When I was in third grade, I earned myself a spot on stage at the district spelling bee. For weeks I scoured the word lists and forfeited afternoon playtime to study. When the big night came, my brain was a simmering pot of alphabet soup and I was ready to serve it up.
As a naturally timid kid, standing in the spotlight had my heart racing, my palms sweating and my mind reeling. I stood last in a line of spellers. As the microphone made its way to me, I carefully spelled out every competitor's word in my head.
When it was finally my turn, I reached for the microphone with a shaky hand. The facilitator spoke my word clearly, "Friendship." I felt an explosion inside me. Friendship! I could spell it in my sleep. I took a deep breath and spoke.
My world went dark. I didn't mean to say R! No, not R! F, F, F!
But it was too late. I was out on my first word. My head hung as I made my way off-stage to sit with my parents. As the competition drew on, I continued to spell all words correctly in my head. The spelling bee drew to a close with it's final two competitors and the last word. Although I can't remember the word, I do remember that I spelled it correctly while the kid on stage did not. I could've won that bee. I knew it in my heart.
Today I am Mom. While that fateful spelling bee takes a backseat to most of life's current trials and tribulations, when it comes to competition that one small experience made a lasting mark. Do I want my own kids to crack under pressure? Do I want them regretting opportunities to shine? Absolutely not!
I want my kids to stand with confidence and do their best. But (there's always a but, isn't there?) BUT--I fully believe it's my job to implement positive parenting, unconditional love and words of encouragement when the competition doesn't work in my kids' favor. The spelling bee left its imprint in me because my parents offered scolding and blame on that fateful night instead of the love and understanding I craved.
Positive parenting means I support my kids for who they are and what they achieve. My son was deliberately pushed aside once during a relay race. While my first reaction was to run out there and give that bully a dose of his own medicine, my rational side took over. Instead, I gave my son the immediate comfort he needed. Later, when emotions had calmed, we talked about how some kids don't follow the rules but that doesn't mean he should stoop to that level.
There's an inherent truth that kids learn at a young age: Winning is funner than losing. Life has a way of weaseling that lesson in no matter the circumstances. Reality and maturity teaches us that you won't always win. As a parent, my job is to know my kids and know when they've given it their all. Instead of encouraging them to be competitive, I will encourage them to do their best and have fun. I'll be there to dry their tears and find the silver lining. And you can bet I'll tell them a story or two about Mom and the spelling bee.