My 5 year old and I were playing a game of scrabble. Initially all was well and she was making words at a pace that made her happy. But then over three turns she picked up mostly vowels when picking up new letters. I could see her visibly getting upset. She asked me if she could exchange the vowels for other letters. I told her only after five turns, only after she had tried enough. That right then and there took a toll on her. “Do you want me to lose ? You are going to win because I will not be able to make any words. See?”
She turned her letters towards me. I glanced at her letters and then at the board. She had an opportunity, an easy word to make. She was just not paying attention to it. She was too busy crying. By this time inconsolably. I asked her to give it a last shot. That seemed to make her even more upset. “You want me to try because that will make you win. You always win. I know we play games for fun. But I always lose. You don’t even know how sad you feel when you lose.”
Ah! That’s what it was. The little girl thought her Mom had never lost a game. So I had to tell her a story. A story of when I lost a game and what my Mom had to say about it.
I was 7 or 8 years old then. Sports was not my forte. But I had to participate, everyone else was participating. So I signed up to play badminton. That is one sport I played with my friends and I assumed that I was good at it. On the day of the first round of the tournament, I lost my first and only match to the opponent. I did not score a single point. I played terribly. I think I was even crying half way through the game. We lived in a small close knit community where everyone knew everyone. I remember feeling embarrassed that my friends, their parents and siblings, my neighbors and my teachers, everyone whom I knew was watching the game.
The game ended. My mom escorted me back home, all the while listening to my sobbing and sulking. She did not say a word to me. Not even that it was alright to lose a game, like she always did. She was upset with me I could see. Back home, the sulking wouldn’t stop. That’s when she she sat down next to me and said what I would remember for the rest of my life and what I was trying to practice with my own daughter during that game of scrabble.
She said “Do you know why you lost today ? Not because the other guy played well. It is because you were not paying attention to the game. You were paying too much attention to the fact that you were not winning. There were so many opportunities for you to score, but you were busy being upset. If you had focused, you may have scored better or even won the game today, who knows?”
My crying suddenly stopped. I still remember that up until then I was sad that I lost the game. I felt the opponent was stronger. But I did not once think that I had not tried enough.
Back to the game of scrabble, my daughter intently listened to my story. I read her eyes and I knew I had partly answered her question. Everyone loses, even Moms. And it is ok to lose. But you cannot give up trying. I left it at that and went on to attend to other things. Much later as I helped her wrap up the board game, I noticed she has used two of her vowels “o” and “o” next to the letter “T”. I acknowledged her effort, her willingness to try.