Some of the words even I had never heard of — I didn’t know what they meant, or how to pronounce them, and I write for a living. My daughter studied hard for her first school spelling bee. School has always come easily for her, fortunately, but she spent hours and hours writing and rewriting the words, going over them with us, rereading them, chalking them, or coloring them, putting them on her whiteboard in groups.
And then it was the big day. I went to watch her. There were almost 30 kids in the school spelling bee. The first round easily took 30 minutes. I looked at my watch. I could be sitting here for hours, waiting for the group of anxious kids to be winnowed down. But.
In the second round, she got out. C-o-l-o-n-i-s-t.
It wasn’t because she didn’t know the word. She did. It was because she started the word over when she got halfway through it. And according to the rules, this is not allowed.
She was devastated. She KNEW the word. SHE KNEW IT. And she did not know, she insisted, that she was not allowed to start over.
Ooooohhhhhh, the tears. We sat in the school hallway on the varnished floor, and she cried like a toddler, head in my lap, snot and tears all over my office clothes, sobbing her heart out. I had no idea what to do. Who the heck gave me an 11-year-old with a missing instruction manual?
There was nothing I could say to console her, no words I could find to stop the tears. She had worked her heart out, and she had failed.
Welcome to real life, kid.
We had some conversations that morning on that hardwood floor in the hospital-green 1940s hallway. Sometimes I tried to talk to her, sometimes I was just quiet. These are all lessons we learn, at some point in our lives. And it hurts when you watch your children, your heart of hearts, learn them the hard way.
I missed ballet (her true love) to study for this!! Now you know, honey: Learn to pick what to spend your time on, and make sure it’s something you love if you can help it.
I studied so hard. I didn’t expect to win but I wanted to get further than the second round at least! I tried so hard, Mom! I know, kiddo. Sometimes life just sucks. And just because you work hard, doesn’t mean you automatically win or get what you want. Most of the time, in fact, you don’t.
I worked really, really, hard, Mom. I know, you tried as hard as you could. As long as you’re okay with how hard you worked (shaky, teary head nod). The only thing you’ll really regret is the amount of preparation you did (or didn’t) do, not the outcome of it.
Eventually, she got up off the floor. Eventually, after numerous hugs from classmates, reassuring words from teachers, and a goodbye hug from me, she stopped crying. Relief flooded over me. I kinda felt better about myself as a parent back when she was an infant screaming from colic than I did at that moment.
My biggest life lesson that day: I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know what to say sometimes, and I can’t fix all her problems.
All I can do is hold her and tell her I love her while she cries.
I hope that is enough.