Tomorrow, Paprika will turn 7 years old! Today is her last day of being 6, and I’m feeling a little nostalgic.
One of my favorite Paprika stories from this past year happened last Fall – and I don’t think I blogged about it, but I wanted to write it down now because for me, it was something that sums up so much about life and how I want to parent (and also, just how I want to live).
First thing you should know is that for most of my life (until Paprika entered my world), I was very competitive. It was always important to me to be the best at everything – better than I was the day before, and better than others. I did pretty well at this. I graduated with honors from just about every school I ever attended (and that’s a lot! Ha!) – and in everything I did, well…I just had to be the best. It is embarrassing, and annoying and it’s something I am a little sheepish about admitting.
It also separated me from others, and made me feel competitive as if by others doing better, I would do worse. Or that if others did better, it somehow diminished my own accomplishments. Looking back, I see how silly this was…and how holding hands we ALL can move forward together. But back then, the way I viewed the world was one of competition – that there are a limited number of spots for this or that, and I had to do better than others (no matter how low or high that standard was) to have value. My worth was based on something external that was not only completely arbitrary, but had nothing to do with my actual self-worth or happiness.
It also meant that I didn’t try a lot of things when I was younger because I was afraid of failing. I knew my areas of excellence (English, writing, verbal pursuits) – and I knew the areas that were struggles (sports, science, etc.) So many things I wanted to do, I stopped myself because I didn’t know if I could be the best. I limited myself to what I knew I could do well because the fear of not being the best was something I didn’t want to face.
So, all this brings me to my little story about Paprika. Last Fall, I enrolled Paprika in her first swim meet. Paprika LOVES to swim. She loves being in the water, pretending to be a mermaid, and the feel of the water on her body as she glides through it.
Paprika loves other people, and is so happy for their successes. It never enters her mind to run faster or to be “better” than someone else. If you ask her if she loves one person more than another or one thing more than another, she will look at you and say the same thing every time:
I love them the same. In love, there is no more or less. There is just love.
I was hesitant to enroll Paprika in swim team because I wanted her to keep her love for swimming without feeling the need to compete or “be better” than someone else. I didn’t want her to judge herself next to the person in the next lane. On the other hand, she really wanted to be on swim team because it meant four days/week of being in the water – her home away from home, if you will. 😉
So, the night of her first swim meet – I was nervous for her! There were hundreds of kids and parents at the pool, and she was swimming the backstroke against kids who I knew were much faster than her. Since it was night and quite dark, long strands of white lights (kind of like Christmas lights) hung over the lanes.
She started in the water, and as everyone else shot across the pool, my heart sank. Paprika was swimming very slowly down her lane, as if she was in a lazy river with not a care in the world.
When she climbed out of the pool (well in last place), I gave her a big hug and congratulated her on her swim.
I said: You did so great, honey! I am so proud of you!
She said (with great excitement): Thanks! Did you see the lights?! They were sooo beautiful! I couldn’t stop looking at them. They took my breath away how they lit up the sky.
Then I said: I did see them! They are beautiful!
I paused for a moment, unsure about what to say next. Then, I bent down to her level and carefully chose my words. I said:
Honey, did you know this was a race and you were supposed to swim your fastest?
Paprika put her hands on my shoulders as I bent down low. She looked me straight in the eyes and said:
Mom, I know it was a race. But if I’d gone fast, I would have missed looking at those beautiful lights. Did you see how gorgeous they were? How they twinkled and sparkled. It was magical!
I caught my breath, and looked up at the lights. And yes, they were so beautiful! I hadn’t really noticed, had I? Everyone around us was buzzing and screaming at their child to go faster, and nobody (it seemed) was looking at the lights. And now that I was looking at them, I couldn’t help but notice their beauty. How they twinkled. How they lit up the sky. The miracle of electricity! It was overwhelming, actually!
Even though Paprika came in last place in the race, I could not have been prouder. I started to cry. She teaches me things every single day, and that was a day I never want to forget. How many times have I raced to be the best, or the fastest, and lost sight of what’s really important?
I love those lights, and I stop to see them now. I love the roses, and I stop to smell them. When I raced to be first, I didn’t have time to enjoy the journey. And that journey, I am convinced, is the greatest win of all.
I’m so glad that Paprika sees that – and that on that night when I started to lose sight of the big picture, she showed me some simple lights in the night sky that changed my outlook completely. Forever.