Saturday, March 10, 2012

How My Optimism Helps Me Overcome Obstacles

You would not perhaps think that listening to twenty two fifth graders hold forth on Optimism, the mandated topic in the county oratory contest, would be a fun way to spend time. But it turned out to be totally freaking adorable. The contest in the schools was sponsored by, yes, the Optimist Club, and Laura wrote a three-minute speech and beat out her class to make it to the school level competition. It was in the library a couple of weeks ago; I went to watch.

Many of the speeches fell into two categories: How My Awesome Optimism Makes Me Awesome; and Here's A Bad Thing That Happened To Someone I Know But I'm Still Alive. Bless them, many of these kids had sad or intense stories to tell about childhood illness or mishap, someone in their family with cancer, or generally scary stuff. One girl had been a bone marrow donor for both of her brothers, who suffered from an x-linked disease.

There was a lot of ten year-old philosophizing and quoting of great minds. Touchstones were Lance Armstrong, Steve Jobs, and Tim Tebow, particularly his "dream destroying" loss to Ol' Miss in 2008 and his pluck and determination in its aftermath. Also Gandhi was mentioned. And, improbably, Cecil B. DeMille.

One child began an illustrative example with, "Take Mother Theresa." (Please!)

I would not kid you about that. This moment had me leaping to compose a note to myself in my iphone. So did the part where the kid said, "And then I thought about night and day, and how truly different they are from each other." I was just eating all of this up, really.

Some children seemed a bit confused as to what optimism is, because Mark Zuckerberg is a lot of things, but I'm not sure that Noted Inspiring Optimist is one of them. Yet he was praised for "having the optimism to become one of the youngest billionaires ever."  Hmm.

So then Laura got up to speak, and she hit all her marks. Her speech did not seem as deep or intense as some of the more tear-jerking ones, but I thought it was well-structured and obviously in her natural voice. She started with the idea that little kids are naturally more optimistic because they imagine fewer possibilities, which I thought was funny, then she talked about her memory of starting kindergarten, then competitive swimming, then my breast cancer treatment.

I didn't have any expectation that she would win, because I had no idea what the judges were really looking for. But she won first place! Nobody was more surprised than she was when they called her name.

After it was over and I thought about it, it was clear to me that she won because she was one of the few who actually said something to analyze the idea of optimism, namely that: Optimism comes easier when you train and prepare (her swimming example); and optimism is something that is shared among people and mutually reinforced and shored up in hard times (my cancer treatment). That's the nutshell, I will not inflict my child's prize-winning optimism speech on you in any greater length. I know you like me but there is a limit!

Anyway, so she got to advance to the County competition, which was last week. Matt's mom Betty came down to attend with Hank and Matt and me, and two of Laura's teachers were there. It was a big event.

It was clear that all of these kids were their school winners. The speeches were all good. Still plenty of inadvertently hilarious moments, but plenty of lovely moments too. In this crowd, there was a greater sense of self-awareness that perhaps, as ten year-olds, their obstacles had not been too steep, but that we all have our struggles, wherever we are. I truly had no expectation that she would win out of this crowd.

But darned if she didn't do it!

First Place!
When they called her name, her mouth fell open, and her teachers whooped. We were so surprised! She was so thrilled, y'all. The next day she took her trophy to school and was on the morning news, and she generally took a victory lap all around the school. Loving it.

The night she won, after we were behind closed doors, Matt and I were like, "Seriously, why do you think she won? I don't know, why do you think?" Like, we're used to her and couldn't necessarily see what the judges saw, maybe. Height advantage? Her teacher had told me that she thought it was that L comes across as very natural and comfortable, like she's always giving speeches. I was like, "You should come to my house, she really IS always giving speeches." I don't know. Anyway, the fifth graders don't advance any farther than the county level, so her oratorical run is over for now. But it was a sweet and wonderful experience, and I mean it when I say, I was really impressed with all of those kids and their willingness to get up there and do that.

I told her, "Laura, I gotta say, you are really bringing it these days." And she is. And yesterday when Hank did something good in karate and got praised, I leaned over to her and whispered, "See? My kids are winners." And she gave me a massive eye roll. It was very advanced, that eye roll.


