My body felt tense. My hands went cold. As the topic was announced, a chill ran down my spine. I had 30 seconds to think and two minutes to respond. No, it wasn’t a speech for the Miss Universe title; I was contesting at the national level finals in the category of extempore speaking. My two minutes to glory. The last time I had participated in any contest was 20 years ago. My family sat in the audience to support me. Most people had put their money on me. But I lost, hands down. ‘What an example I have set for my children!’ was my first thought.

As we cheered the winners, my 11-year-old hung her head. She thought I deserved to win. A week ago, in her public speaking finals, she had been served the same dish—a taste of defeat. She was sad then, but sadder now. I distinctly remember cheering her up. She is a powerful orator. But hers was a team competition, just like cricket. The whole team either wins or loses, not an individual.

On our way back home, I sat in the car sad and dejected; not because I had lost, but simply because I hadn’t lived up to my own standards. I didn’t lose out to competition. I had lost to myself. I replayed my speech in my mind. That engaging start, that awesome climax and just  when I was about to make my powerful conclusion, my eyes fell on the timer. It was bleeding RED. With under 30 seconds, I panicked and made an abrupt close. I was pulled back to my senses with the gentle squeeze of my palms. It was my seven-year-old. She placed in my hand a golden trophy, exactly like the one presented to the winners on stage. She had drawn, coloured, cut out and created a 3D version for me. Had I really been oblivious to the existence of the universe for so long?

I smiled and hugged her. What a gesture! I was brimming with love and happiness. From feeling downright low, I went to a great high in seconds. It worked like magic. I actually felt happy I had lost. Winning any other trophy wouldn’t bring so much joy. I felt like a winner!

My immediate thoughts were, ‘Why didn’t I come up with this idea the day my 11-year-old came home feeling defeated?’ Strange, isn’t it? I just gave her the same clichéd lines that losers receive, “You are already a winner. You did your best. It’s not always about awards; it’s about participation and enjoying yourself.”

But what this little seven-year-old girl did for my confidence, for my morale, for erasing lines of my self-doubt, is inexplicable! My girls have always displayed empathy and love. They know the expressions on my face like the back of their hands. Each time I feel sad, I receive handmade gifts. Every time I hiccup, a glass of water magically makes it to me. A sneeze calls for a ‘bless you’. And I am always entitled to the first bite of their ice cream. But the winning trophy has outshined them all. My girls hugged me and said, “We feel happy when you are happy.”

PS: At bedtime, my seven-year-old asked me what I am proud of. I had a whole list. When I asked her the same question, she replied, “I am proud of you. You are so good with everything.”

I had tears in my eyes. As mothers, we love our children immensely. But, under the guise of instilling discipline and confidence, we sometimes fail to show them how much we really love them. How often do we admonish our children for doing badly in a test? Or pressure them for a milestone exam? Or even compare them with others? But, how often do we ever make them feel like our heroes? Seldom.

To display unconditional love and provide emotional support that screams, “You will always be my hero, no matter what,” is the greatest gift for our loved ones. Sometimes, it’s not the words, it’s the actions that make a world of difference. This winning trophy opened my eyes.