This week I let Mythankfulboy fail.
It was a measured failure; I knew it wouldn’t devastate him, but I also knew it would be meaningful, and it felt like something he needed to do. Here’s what happened.
B has been a pretty good little speller all his life. He reads a lot, although less so since social media and gaming (another form of social media, really) absorb so much of his time. He came in second in the middle school spelling bee in 6th grade, and won in 7th grade (although the other finalist later told him that she let him win because she thought he wanted it more than she did – thanks?) We studied both years for weeks. Like baseball, it is one of those things that comes relatively easily, but he’s no savant, so he needs to work at it to be good. He is verbally enthusiastic, and he’ll happily attend any scheduled thing that would make him better, but he doesn’t delegate any free time to his goals.
This tendency of his was already on my nerves because his grandfather paid not-a -little-money to give him 4 1:1 batting (baseball) coaching sessions. He was thrilled, and has been very excited to go to them. We drive 40 minutes each way to attend them, and I sit there for an hour, making this, what, an almost a 2 1/2 hour commitment on a school night? Then he does no practicing at all mid-week, and shows up to the next session a little better than he was when he started, but not as good as when he left the last session. I know, I know – he’s 13 – what do you expect? Well, obviously, I expect better. So, last week, when he came home from the gym after school on Tuesday and told me the spelling bee was on Thursday, I said to myself, “Self, how are you going to handle this?” Then I answered myself, “Self, you’re going to let him fail.” I asked him how long he’d known – “I just found out today”. I told him I doubted that – “No, for real, Mom.” I asked if they gave them words to study – “Yeah, it’s only one page”. I told him I didn’t think that would be enough – “I think I’ll be okay.” We got home and he went to his room and fired up the gaming system. I said nothing. The next morning he said, “Mom – we really have to study tonight – the bee is in 2 days!” “Technically”, I responded, “It’s one study night away.”
Wednesday night he brought me the list and said he’d underlined the ones he didn’t know, looking hopefully at me for praise that he’d done that much. I ignored him and his underlines and read words randomly off the page. Turns out he didn’t know “ciao” would be pronounced “chow”. Imagine that. He slumped lower and lower on the couch with the weight of the number of words he didn’t know. I told him that the lower he sank on the couch the less he focused and I told him to sit on an ottoman away from rest of the furniture. He whined and moaned and remained slumped over on the couch. Staring at him, I silently released the page of spelling words from my fingers and allowed it to flutter to the floor dramatically. He gaped at me (his mouth actually fell open), and when he recovered he quickly rose and retrieved the paper, handed it back to me, and sat on the ottoman. I continued to go through the list until it was clear he was trying but was struggling, and then I told him I thought he was pretty prepared and he should go to bed. That night, at the chalice lighting, he was thankful for me for studying with him. Mmhmm.
Thursday morning I noted that he was wearing his 2015 spelling bee winner t-shirt and wished him good luck on our way out the door. He bounded out happily. At 10:34 I got the text, “MOM I LOST”.
This was followed quickly by:
I got even messenger wrong
wow Siri doesn’t even know how to spell it
the stupid word wasn’t even on the list
the only words that were on the list were the words that I didn’t get
I responded, “Stupid word. I was pretty sure we should have studied beyond the list, but u didn’t seem to care very much, so I didn’t bug u.”
He replied, “yeah I didn’t that much. but still. :(”
That night we talked about the concept of what you put in dictates what you get out. I shared that I was frustrated that he wasn’t putting effort into baseball, either, and that it was disrespectful to his grandfather not to show that he valued the gift with a little effort. He nodded (his sign that he’s listening and thinking about what I said). I said, “Honey, I let you fail on purpose with the spelling bee. You need to learn this lesson now, not later in life.” He nodded again. Good, I thought. Maybe he’s gonna get this. Then he said, “You know what was great? When I got out, the whole room moaned, but I was pretty sure I heard the kids who kept going heave a sigh of relief.”
Parallel lesson still needed: humility.