She wanted to win.
I could feel it. It was my emotion, my feeling, my yearning, trapped inside her little body. It was as if she had been there all those times when I had spontaneously wanted something, to win something, to get something. As if she were watching me and practicing the moves so that she could, someday, execute them on her own. Watching my own quirks and insecurities played back for me in miniature form will always feel so surreal.
She hadn’t wanted the win for very long. She hadn’t even known a win was possible until we arrived. But then she wanted it and she wanted it bad. She quietly told me she wanted to win. She gazed at the judges. She bounced excitedly towards the group as they prepared to announce the winners.
And, of course, my heart broke for her. There weren’t quite as many Elsa’s as I had expected but, of course, she wasn’t alone in her blue gown and side-spun braid. Her costume, the one she had wanted so badly, the one that made her feel like a queen, was not award-winning material. Not this year, anyway.
But I also saw it coming. A teaching moment. I could do this. I knew what to say. I’ve got experience with loosing and loosing out and not getting thing thing that I want so badly. I’ve got experience in putting myself out there, no matter how far, and not feeling welcoming arms wrap around me in acceptance. Once again, I believed, that with my experience, my journey, my life, I would soar over to her and gently guide her through life’s tough moments. Teach her how to soar through, herself. Make it all better with a smile, a hug, and a bit of wisdom passed down. We’d be skipping home to carry on with our day in no time.
Of course, it didn’t work that way.
My words failed. They didn’t console her. I talked with her about how winning isn’t everything. I reminded her how much she loved her costume. How she so desperately wanted to be Elsa. Wearing blue had been a dream come true. And that’s important. It’s important to do what you want, regardless of accolades and awards. We talked about originality. We described to her how the costume that had won for originality was truly original and we talked about what that meant. We talked about next year.
But she didn’t smile. She nodded through tears. She asked to take her dress off. Change into her normal clothes.
I tried to figure out where I had gone wrong. Why had my words failed? Was it because she is a different person? She may look like me and act like me and react like me but she isn’t me. She needs different things. Was it because I really haven’t learned from my years of trying and failing and, sometimes, yes, succeeding? Was it because I really don’t have all of this wisdom that I like to think I’ve gained?
Or was it because I was far too impatient?
Life, you know, is not a sitcom. People, of course, are not just characters. Lessons don’t sink in during the span of a half hour, choreographed to a laugh track. Conversations about the big life lessons, the tough things we need to learn and adjust to and deal with in our lives, rarely end with a hug and a smile and a single, sweet tear in our eyes. Parenting is a long, long game. It’s setting your sights simultaneously right in front of you and years into the future, trying to manage here so that you land there. It takes pouring your words and wisdom and wishes and love into a tiny, little heart, hoping that you’re filling it up. And it takes years of that. Without much sign or signal that you’re pouring the right things, that most of it isn’t sloshing over the rim. It takes repetition and trying and growing. It takes modelling what you say and narrating what you do. It’s not just a few post-Halloween-party words sprinkled over a little queen as you wipe her tears. It’s an everyday journey and a journey every day. And it takes patience.
She did eventually move on. We did carry on with our day and it was a good day. And by the time trick-or-treating came around, she happily put the dress back on and skipped off to collect her candy. Only time will tell whether she did it because she had listened and understood. Remembered how much she loved that ice queen and how badly she wanted to be her. In the meantime, we’ll just have to be patient.