Justine said...

"Take Mother Theresa (Please!)" made me snort my drink. I need to learn not to take sips while reading your posts. Your kids ARE winners! Laura made some astute observations on optimism, no doubt thanks to mad parenting skills along the way. Advanced eye-roll, indeed. My four-year-old still thinks I'm hilarious, so I'm yukking it up while I can.

Great post!

Erika W said...

Congratulations! I love that there's a club for Optimism. Do you have to be optimistic to join or do you just have to want to be? From what I know of Laura (in person and in blog), she embodies optimism in many ways. I'm sure that comes through and I'm not at all surprised she won. So funny about kids not really knowing what optimism is. We were studying Jane Eyre and a students described Helen Burns as optimistic. I was like, well, yeah, in a way. But if that's optimism, you can keep it.

Veronica said...

Way to go, Laura! So awesome.

Camp Papa said...

Have I ever mentioned in this forum that Laura is The Golden Child? Did I capitalize it?

Judy said...

When may I adopt this girl-child? Seriously. I just want to feed, clothe, and shelter a 10 year old who makes power point presentations for a Christmas pitch and understands the core of speech competition. And I will keep her optimistic! Another plus: I live close enough to the grandparents that we can share easily. I won't be selfish!!

Cassi Renee said...

That is pretty spectacular! I'm sure she's destined for great things :-)

Aimee said...

So completely awesome! Speech-making is such a valuable skill for have it come so naturally? FABulous. Good for her!

And, wait, there's an OPTIMISM CLUB? Why haven't I been invited to join? Well, now that I know about it, I am certain I will be one of these days.

melondonkey said...

Those optimist clubs are a Cold War byproduct formed to counter Soviet pessimist clubs formed in the 50's.

Christian said...

Congratulations! I'm not surprised to hear that L's on a winning streak.

gretchen said...

I am just so proud! Almost as if she is my real niece. Clearly, a lovely, poised and eloquent young woman. You must be doing something right.

I also snorted my beverage at "Take Mother Theresa." (Please!)and my first thought was "She must have taken notes on her iPhone." And I love that the next thing you said was that you had taken notes on your iPhone.

Congrats to you and your "bringing it" children.

Kelly said...

Your kids really are awesome. Way to go L!!

Patrick said...

I'm very glad I'm in Laura's family. That way I will be shown mercy and kindness when she RULES THE WORLD. Very impressive and cool. Tell her I said congratulations!

gwynridenhour said...

What a wonderful post. It made me feel like I was there and being the proud mama! Congrats to her and to you. :)

Jen said...

Woot! Go, Laura!

Rebekah said...

yeah for Laura! We're happy for her. That's a great formative memory for her to have. She will rock middle school and she could have a great future in high school forensics (not CSI forensics, but speech and debate/interpretation forensics).

Lisa Lilienthal said...

I could not be more proud if I actually knew you all in the real world, and not just online!

Elizabeth said...

That girl is a genius, methinks. I love that you revel in her and so wish you'd post her speech.

Sjn said...

I am so very proud of her! I'm glad Carter has Laura and Hank as role models in his life.
Not taking any credit away from Laura, as parents it's our most important job, raising our kids, and you and Matt are doing a marvelous job! I'm proud of you too ;-)

Beth said...

Wow. I'm speechless (wah, wah).

What a great story. Like others, not at all surprised that she won, but delighted. So adorbs.

She is clearly poised to rule the world optimistically.

Inge said...

Oh my, the expression on the face of the girl standing beside Laura, and looking at Laura's trophy, is priceless (and a little sad).

Elle said...

Sorry I took so long, beauty. It took a while for me to figure out how to turn my projector off.

When you said she was surprised to win, it reminded me of a time where something like that happened here (art). There was the space where all 3 of us felt like, "Um, why, again?" and I was so glad to have Jim Taylor's book to rely upon. ("How do you feel you did? Was it yr best work? Are you happy to have won?")

I hope you have experienced a similar pleasure & relief. xoxoxox