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.

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