Today my son competed in the school spelling bee. Danny is an incredible speller, and the whole family was very excited for him. Even his older sisters ducked out of school, happy to receive tardy marks in exchange to watch their younger brother compete.
Dan and I worked for weeks on the spelling list, replacing sacred piano practice with spelling practice, and going over words like “gingerbread” and “menthol” over and over again. Danny, competative and confident by nature, was eager to study and excited to display his spelling prowess in front of his classmates and teachers.
When I arrived at the school library, there were about twenty 4th graders, arranged in two rows on little wooden chairs, facing the proctor. The anxiety in the room was intense. Just before the bee started, six of them needed to use the bathroom and one said she had a migraine (but when questioned further, took a deep breath and said she felt confident she could carry on).
The bee began with the first boy who was asked to spell “chicken” and spelled it wrong. Most of the students did well, though, and they moved on to the second round. By the 5th round half of the students were out.
Danny breezed through the first 7 rounds.
But then, in the 8th round, he stumbled on the word “messenger.” He never missed that word in our practicing. As soon as he finished he knew exactly what he’d done wrong. I could see his face grow hot and red, and watched as the tears threatened.
It was a sad and uncomfortable moment for him, and instead of sitting with the other “defeated” students he came and sat by me, eager to vent his frustration in hushed whispers. (He’s always been a very verbal child.) I told him he did great, handed him a vitamin C lozenge, and told him to be quiet so that we didn’t disrupt the final spellers.
The champion word, the final word that the last boy spelled, was, anticlimactically, “amino.” Danny looked at me with big, tragic eyes. It was word he knew.
When it was all over, Danny dispared about the paper certificate he received (who wants a certificate?! he says). Yet, he smiled like a champ for the group photo, and he went up to the winner and gave him a high five.
Someone told me once that you should pray for your children to have disappointments. Who came up with such a cruel idea? But over the years I see the wisdom in that advice, and I am grateful for these small disappointments, so that when they experience the inevitable, big disappointments, they’ve already had practice. How else do we learn grace, humilty, composure and resilience?
I went up to the mother of the winner, congratulated her on what a fine job her son did, and asked her (with Danny listening at my side) how she prepared her son for the bee. She gave me some great tips, and as she turned away Danny muttered, “I’m going to beat him next year.”
I smiled. Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t. After all, that boy has won three years in a row now, setting a school record. I am confident, however, that Danny will never spell “messenger” wrong again. Just like my husband who will never misspell “walnut” (he spelled it wallnut) and my daughter who will never misspell “undertow” (she spelled it undertoe). You never forget the word that you missed in a school spelling bee.
At the dinner table we will laugh about it and commiserate, everyone will (once again) share their past spelling bee fumbles, and Danny will know he is in good company.
And tonight I will thank Heavenly Father for all the things Danny learned because he did not win.