Accommodating the Puddles
Sept 21, 2023
Sept 21, 2023
When I was 13, I participated in an 8th-grade town-wide spelling bee. I made it as far as the semi-finals. I'll never forget how red my face went when they told me I was wrong: I wished I could melt into a puddle and be swallowed up by the floor. I was miserable for days. I vowed not to take any more risks, ever.
You'll notice, though, that I became an entrepreneur. So what changed between when I was 13 and when I was 31, when I started KidsOutAndAbout.com? A whole lot of life, and enough successes to take the sting out of many other failures along the way. The older I get, the more comprehensively I understand that any given failure isn't going to sink the ship. I've never forgotten how to spell ACCOMMODATION, but more important, I never forgot how mortified I was at the time, how that failure became my whole world for a while, but then later became a useful story about perspective.
It's easy for the wisdom life hands us to obscure just how much trial-and-error it takes to get there. When my kids were young, the spelling bee story helped me summon compassion rather than impatience when their reactions seem outsized; I could commiserate and help them name feelings like "frustration" and "embarrassment." Now that they're much older, I remind them that eventually, each painful experience will teach rather than stab. "If you can stand it," I say, "let yourself notice how bad it feels now, really feel it and try not to forget what it's like." I try to describe how the highs feel more authentic if you don't deny yourself the reality of the lows. That's pretty abstract, though. No parent can learn their kids' lessons for them: Only time and practice can give them the perspective necessary to bounce back on their own.
So I've tried my best to keep the moralizing to a minimum and lean instead on stories of my own failures. Madison and Ella, for instance, know, in a way most don't, that A-C-C-O-M-M-O-D-A-T-I-O-N has two M's. Along the way, I think they've noticed that their mom didn't actually drown in that puddle. And I think that, at some level, they know they won't, either.