Last Place is the New First

I don’t like doing things I don’t do well.  Let me rephrase that, I loathe doing things I don’t do well.   Also, I loathe losing.  Like so many things pre-children, I only vaguely realized this and wasn’t particularly bothered by it until I saw it reflected back to me in my daughter.  A few years ago, we noticed the Divine Miss M wanted no part of an activity, a game, a project, anything, if she didn’t feel like she could do it well.  This was true whether it was playing a board game, trying a new sport or more recently, taking 6th grade keyboarding.

Placing such a limitation on yourself doesn’t seem like too big of a deal until you consider refusing to do anything you don’t already do well means you rarely try anything new.  Also, you never do anything just for fun. While there may be plenty of things you both do well and enjoy, at some point, you need to be able to do something just for the sake of pure enjoyment – even if you suck at it.

While I type that, it still feels like an oxymoron … enjoying something and sucking at it.  It’s telling that my mind immediately morphs that into the phrase “fun failure.” But I have made a conscious effort over the past several years to participate in games I am likely to lose or activities I’ve never done, meaning that I’m also not very good at, so I could provide an example for the little Nazi perfectionist we’ve been raising. (My sole exception is I refuse to play Scrabble with Jo. Ever. It’s demoralizing and not good for our relationship.  Also, I’m convinced she cheats. That or the gods conspire against me because no-one else goes 10 turns without a vowel.)

Anyway, I’ve now done various sports and games and activities in which I looked and felt totally ridiculous but made sure to appear to be enjoying myself, or at least not complaining out loud.  And I can’t even count how many times I’ve followed one of Miss M’s descriptions of some activity with the inquiry, “But did you have fun?”

That brings us to a few months ago.  M informed us that she wanted to join the track team.  Now, understand, our daughter complains if she gets hot and also she has two speeds, slow and stall.  I can’t even begin to describe this aptly enough because I’ve never seen anything like it.  I love her more than breathing but seriously, elderly people and 3-toed-sloths move faster than our child and also, they’re more athletic. Needless to say, we were a little surprised by this new found track interest, and even more so when she announced after the first few practices that she wanted to do hurdles.  I looked at Jo and knew we had the same thought, “Hurdles? Really?  Half the time, you can barely walk downstairs without incident.”  But outwardly, we did nothing but encourage – and made sure our accident policy was current.

I went to the first track meet with more than a little trepidation, preparing for the fact she would probably come in last in everything.  It’s horrible, I know, that I have to psych myself up for that, when she not only isn’t going to win, but likely be the worst on the field.  Just like every parent I know, I tell people about M’s wins and accomplishments.  But it’s not as if I hear other parents saying things like, “Hey, my kid came in last today!  Woo-hoo!”

As anticipated, she came in last in most of her events: the hurdles, the 75 yard dash and the relay. I don’t know if she was actually last in the long jump but it’s a safe bet.  But you know what else?  She. Had. Fun.  She really had fun!  I didn’t have to remind her, either, she did that all by herself.  She knew she wasn’t going to win. She even knew she would likely be last place in some of the events. But she smiled and laughed and tried hard and told me proudly that she’d had her own personal best time in the hurdles and the dash.

Waaayyy back there.

Waaayyy back there.

I’m not sure I would have, or even should have, been prouder of her if she had crossed a finish line first.

Which brings us to this week.  I started running again a couple of months ago.  I use the term ‘running’ in the very loosest sense of the word.  I’m not fast and my distance is dismal.  In spite of that, I ran a 3k this week. I’d signed up for it back when I thought I’d be a little further along by now. Running in Boulder is intimidating. It’s basically the running capital of the world.  These people are serious, while I’ve just barely started.  Walking over to the starting line, I told Jo how apprehensive I was because there weren’t that many participants and I knew I’d be one of the last to finish.  And then the Divine Miss M, who came in last in four events and completely enjoyed herself, asked what my own goal was and then told me to have fun.

Turns out, I was one of the last to finish, placing 77 out of 87, but I beat my own goal – and I had fun.  In the end, once again, I think I learned more from M than she learned from me.

So, I guess I’ll be the parent who says, “My kid came in last in four events!  Woo-hoo!” and mean it.

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4 Responses to Last Place is the New First

  1. Tribe member says:

    You are both awesome. We’ll “run” together when I’m there. (I use the quotation marks for my performance, not yours.). L.

  2. Doc says:

    I love that! I have been a ‘runner’ since Middle School, but never fast…in fact, my high school cross country friend & I (lovingly) referred to ourselves as the toilet paper of the team — b/c we wiped up the rear!

    • Jen says:

      M and I could definitely both relate to that! I’m not even sure you could call us “runners” but we’re doing something more than walking so it’s the label I’ll use.

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