As some of you know, L. participated in both a regional and state spelling bee last year. We had a great time making some road trips last fall and watching him spell word after word. In the regional bee, he and the other finalist went back and forth, with L. finally missing a word. Since he had finished in the top four, he went on to the state bee. He missed a word about halfway through the competition. For a six-year old kid, he handled it all with incredible poise, though he did shed a few tears when he had to come sit down at the state bee. It’s only natural to feel disappointment when you’ve worked hard, done your best, but fallen short of your goal. Seeing the way he dried his tears and started looking forward to this year was one of my proudest Mommy moments.
Since this school year has started, he’s been talking here and there about wanting to participate again. Making it to the regional bee means being in the top three for his grade, which means out-spelling his classmates and most of the students in the other third-grade class. He had a good amount of confidence, which was healthy, but I cringed a little when he mentioned the fact that he’d made it last year. Last year was great, but it was last year. I tried to gently remind him that even though he is still a fantastic speller, there is no guarantee that he would make it to the regional or state events. It’s a tough balance, to tell a child that of course we know he is capable, but we don’t know what the outcome will be!
Last week, his class had a preliminary spell-off, and he won! His confidence was growing, and we applauded his success and excitedly awaited the next, deciding preliminary round. This afternoon, as soon as he came out of the door, he told me, “I got myself out of the spelling bee. I missed a word.” Oh, sweet boy. Without outright asking him, I tried to read his face, to see how he was handling it. I detected some sadness, but he seemed to be all right. With this ambiguity of mood, I just asked him, “how are you feeling about it?”. He said he was “better”, that he had definitely felt down when it first happened. He didn’t seem to want to say any more, so I just tried to reinforce our love for him, our pride in his doing his best, and also an acknowledgment that things like this will keep getting more challenging as he advances in school!
He does not appear to be deterred in wanting to try again, and I’m curious to see if he wants to take steps on his own to be even sharper in this realm of spelling. We don’t drill him on words, though I’d be willing to if he really wanted to. He reads so much, on all kinds of subjects, and I know that has a lot to do with his grasp on spelling, probably more than if we quizzed him on words constantly. Of course we’d love to see him go to another spelling bee and even win. What parents don’t want to see their kids succeed? What’s even more important to us is that his internal drive to do his best and succeed, keeps growing; that he doesn’t get bogged down by falling short, but that he shows even more motivation. When I think of how he handled what happened today, as well as in other situations where he has come in second, or third, or further down yet, I know he’s on the right path.
What word did he miss today, some might wonder? It couldn’t have been more appropriate: disappointment.