How could this boy of mine cry hot tears and wipe them away while turning his head from me? Why wouldn’t he want me to see?
From the first squeak of sneakers calling my name in the elementary school gymnasium, I was hooked. Running forward. Got it. Running backward. Got that covered too. And with gusto. Those diversions to the gym for much-needed childhood exercise and running amuck were by far some of my favorite parts of the scholastic week. Relay races. Running. Skipping. Jumping. Bear-crawling. All of it spoke fun to me. Fun because I was good at it. I found success in how quick my feet scuttled across the floor.
Oh, yes, all of this physical play opened the gate for me to be a competitive athlete all through junior high and high school. Speed was my thing.
And when my feet first tasted black cinders beneath metal-spiked track shoes, I was more than hooked. I was in love. I breathed and I bled track. Hurdles to be specific. Short, me. Tall hurdles. When everyone else turned aside from those wood and metal barricades, I eyeballed the challenge and gave myself a dare.
One hundred meter hurdles. I did pretty well at this event, finishing in one of the top places more often than not. And the three hundred meter hurdles, well that was pure torture. Sometimes I won because not many were foolhardy enough to run it. But when some competition ran, I brought up the tail with determination and a desire not to fall flat on my face. I supplemented my hurdle fix with the occasional sprint. And always with a relay team competition–there was something about the sting of that slapped baton as my teammate smacked it hard into my outstretched hand. The training, the waiting, the running, the challenge, the teamwork. All of it fueled my adrenalin. Sometimes I won my individual events. Sometimes my team won theirs. But rarely, maybe only once, in six years, did I come in last.
And basketball. Remember my shortness? I was not under the basket. No way. I was a scrapper out near the middle of the floor. Coach played me when we needed a rowdy little player to get in someone’s face. Or steel the ball. I played point guard, only when our others went down or needed to breathe. Generally I was a regular ole guard. I could swipe my hands quick and hard against their dribbling ball, I could run fast, and I could play defense like a crazed monkey, but the ball intimidated me in my hands. My objective was to unload it as soon as possible. I knew my limits. If I scored, it surprised even me. And occasionally, if a fight broke out, I was inclined to partake. Despite my inadequacies as an all-around player, I relished the game. Actually, I think it was the sweat-laden practices and endless drills and wind sprints that wooed me.
In both sports I knew my place. I knew my abilities. I tried to adjust my expectations accordingly. In hindsight, perhaps I did this so I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t break the tape.
Maybe it is all the years away from the heart-pounding thrill of being an athlete lacing spikes or high-tops, but I was shocked this weekend at a citywide track meet for kids 12 years old and under. My son participated. And he lost. He came in last in the 50-meter dash and second to last in the 200-meter race. When I talked to him about the stagger start of the 200 and how I never liked it because I always felt further behind than I really was, he said, “Mom, I was in the behind. The whole race. And I knew it.”
This 6-year old, who is more comfortable atop a horse than me and this little fella who can scurry through the woods like a little fox and this mighty warrior who can climb steep mountains with his 6’4” father, choose to run with mobs of other kids in the city, on a lined track. I reckon he wanted to be around other kids his age. And compete like his mom and dad once did.
And since he is the only child and we give him gobs of kudos while he learns and plays sports with us, I reckon he thought he would win.
It was only several minutes after the last race that I saw him cry those hot tears and turn away whilst wiping hard at his eyes. Of course the tender mamma in me wanted to wrap my arms around him and cuddle him until we made a dent in the in-field grass. The tough mamma in me simply looked the other way, while trying hard not to let that tender lady take over.
It was only then that the athlete in me thought, “Oh, so this is what it’s like not to finish first or with the group of top contenders. Man, this really stinks. And it hurts.” I looked at my husband and did the secret parent head nod-eyeball pointing thing toward our despondent little trackster. His face fell. He, too, was quite the athlete back in the day. He was okay in track, but really burned the floors, balls, and hoops in basketball. Losing was not part of his past athletic endeavors either.
How we handle this moment has huge implications raced through my mind. I still remember my step-dad (at the time) and his hurtful words and actions when I played 2nd grade t-ball. Ice cream cones only go to winners. Losers go straight home. Oh, you are a loser, get in the car. We are going home. Side note, no wonder he was my step-dad for only a few years. Losers get out of my house and away from my kids, I reckon is akin to what my mamma finally said to that man.
I digress. How would we handle his hot, bashful and sad tears? “Hey bud, you okay?” He turned more, wiped harder, and squared his 6-year old skinny shoulders before facing me. “Yeah.” I looked under his cap and into his eyes. His lip quivered and he said, “Mamma, I lost.” Oh dear God, please ease his pain and give us words. “Honey, did you do your best? Did you finish? Do you know you were the youngest one? And your mom and dad didn’t even buy you sneakers and you ran in those big ole heavy hiking boots. And…” Then my husband broke in with “Hey, did you have fun?” “Yes, daddy!”
Then to my side and into my hip my little fella hid his face. I put a hand on his back as he cried a few tears.
As we drove to the sub shop to get favorite sandwiches and even a cookie for dessert, through the ache in my heart, I realized that despite his perceived losses, my son ran well. Better than I ever did. Not because he won, but because he finished with a smile and a heart that he shared with his family. Once we got home, I put the green construction paper, sticker-laden, homemade crown on the table, right next to the rock trophy I printed his name on with a red marker.
Because at our house, every person is a winner–as long as they do their best, give God the glory, and thank Him for the opportunity.
Oh how my school daze would have been different if I had known God and how He expects us to run…
* You may indeed notice more stories instead of posts and if you feel like you are stepping into my life, you are. The bubbles of writing keep coming to the surface. They just pop! and are gone if I do nothing to set them adrift in the air. So, here goes. I am going to put wind to some bubbles and let them drift. My voice. My words. My writing. Because this is the life God gave to me…