That’s the way it came out.
The school library was packed with sweating parents seated amidst three-foot-tall bookshelves and wall-tacked posters lauding “Reading is fun!”
“V…I…S…I…B…I…L…T…Y,” he said, each letter spelled with confidence into the microphone.
Thirty years earlier, my demise was “orcestra.” I was eight. For my ten year-old son, it was “visibilty.” Well, that’s the way they came out.
Twin mistakes separated by thirty years, and the one absent letter comes directly before the other. Like a father and son. Hmm. But no doubt my son works much harder than I did at age ten. I think that’s what hurt me the most.
While my older two and I were weekending in front of the TV, watching the NFL playoffs and jam-banding Guitar Hero gigs on the Wii, Braden sat at the kitchen table with my wife, studying for his elementary school’s spelling bee championship — he’d earned the spot to represent his fourth grade class. Doing well in the bee meant more to him than a Sunday afternoon playing video games — and he loves video games.
But one letter did him in.
He passed the first two rounds, returning to his chair each time with a relieving smile, his blue eyes scanning the rear of the library to make sure me and Sarah were watching. We were.
But in round three, it all went wrong. Oh, he knew the word. He had spelled it before. But that single letter hung like a glob of honey off his lips, the spoonful that missed his mouth, and the bee took him out.
“Visibilty,” he uttered, letter by letter. His fair-skinned face immediately turned as splotchy red as a spanked rear-end, all the while rolling his eyes across the ceiling and exhaling forcibly through clenched teeth — common allergic reactions amongst those who take a swat at a spelling bee and realize they just got stung. He knew he was guilty several long seconds before the spelling judge delivered the verdict.
He returned to his seat, his back facing the audience. No more smiles. No more peeking over his shoulder to check on mom and dad. The disappointment emanated from his little chair to the far reaches of the library. We were without escape.
He let himself down. He believed that he let his class down. And he was certain that he let us down.
I wonder how “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua would have handled this. Maybe I should have followed her over-the-top parenting style and threatened to burn alive my son’s stuffed animals if his performance wasn’t perfect. (Follow the link above. I’m not making this up.) Maybe I should’ve grounded him from play dates — one month per missed letter. Oh, wait. Amy Chua’s methods don’t allow for play dates, even on a perfect week. Can’t use that one.
Maybe I should’ve [fill in the blank with something punishing].
No, I don’t think so. Sarah and I gave him a big hug and told him how proud we were for his hard work and making it as far as he did. We even surprised him that evening with a couple of Tron miniature “light cycles” he’d been eyeing in the toy section, to speed along the living room floor and race up and down his bedroom walls. Sounds fun, huh?
He gave it his all, and sometimes when we give our all, it doesn’t always work out. We screw it up. We forget a letter. That lesson may be one of the hardest for us to live with.
Fortunately there is One who did give His all without messing it up, so we wouldn’t have to. He knew that there was one hurdle, one life-threatening challenge we would not overcome, no matter how prepared we were. The word is easy to spell but impossible to conquer on our own: death. But He made overcoming possible.
We can misspell all the words in the dictionary, forget all the letters, and never win the spelling bee, yet He still loves us and brings us a surprise late in the evening. He’s already won the spelling bee on our behalf.
And He is proud of us because He knows we’re trying, He knows deep down we desire to perform well. No, to live well. All we have to do is open our hearts and accept His fatherly hug. What a cool, heavenly Dad we have, and He’s quite the speller.
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–” (John 1:12, NIV Bible)