The Spelling Bee Strikes Again: An Update from a Weary Mom

You may recall that last year, I wrote about my older son, Matty, and his experience in the previous year’s school spelling bee. I shared how heartbreaking it was for him (and for me) when he lost, and how hard was to see my kid fail. I dreaded having to sit through another bee.

But I did sit through another one. And you know what was awesome? Seeing my kid not fail.

Matty actually won, and it was great. He was so, so, so thrilled. So thrilled, in fact, that when asked what the best moment of his life has been thus far, he confidently reports, “Winning the spelling bee.”

I had hoped that I wouldn’t care very much about this year’s bee. After all, Matty’s already had the experience of winning and losing, both of which had their merits, so what difference does it make whether he wins or loses this time around?

But no. I’m filled with the same dread all over again. It’s the same feeling I had when Matty pitched in his baseball team’s final game of the season, and when he did a “football broadcast” for his school’s talent show. Having to silently, helplessly watch as your kid performs publicly, not knowing if he will succeed or fail, is to my mind the worst form of parenting torture.

I so wish Matty could ride the wave of his second grade spelling bee victory until, you know, he finishes college. But one spelling bee experience is a mere drop in the bucket of all of the challenging things Matty has faced and will continue to face. I tell myself that it will get easier with time, as Matty faces more and more of these public challenges and gets used to what failure feels like. But of course, Matty’s little brother is already talking about doing the bee next year, when he’ll finally be old enough.  So I’m guessing that more heartbreak awaits.

Rereading last year’s essay was helpful, actually, because it reminded me that it is in fact important to let our kids fail, and that we as parents suffer more from their failures than they do (Matty, for example, had moved on immediately from his spelling bee loss, while I felt compelled to write about it about it a year after it occurred).

Bottom line: I hate seeing my kid challenged publicly, but I love my kid. I want to support him in whatever he chooses to do. Which is why I’ll be in the spelling bee audience tomorrow night. I’ll be smiling on the outside and dying a little on the inside. I’ll be ready to cheer with him or empathize with him, whatever the situation requires.

And as always, I’ll make sure that there’s a big bowl of ice cream waiting for him (and for me) at home.

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