Monday, May 24, 2010

Learning how to put disappointment in perspective

We just got back from the "Math is Cool" state championships held in lovely Moses Lake, WA.

Hundred of kids from dozens of school come from all over the state to participate with parents, siblings and math coaches in tow.

Most participants arrive on Friday, stay at a nearby hotel and arrive bright and bushy tailed on Saturday morning ready to "math is up".

That is certainly what we did. I had the added pleasure of having the math coach with me this year, a totally terrific fellow who was an absolute pleasure to have along.

All the Vashon 6th grade families that were participating had coordinated to stay at the same hotel and meet for dinner together. Amazingly we managed to find a very nice restaurant, a serious cut above SubWay which is my usual worry about trips like these.

We hit the sack early and a certain middle schooler (who shall remain nameless) managed to sleep like a brick from 10:00 pm to 8:00 am while I tossed and turned all night having bizarre anxiety dreams.

Morning dawned sunny and warm, moods were high and enthusiastic and breakfast was predictable. We all headed off to the big show down with springy steps and palpable desires for math glory.

So, how did it all go? Well, a little bit underwhelming.

Don't get me wrong. The kids did great! They really did. 2 of the team of 4 placed in the top 8 and got trophies! But, as a team they did not place in the top 4 in their division therefore did not get ribbons.

The mood was grim but rebounded a bit when they realized that they were actually 6th. Not good enough for ribbons but certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Plenty of pats on the back followed and appropriately adult comments like, "It doesn't really matter about the winning because it is such an honor to even be here."

Which is all true. And, such a typically adult way of couching disappointment with good perspective.

Then it started me thinking. Maybe the real lesson isn't about who can do statistically probability in their heads the fastest but the ability to put all these competitions in the appropriate perspective.

Maybe the real role of these things is a lesson in handling disappointment well, in a healthy way, in a way that doesn't de-rail egos and mangle self-esteem.

I sure hope so.

I guess if I knew that was indeed true, I wouldn't be so nervous about my daughter being swept along on this ride. I mean, how damn competitive does math have to be!?

I guess the answer is in the reaction.

Does she want to do it again next year? You bet. She even said that she might prepare a bit more next year. Considering she prepared exactly ZERO this year, I think an important lesson was learned.

And, about handling the disappointment? She promptly came home and made 6th place ribbons for everyone on the team plus her coach because, after all, it was an honor to even be there.

Lesson learned.

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