroom, yet as the collection grew, so did my inner gnawing for genuine recognition. When I volunteered in a Big Sister program to take out a girl from a broken home once a week, my father was sure to remind me that my studies came first. When I spent days organizing a Shabbaton for a kiruv organization, he demanded to see a schedule of my exams to ensure it wouldn’t conflict with preparing appropriately for my finals.

Success — academic, financial — comes first. Always.

As I grew older, I recognized I wished to convey a different value system to my children, one predicated more on effort expended, less oriented on results.

But now, a peripheral glance through my children’s arts and crafts reveals an alarming pattern; I’m lauding intelligence, success… just like my parents.

I thought I was doing things differently, raising my children in a way that resonated more with my beliefs, my ideals. Had my parents’ values permeated my home, and had I unwittingly transmitted them to my children? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 557)