Sunday, April 3, 2011
Mothering Sunday: #Winning
I grew up in Small Town, USA, which was unofficially separated into three parts: North Hill, Downtown, and South Hill. I lived on North Hill, which had two major grocery stores that ran an annual Easter coloring contests for kids. Every year, for about four years or so, I entered this contest. I still remember what the coloring page looked like: an Easter scene (usually of a bunny or a basketful of eggs) photocopied onto an 8 x 11" piece of white paper with a space to fill out your name, age and address at the bottom of the page. The prize was usually some incredibly large, fluffy, snuggly stuffed animal and the opportunity to have your photo taken with the store manager and displayed at the entrance of the store.
Every year, I would ask for an entry form at the counter, grip it tightly in one hand and my dad's hand to cross the street with the other, take it home and carefully, meticulously do my best coloring job EVER. Like, I mean, EVER. Not only did I stay inside the lines, I did the best shading a five-year-old could possibly manage and on occasion, I even remember sprinkling a bit of glitter on the eggs to create a Faberge effect (not that I knew what a Faberge egg was at the age of five). Then I'd carefully pass my finished masterpiece over to my mom or dad, who dutifully handed it over to the clerk next time we went shopping for groceries on North Hill.
And I never won. Not once. Not even third place.
Instead, the winning entries (they were always taped to the wall near the photo development kiosk) were always furiously scribbled with mis-matching colors, clear OUTSIDE-THE-LINE rookie mistakes, and no attempts at effort whatsoever. As a five-year-old, disappointment doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. What had I done wrong? I picked complementary pastel colors, I stayed within the lines, I did SHADING FOR GOD'S SAKE!!! And the ones that were repeatedly picked were lousy excuses for coloring. I mean, really, they brought shame to the competitive coloring world.
I remember asking my dad to take me to the store after work to see if my entry was up yet. I remember scanning all the horrible ones for mine and not seeing it. I remember the hot tears that quietly welled up in my eyes as I tugged my dad's hand to go home, then running into my mother's arms when I got there. "What's the matter?" she'd ask me, bending down to my level. "I didn't win, AGAIN!" I'd cry with frustration. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong!" "Silly girl!" my mom would say in Chinese, wiping away my tears. "There are plenty of opportunities in life for you to win. This is a coloring contest! This is small beans!" But of course, when you're five, you just want the giant stuffed bunny prize and your picture taken with the store manager, you don't want to learn life lessons (which my mom also usually conveniently followed up with a Chinese proverb that was more infuriating than helpful).
And you know, she was right. I later won an art contest and my work was featured on a billboard on North Hill (I would be lying if I said I didn't feel some sense of vindication for having never won the Easter coloring contests at that point - and yes, I totally used the same shading techniques). I won scholarships in high school and fellowships in college - and this sense of #winning slowly became less important to me. Because I quickly realized that life isn't about #winning at all - it's about the people who believe in you and will stand by you and love you, no matter how many coloring contests you lose.
So today is dedicated to my mom, who always considers me a #winner in her eyes, which is special and important (although sometimes she calls me a "loser" and laughs hysterically while making the "L" sign at her forehead, albeit with the wrong hand, but that's for another time), because she's my mom and because she's (nearly - I can remember a few bits of fashion advice that were slightly misjudged when I was in junior high) always right. Thanks mom, for always believing in me.