Illustration by Orlando Hoetzel
Some families celebrate success, but in our home, losers rule.
This policy began when my daughter, Devin, was in third grade and decided to run for student council secretary. Her competition? A gaggle of fourth and fifth graders. If history was any guide, younger kids never won.
"You're gonna do great," I said, but inside, I was thinking, "Uh-oh."
Yes, her soccer team had been defeated often, but she'd have to face this loss alone. I worried she'd never want to try again.
Devin, on the other hand, had fast-forwarded to her victory speech. "How are we going to celebrate?" My mom-gut told me this might be a teachable moment. Why not sweeten the lesson?
"With fro-yo," I told her. "A mountain of it." Then I added the kicker: "But only if you lose."
Don't get me wrong: in our home, rewards must be earned. Every week, after Devin racks up points by doing chores, such as making her bed and emptying the dishwasher, she gets to pick from the "treasure chest," an ever-changing trove of games and craft supplies for her latest hobby (most recently, knitting). And, like many families, we ration sweets. A trip for frozen yogurt usually means a few ounces in the shop's smallest bowl.
The school election felt different. In my mind, she'd earn her prize merely by entering the race.
Devin's forehead crinkled in confusion. "If I lose?" she said. "Don't you want me to win?"
"You bet," I said, giving her a hug. "But I'm most proud of you for running at all."
As I'd feared, Devin lost to a fourth grader. She didn't cry, but I could see the disappointment in her eyes. Facing real defeat was entirely different from thinking you're a long shot. "Are we still going to celebrate?" she asked.
"Are we ever," I said. I let her get a Matterhorn of frozen yogurt. It topped three pounds and cost a small fortune, but the look on her face was priceless. Trying your best could be rewarding!
The next year, she ran for vice president. And lost to a fifth grader. Again, she piled on the fro-yo, using both hands to heave it onto the scale. This time, the serving weighed more than our new puppy.
As she chipped away at her frosty prize, we talked about the election. Was she sad? Had back-to-back losses squelched her political aspirations?
Nope. She was already brainstorming for next year's race. "I need something more for my speech," she said. "Maybe signs spelling V-O-T-E?" I chalked some of it up to a sugar rush, but the rest was pure enthusiasm. We weren't glossing over the loss. It was already history.
Now she's running for office again. She stands more of a chance as a fifth grader and has some new strategies. She has painted posters for her campaign manager to carry. She's practicing her speech, so that she doesn't sound like an auctioneer.
If she loses, she predicts her fro-yo will hit the 5-pound mark -- although she has said she'd be happy with a few skeins of fancy yarn instead.
Life is full of hard knocks. As the saying goes, "Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm." If I can teach my daughter anything, it's that perseverance is sweet.
Sure, she may never win a school election. That's okay. There's always another race to run, goal to shoot for, mountain to climb. No matter the outcome, we'll celebrate.
Nicole Shine and Devin Bennis of Costa Mesa, CA
Originally published in the May 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.