A few weeks ago, Elliott won a spelling bee among the students in his first grade class and was awarded a spot in the school-wide spelling bee. I was proud of Elliott, but I must confess, thoughts of the upcoming event started giving me nightmares. Elliott is a perfectionist and ultra-competitive - in other words, he's his mother - so I began to imagine the various reactions Elliott might have if he lost the main event.
My anxieties weren't tempered when Elliott started expressing how unlikely it would be for him to win since he was going up against second graders. Katie and I told him what what parents are supposed to tell their child in these situations: "it's not about winning Elliott, it's about giving it your best." Saying this made me want to barf. And you know how much I love thinking about barfing.
My problem with the "it's not about winning" counsel is that I've heard it shared too many times by people who seem to really be saying winning is irrelevant. I believe there's a lot more good that can come from a kid thinking winning is everything than one who believes it's inconsequential. I've found few examples of people who are the best at what they do who didn't get there fueled, at least in part - sometimes in very large part - by a desire to win. Likewise, the examples are endless of people who discovered the necessity to work hard and be committed while pursuing victory in anything worthwhile.
So the big spelling bee took place yesterday. Elliott didn't win, but he did beat some of the second graders he felt uneasy facing. He finished in second place and will serve as the school's alternate to compete in the county spelling bee. He was proud of himself, as were we.
He was eliminated from the competition with the word "barge". He thought the letter "d" belonged in there somewhere, probably thinking more "badge" than "barge". Our language is kind of tricky if you think about it, at least when it comes to spelling. The first thing I did after I congratulated and gave Elliott a big hug was ask him how to spell "barge". He gave it to me, one letter at a time, exactly right.
I told Elliott as crazy as it sounds, losing, more than anything else, helps us figure out how to win. My guess is he'll misspell future spelling bee words, but barge likely won't be one of them. It's ironic. As much as one might believe winning is everything, it means the most to someone who has experienced losing, and rarely comes before so.
I imagine poor old losing, tired of getting a bad rap, occasionally has to stand toe to toe with winning and remind it - '"you would mean nothing without me".
No one was more proud of Elliott than his brother.