It was almost as though the words weren’t real.
Spelling bee? What do you mean you won the spelling bee?
My child? How could this be? I spell check the simplest of words.
Such as “simplest.”
My daughter won her class spelling bee. Now she was to represent in the school spelling bee.
I was thrilled! And totally blindsided. Her dad said he totally called it. Obviously she had taken after him, the best speller in all the land.
Nobody likes a bragger.
She unfurled her list of words to know. And I say unfurled for a reason. There were a lot of words. Words that I had never even heard before.
Some words I had to look up in the dictionary. There was no way that I could spell them.
But we studied. Night after night. Until I was sick of spelling. And words. Especially those that were ten letters long.
The big day arrived. I was a disaster. I wasn’t even sure that I could sit there and observe. In her nine years on this planet, I had never been so nervous for her.
My daughter on the other hand, was calm and collected. She didn’t seem anxious at all. Which actually made me feel a little better.
She had this.
Her dad and I arrived at the school. Her siblings were to be present, too. The whole family was there to root on our little spelling phenom.
But in a quiet way, because you really aren’t supposed to whoop it up at a spelling bee. We know this. We aren’t a family of orangutans.
No matter what people say every time we exit our favorite Mexican restaurant.
The elementary school gym was lined with chairs for spectators. And there was also a row at the front for the participants. One kid from every class, first through fifth grade.
I was sizing up the competition. My daughter sat effortlessly at the front. She chatted and smiled. Not a care in the world.
I on the other hand was about to throw up.
The official rules were read. You could ask for the word to be restated. You could ask for a definition. The kids nodded that they understood.
And then it began.
The students were lined up in grade order. If a student correctly spelled a word, he returned to his seat, then the next student in line would walk to the microphone for his turn.
If a student misspelled a word, he went to the audience to sit with his class.
One by one they went down the line of students. Round one: No one missed a word.
Round two. This time the words were a little harder. Some first graders struck out. That wasn’t surprising since they were the youngest and therefore had the least spelling experience.
Eventually it was time for the fourth graders. Then it was our sweetie’s turn.
Her word: partner
Without hesitation she spoke clearly and loudly into the microphone.
P A R N E R (partner)
I closed my eyes. Did she say the T? Had I just NOT heard it? She knew how to spell that word. That was an easy word. And then I heard the call:
I am sorry. That is not correct.
I exhaled and opened my eyes. I looked at my child’s face and I could see the realization of what had just happened, spread over it like a wave.
It was crushing.
She left the microphone to go sit with her friends. I had to sit there and continue to watch the competition, pretending everything was okay. But it didn’t feel okay.
Suddenly I felt someone touch my shoulder. It was her. She had bypassed her friends and ran straight for me.
She needed Mom to make it better. To kiss her boo-boo. Except her boo-boo was on the inside.
She sat on my lap and buried her head in my chest. It was clear that she was disheartened.
This was the first time in her life that she had felt like a failure. This was her first real letdown. Her first big disappointment.
This was huge.
It made my heart ache. I hugged her and whispered how proud I was.
She said she knew the word but had gotten nervous. I would have done anything to take her pain away in that moment.
I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her head. I told her that everyone gets nervous sometimes. And that it was okay to be sad. But she should also be proud because not everyone got to be in the spelling bee.
And in that moment I saw the rainbow. My child was learning a life lesson. Life doesn’t alway go the way that we want it to go. Not everyone can be the winner. And losing hurts. It hurts a lot.
As a parent it is my job to teach her about life. Real life. And real life is not easy.
If I had been able to go buy her the golden spelling bee award (No, there isn’t really a golden spelling bee award. But there should be) and present it to her on a silver platter, I wouldn’t have done so. What would that teach her?
She learned a valuable lesson that day. Maybe next time she will chase harder. Want it more. Practice relentlessly.
Even with that, she may lose again. That’s called life.
But if I have my way, she will remember that feeling. The feeling of failure. And she will stand back up every time life knocks her down. Even stronger than the time before. That is how character is made.
She doesn’t need me to right all of her wrongs. There are certainly going to be many. She just needs me to be Mom.
To hold her when she needs to be held. To listen when she needs to talk. To encourage her when she feels afraid. And to be her rock when the world lets her down.
My daughter didn’t win the spelling bee. But we are both stronger. And she will always be a champion to me.