In which losing races makes me feel like less of a loser

Before my son was born, my dad jokingly asked my husband if we would promise to give him athletic grandchildren. My husband curled the left side of his lips upward and winked at me. "I don't know about athletic," he replied, "but they'll be competitive."

When we were 20 and 22, engaged to be married and determined to be grown-ups, we made a pact never to play Scrabble again. This, after I dramatically sent letters flying into all four corners of the dorm lounge. Because, dammit, he was cheating. Or maybe he was just pulling out all the stops and the Qs to make sure he beat me. Same diff.

I can be a bit...howshallwesay...intense.  Or so I'm told by my cheating (but just in Scrabble!) husband. In years past, I've had plenty of acceptable outlets for this not particularly endearing quality, the foremost of which was my job as an evil HR executive. But for the past two years, while I've been loafing around as a stay-at-home mom, this success-driven, competitive, type-A personality is not so useful or applicable. Which--if I'm going to be honest--makes me feel like a bit of a loser.

I know, I know. Go ahead and lecture me about how meaningful and beautiful it is to mold the lives of young children by cutting the crust off their grilled cheese sandwiches while reminding them that showing love to each other is more important than being right about whether there such a thing as a "boy" ladybug. And I will nod my head in violent agreement. But that doesn't make this messed-up hard-wiring go away. I still want to accomplish Big Things, to get an A+ in every subject in the universe, and to be the All Time Champion (of Something) for Whom All Shall Continuously Applaud with Deep and Abiding Admiration.

So with this neurosis as a backdrop, I realize as my kids begin playing sports competitively that I either (a) need to cultivate an outlet of my own or (b) need to have a lobotomy. Because so help me, I will not be that mom who competes vicariously through her children--be it academically, socially, athletically, or facebookially. (Beauty pageants of course are an exception to this rule. Because my kids are clearly more gorgeous than anyone elses' kids, and who turns down an easy win?)

But seriously, you guys. I do need a healthy outlet for my annoying competitive self, something beyond Scrabble or whatever the cool kids play these days (Words with Friends?). And here's the thing I realized yesterday morning on my long run--I already have my outlet.

Over the past year, it seems running has become my thing, the one area in my life with measurable results, the place where comparing my performance to that of another doesn't automatically make me a jerk. Like, you know, just as an example, when I switch from an easy run to a speed workout as soon as the teen with the local high school lacrosse shirt hops on the treadmill next to me acting like he's tough shit. (And yes, little dude, I am old enough to be your mother and lookie there, I just lapped you and made it look easy.)

With running, I can race against the clock, against the random girl in the hot pink compression socks, even against the pregnant lady. And when the pregnant lady beats me by a significant margin? I can track her down and introduce myself. We can become running friends, run a race together, and she can beat me again. And when this sort of thing happens, it energizes me. Even though technically I'm still a loser, I feel like less of one because I'm competing, striving, testing my limits, and discovering a strength I didn't think I had. Hence, I have my outlet.

Yesterday my son had his first "U8 travel" soccer game. And by "travel", we just mean that the parents pay higher fees and the boys begin to move beyond the beehive model of play.  I'll be honest -- I was worried about us both. As my husband promised my father, our son is competitive and intense. He hates to lose, and has been known to cry after every loss of any kind. And I believe we've covered his mother's similar tendencies ad naseum, so yes, I had some legitimate cause for concern.

But it turned out I didn't need to worry. I didn't make a fool of myself, unless you count the jumping up and tossing my umbrella backward and squealing like a lunatic about a goal that was scored only in my imagination. (I swear it looked like it went in!) The boys played hard, made some great passes and plenty of mistakes; and they lost. My son came toward me after the game as I folded up the chairs, smiling as wide as his little face allowed. He told me that wearing a "real uniform" and playing positions made him feel like he was a professional soccer player, and that he almost didn't care about losing because it was so much fun to play a real game.  "Know what I mean, Mom?"

Yep, Buddy, I totally do.


Footnotes and Disclaimers:

1. Laura, I'm sorry I keep calling you "the pregnant lady." You are much more to me now than just the pregnant lady. Now you are the pregnant lady who repeatedly kicks my arss. :-)

2. Runner friends who were friends before we were runners, you need to know that it does not even occur to me to compete against you. My first impulse is only to cheer for you. Honest. I only see targets on the backs of the random people in the hot pink compression socks.

3. Non-running friends and those mercifully born without this irritating competitive gene who are now shaking your heads in that "what is wrong with her!" sort-of way, just forget I ever wrote this post, mkay? Because my competitiveness issues are nothing compared to my desperate need to be Liked By All People Everywhere at All Times.


