Even at two, my daughter is wary of risk. She tells me to “be careful” when I stand on a stool and reminds her friends, “don’t tip ovah!” when they climb the stairs. You’d think she was parroting our language, but she’s not. I’ve rarely had to tell Ellis to be careful. Just the opposite. I’m constantly encouraging her to jump, leap and tip over all she can. I want her to push her limits, to ride the edge, even if that means falling and failing. Yes, I want my daughter to fail.
When I was high school I got my first A-. I moved in the middle of the year from a small rural high school to a large suburban high school populated with Mercedes and name brand jeans. The transition was jarring and isolating. As a result, my study habits took a nose dive and I got my first less than perfect grade. I bawled my eyes out. I begged my mum to let me drop the class and remove the ugly minus sign from my transcript, she refused to sign the form. “No,” she said. “This class was your choice. Plus, it’s a good lesson in failure. Better to fail now and learn how to handle it, then fail as an adult and fall apart.”
I thought her response was impossibly cruel and I spent weeks writing tortured journal entries about the incident. “Doesn’t she want me to have a future?” I wrote in my bubbly teenage cursive. “Doesn’t she care?” It wasn’t my last failure. I was rejected from my first-choice university, I got a B in Latin (my first) and I had to apply to 10 different graduate schools before I was accepted. And now, I am in a field where I am frequently rejected 10 times before my first cup of coffee. I’m a writer. I pitch editors story ideas and for the first seven years, it seemed that for every “yes” there were thirty “nos.” It’s getting better now, or I’ve just stopped counting. Yet, on my bad days, I feel that failure like the 17-year-old girl sprawled on her floral bedspread, weeping tears of anguish. But I wouldn’t exchange this life for anything more ego soothing.
In my daughter, I see glimpses of that part of me. I see her caution and her perfectionism. Her desire to do things right and I know, that of all the lessons I want to teach her failure is the first and foremost on the list.