My oldest son is a brainiac.
No, really. He is. He had the entire Curious George anthology memorized by the time he was two and-a-half. If you haven't read the original stories, they're very long. Very, very long. At first, when my husband's brother and his wife gave us the book, we'd shorten the stories by skipping over a few words here and there. But after a few months, our son would stop us and make sure we got each word. Every. Single. Word.
(Just a shout-out to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law - they always choose the perfect gifts - that book is still a favorite in our household.)
In first grade, his teacher entered him in the school's "little spelling bee," which is for kindergartners and first, second and third graders.
We were all confident he'd do well. After all, he reads at a very high level, and aces every spelling test.
But he was nervous.
And he bombed it.
The word was something like juice, and he said, "G -- I mean, J-U-I-C-E."
Of course, the moderators had to eliminate him for that first G.
OMG. You'd think the world ended. He was so embarrassed and sad. He cried. He hid around the corner of the gym and cried more. He didn't want to go back to class and when he finally did, he hid under the jackets and backpacks hung on the back wall. For a long time. Finally his teacher (who I love!) said he could either go to recess or call me and go home. He chose recess.
The pain lasted for days.
The spelling bee, needless to say, was a traumatic incident for him.
And it wasn't the first.
During his first year of coach pitch little league, he had an awful swing. He couldn't hit the ball to save his life. At one practice, his coach was so patient, pitching an entire bucket's worth of balls - and our son missed every single one.
When the coach went to fill the bucket with the missed balls, our son ran over to a bench behind the storage shed at the park and said he didn't want to play any more.
Who could blame the kid? He just swung at and missed about eight thousand balls, with his entire team watching. My husband and I sat there with him for a minute. We told him we understood he was frustrated and embarrassed and he didn't want to go out there and he hated baseball and he never wanted to play it again. We told him it was his choice if he went back to home plate, but that we didn't want him to regret not practicing until he hit that ball.
We left him sitting on the bench, sniffling.
(And we went back to our spots on the first base foul line and sniffled, too.)
After a few minutes, he went back to home plate and finally, he hit the damn ball.
His first year of basketball, he couldn't make a basket. One day we were practicing in the driveway, and he must have tried a gazillion times. Seriously. A gazillion - and you know that's a lot.
He was near tears, very frustrated.
But he stayed out there until he started making baskets.
Another time (and I promise this is the last example), he went to a bike track with some friends during our camping trip. He had the wrong kind of tires on his bike, and kept skidding out and crashing. But he kept trying. Yesterday we went to another dirt track, and he rode that thing like a pro.
A few weeks ago, he begged his current teacher to let him enter the spelling bee. When he came home and told me - the day before - that he'd decided to enter, I was shocked. After his reaction to last year's mistake, I thought he'd never want to do it again.
But he assured me that he did.
My husband and I sat in the bleachers, holding hands very tightly, wiping sweat off our palms every few seconds, gritting our teeth every time he stood at the microphone.
Well, guess what?
He aced the shit out of that spelling bee.
Just as we'd coached him in our single night of practicing, he listened to the word, paused, took a deep breath, and then spelled it slowly.
He got out on the word famous - which he spelled "famouse," like they do in a series he reads (Geronimo Stilton - it's about a mouse).
He earned second place.
And you know what? I don't even care that he earned second place - I'm so proud of him for going back - for tackling the situation that caused him so much sadness and embarrassment last year.
Because, just like in the examples I mentioned earlier, he showed such strong character. He kept at it.
Sure, we encouraged him, but ultimately, he made the choice each time to conquer something at which he'd performed less-than-stellar.
Failing - and then trying and trying and trying until you succeed - is something so many adults struggle with (even me!).
But he did. And I'm so proud of him for it.