Imagine yourself at the venue of the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. You are in the audience seated at the edge of your chair, palms sweaty, brows furrowed and heart thumping. The air is rife with nervous excitement. It is the final round and your child is up on stage with a handful of other voracious spellers. He walks up to the microphone in eager, confident steps. As a parent, all you can do for him is say a heartfelt prayer in desperation and hope that when the soft voice of the ever-smiling Dr. Bailly pronounces the word, it is one your child knows. What you want is for your child to win.
Except you are now told that this next round of the spelling bee is unconventional. Whaaat? The child must not only spell but also define the word. He cannot question the origin or the root of the word. There are no alternate pronunciations. The child is judged on the profundity of his answer. The stage for this round is sprawling. It is life and the voice that announces the word is not of the charming doctor, but it is the gentle voice of God. You still want your child to win.
“FUN” – the divine voice announces. Your child looks perplexed. Such a simple word? The clock ticks away and your thirteen-year-old child, initially hesitant goes on to describe his interpretation of the meaning of the word.
“Fun –F-U-N. It is a vacation with my family and friends to beautiful seaside locations. Fun is a trip to Hawaii or Bahamas.”
Ah- He did it, you think. Your shoulders relax, and a smile graces your face. Only to hear the dreadful bell go ‘Ding’. It’s not the right answer. Baffled, you look around to see the same quizzical expression on the faces of all around. Why is this answer wrong? You are deeply disappointed.
As the next finalist walks up, you wonder what the correct answer is.
“FUN” says the gentle voice.
“F-U-N. Fun is a grand party with dancing and singing and hmmm…plenty of food and drinks?” The child sounds nervous. He tries to put himself into the shoes of every adult in the room and answer and sees this is the most common way to have fun.
‘Ding’ goes the awful bell again.
As the third finalist walks up to the microphone, his grim expression indicates that he is giving this some serious thought.
“F-U-N. Success is fun. Success in academics or sport. Winning is fun” he quips when it is his turn. A ‘DING’ echoes in the hall once more.
Why are these wrong, you wonder? As you look around, confusion is writ large on the faces. Everyone is as perplexed as you are.
“Let me rephrase the question” the magnificent voice announces. Its’ sound deep yet gentle envelopes you with a warmth. “What makes you happy?” asks the voice and the spotlight falls on the fourth child,
“Getting a new video game makes me happy” the fourteen- year-old gingerly announces.
“Uh- I don’t know” mutters the child.
The spotlight moves to the next child. Smiling, he answers “Going to a waterpark.”
Before the child replies, an angry parent interrupts. “What’s going on? My child was not wrong when he said going to a party was fun. Nor was the other when he said a new toy makes him happy. These are kids, and this is what makes them happy. What’s wrong with it? I demand an explanation!”
“Let me ask you then… What is fun? What makes you happy and why?” the benevolent voice booms.
The parent yells, “A cruise with abundant food, wine and beautiful people! Why? Why? Because it lets me escape from the drudgery of my everyday life!”
“HEY! Can You tell me what You are up to? Are You playing around with us? Can you please just leave and let our kids go back to the actual normal game? This is the final and they have worked hard to get here. It’s no joke.”
“Relax,” says God, “A group of intellectuals is where I thought I could make my point. That’s why I am here.”
So saying He shines the spotlight on a three year old in the audience who is seated on his mother’s lap.
“Little one, what makes you happy and why?”
The little boy flashes a beaming smile. He knows. He jumps down from his mama’s lap and with his chest puffed and tiny palms fisted by his side shouts out,
“Playing with my puppy makes me happy because he makes me laugh.”
“What a wonderful answer! You see this child innately know fun is in the simple act of giving love. A very young child may not share a new toy but walk into a room and he will be the first one to run up to you to give you a hug. All you need is to be like them. Instead you spend the first few years teaching your children to achieve to find happiness and then, they like you spend the next few years trying to escape. Going on a vacation is fun if your intention is to explore a new place and embrace its culture and people, not if you are going to escape the life you created for yourself. Partying is fun if you party to celebrate togetherness not to hit the bottle to forget your problems. Success does not lie in accumulating trophies but in feeling joyful for what you have. It lies in knowing your worth and respecting the other. I’ll leave you now but, in my opinion, the child who understands laughter and connection are what brings true happiness is the winner.”
Wow! You have spent all your parenting life training your children to be adults. You now know you need to un-teach your children so the next time they are in the spelling bee on the sprawling stage of life where they must define fun, they have the right answer. They say, “M- E. Me – I am fun.”