The tension hung so thick in the air it could be cut with a knife. There was plenty of fiddling and jitters. Adults and children alike were visibly taking slow deep breaths and therapeutically exhaling. Thirty children sat in straight backed chairs awaiting their turn at the mike.
And even as the atmosphere was one of tremendous support and encouragement--cheers, applause, high fives--there was no escaping the pressure to perform the participants were feeling. It was the long awaited Spelling Bee.
Misspelled words were greeted with groans from their teammates--and occasional tears from the students who had worked so hard only to stumble on a word. As a student of people, I couldn't help but watch the reaction of the parents as much as their students. Simultaneously brutal and beautiful.
On the way in and on the way out parents bonded over their nerves/concerns for their kids.
"Well, I have a very anxiety-prone little person."
"His struggling self esteem could really use a victory."
"She is terrified of getting eliminated on the first word."
"Mine didn't study. We'll see how that works out for her."
And again at the end as we were leaving, we apologized some more.
"We are working on sportsmanship."
"He is learning to deal with disappointment."
"I am trying to teach her to manage expectations."
"This will be a good lesson in work ethic and how details matter."
We were equally tender co-laborers sharing our worries and concerns, venting some of the stress we were feeling and watching our children working through their developmental issues ON A STAGE.
But if I'm honest, I was also doing a bit of 'expectations management' on the front end and 'damage control' on the backend. My pride (a constant work in progress) wants other parents to know that I KNOW my kids aren't perfect.
I want it to be known that I am proud of them, yes, but I am also AWARE of what is going on with them. I can get all tangled up in fear that my kids will be labelled "the bossy one," "the crier," "the know-it-all." Out of my fear, I can become defensive--an apologist even.
Advocacy is a role of a parent--but not the only one. And as our children age they must learn to advocate for themselves. Sometimes I fear I sound more like an interpreter for my children or a Public Relations Rep than their loving mother who knows they are just working it out.
It happens at Spelling Bees, at athletic practices, on field trips, playdates and in recitals--really awesome parents discussing their children with a mix of pride, worry, fear and love. Our hearts are generally in the right place. It's the approach I am pondering.
I was recently having a conversation with a fellow mother about an issue her child was facing at school. As she realized that her child had indeed been at the center of a little controversy, I saw the dread in her face. I found myself saying, "Hey, I've been there. They are children and they are working some things out. They ALL are. This is what childhood is about."
Parents, we have to remember that we are in this together. We share a mutual goal of raising up these little people to be equipped for the work God has already planned for them. Let's cheer one another on, support each other and refuse to label anybody else just yet. The road is long and we are on this journey together.
May we remember these 'quirks' are their uniqueness. Their struggles may one day be their strengths. And those amazing inborn strengths? Our role is to help our kids discover them, hone them and apply them to the right things.
I don't need to run around apologizing for my children. Neither do you. That time is much better spent praying, honing, encouraging, training.
And the conversations with other parents? They are VITAL to our sanity--but I pray they will be marked by grace and camaraderie rather than defensiveness and apologetics.
We are all better when we work together in truth, in love and in grace.