Before my son was born, my dad jokingly asked my husband if we would promise to give him athletic grandchildren. My husband smirked and winked at me. “I don’t know about athletic,” he replied, “but they’ll be competitive.”
When we were 20 and 22 (babies!), 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 apartment. 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 HR executive. But for the past three 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’s such a thing as a “boy” ladybug. And I will nod my head in hearty 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. (That’s a word, right?) But seriously, 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 on a long run not so long ago–I already have my outlet.
Over the past year, 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 shitake. (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 speedy chick in the hot pink compression socks (hey wait, was that Wasabi that just blew past me?), 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 strength I didn’t know I had. Hence, I have my outlet.
Several months ago, my son played his first “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 a 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 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 “real 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 compete in a real game. “Know what I mean, Mom?”
Yep, Buddy, I totally do.
Because if given a chance to lose yet another race by just a little bit less than I lost the last one, I’d line up faster than you can say triple word score.
If you consider yourself competitive and driven, how has that been a help or hindrance in your running, in your profession, or in your personal life? Would you rather win a race without achieving a PR or lose while running a personal best?
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