Last weekend I did one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever done as a parent. I took Sophie to the regional spelling bee, where, as the winner from her 1st grade class, she would compete against 13 other first-graders.
We had about 5 or 6 weeks to study, but there were hundreds of words in the easy, hard, and medium categories. We studied hard but it was definitely not possible to review them all multiple times. Which section should we spend the most time on? I wasn’t sure.
Sophie, for her part, wasn’t nervous at all – she was excited! She really wanted to win, though, and knew that another girl from her school was the “one to beat”. So we talked about being a good sport, about doing the VERY best you can, and about the importance of hard work in studying.
When they began the bee, my pulse quickened every time it was Sophie’s turn to spell. I gripped the sides of my chair tightly and I think I held my breath until the word was announced. If it was one I knew that she knew, I relaxed. If it was one I wasn’t sure of, I gripped my seat tighter. Round after round, she hung in there, even spelling tough words like “quite” and “cent” (which they used in a sentence) and pleasantly surprising me. After round 9, only three tiny spellers remained – all girls. I was absolutely thrilled that Sophie had made it so far – I honestly did not know what to expect.
Round ten commenced. The first speller (the one Sophie was nervous about competing against) got the word “dizzy”. The next speller got the word “harm”. Then, it was Sophie’s turn, and I held my breath as the Spellmaster announced: “The word is ‘claim’”. My heart dropped. Not as easy as dizzy or harm, and I was not at all sure she knew it.
“Claim.” Sophie began confidently. “C-l-a-…m-e”. Claim.
I cringed inwardly and put a huge smile on my face as the Spellmaster said, “I’m sorry, that’s not correct.” The smile was because Sophie immediately turned around to look at me. I gave her two thumbs up and mouthed “third place!” as she made her way to sit with me in the audience. I gave her a big hug and whispered how proud I was and she hugged me back and seemed pretty happy.
And she was. As the bee finished up, and the other two girls battled it out (which did not take long at all) she went back up to get her certificate and claim her third place ribbon. She was absolutely beaming with excitement.
And I was of course, beaming with pride.
I was also holding something back. Something I couldn’t let out on at our celebratory McDonald’s breakfast or our congratulatory trip to the Target dollar spot. Something I had to hold onto until I could get some time alone.
The thing is, you guys. The thing is.
Just a short three years ago (and doesn’t time fly? Three years ago I had a newborn and I was a mess!) my little four-year-old Sophie could not walk into a crowded room – not even a family party – without freaking out. Every time a stranger would try and talk to her she’d scream and give them the evil eye. She hated to be the center of attention, and was even afraid of corporate singing, from songs at church to the Happy Birthday song. Her developmental delays were rather severe on the social end of things.
And then. Three short years later. She wins her class spelling bee. No problem being up in front of her peers. And then she exuberantly pursues going to the regional spelling bee, confidently performing in front of her peers and a bunch of strangers through ten rounds of head-to-head competition. She happily accepts applause and stands in the limelight when she’s given her ribbon. She bears defeat with grace.
If you didn’t know Sophie when, you might not understand how overwhelmed I was when all of this hit me in the face. If you’d told me three short years ago that this would happen I don’t think I would have believed you. Even though I always believed Sophie would overcome her delays, I didn’t realize – I didn’t know – I didn’t know that the real Sophie, the one buried beneath her delays, was so outgoing, confident, and capable.
And I came to understand it by and by, so that I wasn’t really surprised to see her do so well up there at the spelling bee.
And when it hit me that I wasn’t really surprised,because this is who Sophie is, that’s when I lost it.
God has done amazing things in my daughter’s life. I couldn’t be more thankful or more proud to be her mother. I couldn’t be more thankful to taste and see that the Lord is good!