when i was in first grade i was in the school spelling bee. i had it in the bag. my biggest competition was going to be this kid whose head was enormous. for a kid's head to be that huge, he had to be packin' some serious brains. he was smart, his spelling was accurate and fast. he knew the method. say the word, spell the word, say the word again.
as the competition neared, señor huge-head started winning the spelling games we would play in class. i imagine him at home doing spelling drills. i was at home cutting my barbie's hair, he was spelling words like humidity. i was sneaking chewable vitamins that came in the shape of various cartoon characters, and he was timing himself spelling athletics. this was not going to be pretty.
it was time for the big night. i had envisioned myself winning the bee, taking the cup, spending the winnings entirely on malted milk balls. i gotta be honest, i thought it would come down to me and huge-head for the championship... and in a deep, slow-motion voice, i would spell something like "barbecue." and i would, inevitably, take the title.
that was not what happened. what actually happened was that i misspelled a word a few rounds in and huge-head didn't misspell anything. his brain-packed head took the prize, while my pathetic, overly-vitamined-brain laid in my mom's lap in the audience... watching him receive his handsome reward, MY prize money. i cried. for the rest of the bee - all 6 grades.
at some point my mom "suggested" that i pull it together and try to "be happy for the boy that won." i couldn't have done that to save my life. i wanted to win. i wanted him to lose. there was no collecting myself. there was no happy.
then, the boy with the alarming head started coming toward me. he was coming to gloat. he was coming to rub my nose in his victory, i just knew it. as he approached, i sort of did the shy, hide your (puffy) eyes behind your mom's leg, hoping to disappear and not have to face his heckling.
then huge-head did something unexpected. he said "good job," and he offered me half his winnings. i think he won like thirty bucks, which is basically the lottery when you are in first grade. he was going to be a millionaire, and he was offering ME half his loot. i don't know if he felt bad for me because i kept crying like an idiot, or if his parents forced him to make the offer as a pity offering, or what... but he did it. he offered to split the prize with me.
nothing makes you feel like a jerk more than looking back on your life and realizing that you actually ARE a jerk. i, of course, did not accept the prize money, and i have felt guilty ever since for secretly wishing for his demise and for fixating on what is now a probably successful, and average-sized head. i'm not sure if or how that experience changed me, but i will say that it set the stage for the understanding that people may not always be what they seem.
i think a lot of moms, myself included, are terrified of having their kids turn out like them. i used to be so scared that they would be selfish like me, overly-sensitive like me, competitive like me. lately, i have gotten to see my kids, especially annalee, become something so different than i was. i get to see her sharing her faith with kids at school, praying for them "ten times" in her bed. i get to see her cry when they struggle or fail, or when they miss a parent who has passed away. i have seen her pulling for and praying for her friends to do what is right, and grieving when they don't.
i am learning to be a little less afraid of them becoming me, and a little more intentional about helping them become themselves. someday, they will be in a spelling bee. they may win, they may lose, they might even cry themselves to sleep over losing. or they might just be the kind of kid that wins the spelling bee only to think about the wretched kid who won't stop crying. all i know, is that for now, they are shaping up to be something special, something a little like huge-head.