Come what gray

She had us outside twenty minutes early to look for the bus. Yeah, I'd say she's ready.

Kindergarten is only a half day in our district, so there was no time to waste crying in the coffee. Instead, I rejoiced my way to the gym to do one mile repeats (the silence, it was golden). The rejoicing stopped right after I finished the mile warm-up and began running the second mile "on target pace", also known as the "watch out, blissfully-unaware-treadmill-neighbor, because I haven't ruled out puking" pace. Speed workouts are for lunatics. (That would be me.)

Last week at this time, we were still in Maine. It feels worlds away now, already sorted among the stories we'll soon tell about "last summer". The only remnants are the tiny pile of shells in the corner of the car trunk and the staples in my son's head. Yes, folks, the beach is not without its hazards. I told my seven year old there were easier ways to visit Daddy's old hospital, but he insisted on the dramatic way.
He's fine, and we are fine, and everything's fine. Sometimes almost too fine, such that my anxious heart warns me in a low and steady beat: this fragile perfection can only last so long. 

We have only so many moments of silent harmony, of loud joy, of health, of stepping forward without fear,  before it is painted over with the hurdles and the brokenness and the arguing and the disappointment. I know I'm singing an Eeyore and Debbie Downer duet, which is not what you're supposed to sing when you just had a dreamy first day of school send-off with your two perfectly healthy children.
But screw what you're supposed to sing, because life isn't black and white, not enough to say "life is good" or "life is bad".  Life is a mostly a canvas of good-mixed-with-bad gray; and these mythic moments, these milestones, these places of bone-deep contentment, these are the splatters of wild color. These are the hues for which you hold your breath, the colors for which you hold out hope.

But here's the rub. No sooner do the bright swirls appear on the canvas, then I am plotting how to keep them there, how to keep the silt and dust that permeates the air of my regular old life from rendering the colors dull. I know from experience these joyful colors will be dull by dinner time, when everyone is back to complaining about the zucchini.

I don't know what to do, how to live with this constant gray blurring, other than to gaze with gratitude at the colors as they come. And today, there was color. Last week in Maine, there was color. Splattered throughout this summer, there was color. So I pause and enjoy the color, come what gray.


Solid Gold Commentary

I lifted the above title from my friend Sharone's contribution to the Olympic festivities, in which she set up a twitter account just to record the inane things the NBC commentators have to say during this 30th Olympiad. If you're on twitter and enjoy mockery, (Isn't that what twitter is for? Mock or be mocked, people!), then you should totally follow her.

My five year old daughter seems to have equally profound and insightful things to say about the Olympics as the talented NBC commentators. For example:

Of the Chinese synchronized divers: "They look like boys, but those are just girls with short hair. You can tell by their bathing suits."
Of the diving platform, "Really? You call that a diving board?"
And finally, "'Mommy, I'm calling for Chinese because Ohio's not in this and I like their backward spinny one."

My son has a bit to say about the Olympics as well. His biggest concern right now is deciding which sports to compete in. It's a toss up between soccer, kayaking, water polo, "sword fighting", and track and field. "But I think probably track, because I could be in contention for the most gold medals." That's what I like best about seven year olds. They have such realistic expectations of life.

He also speculated about what life might be like if the Olympics included food-related competition. "If there was a chocolate eating competition in the Olympics, you could totally win that, Mom." Thanks kid.

But my aspiring Olympians have a ways to go before they burst onto the international scene. I took pity on them after they complained for days on end about how boring my gym's childcare is, and decided to attempt an easy six miler on a flat bike path nearby. The plan was for them to ride while I ran. We met up with a friend (you know, the one I can only keep up with when she's 22 weeks pregnant and pushing a double stroller), and off we went. Pretty sure the kids took three water breaks within the first mile. Overall, they did as well as I expected them to do. We had to slow down the pace, but it wasn't a total disaster. We hit the playground afterward and doled out snacks, and I patted myself on the back for being the nicest mom ever.

So imagine my surprise when later that day the boy nearly burst into tears at the mention of doing a few errands before we took his sister to gymnastics. "Are you kidding me?" he whined. "First you make us go six miles in the blazing sun, and then we have to do ERRANDS?"

Okay then, buddy. Back to the gym childcare it is. (He quickly recanted the complaint but did not escape the prolonged lecture from his mean old mother on gratitude and respect.)

Anyway. At this point, unless they add whining and complaining and fighting about inane things to the Olympic line-up, I'm afraid the only gold this family will be bringing home is the Jose Cuervo variety.

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