Lessons From Losing

As a self-admitted, ridiculously competitive parent who wants her child to know how good it can feel to work hard and win, it is my duty to report that my son competed in a fencing competition last weekend. On the strip, he fenced his butt off and did not lose a single match. As parents, my husband and I were internally beyond psyched, but externally we tried to contain ourselves.

After two hours, Monkey came over to the area where we were standing and said, “Explain how I have won every bout but I am now ranked #7?” Husband and I looked at each other and said (practically in unison), “Don’t ask us! Ask the guy with the clipboard.” So Monkey did. He marched right up to his coach who is like nine feet tall and tattooed and has a goatee and sometimes yells at kids or bonks them on their helmets for not paying attention. (It should be said, this treatment is always deserved. Elliott is an amazing coach, but he can be intimidating.)

Several adults were standing in a small cluster when Monkey barged in. From my vantage point (wedged against husband and the cola machine), I could see Monkey say something and point at the clipboard. Then I saw everyone look at the clipboard. And then I saw four horrified adult faces. I watched people erasing and nodding. Eventually, words were exchanged and Monkey came back over to us.

Apparently, an error had been made. One of the refs accidentally wrote down the wrong last name in the brackets and so Monkey’s competitor, the kid he had beaten, moved ahead of him.

When the error was brought to his attention, my son was composed. He stayed for the remainder of the competition and watched other fencers compete. He even congratulated the winners afterward.

Later in the car, Monkey was mad. It’s the first time I’d ever seen anything close to a kind of fire in my son. He said he was frustrated – really frustrated. That he had wanted to go as far as he could, and he was mad to have been prematurely stopped in his tracks. He did not have a hissy fit or cry. He understood an error had been made. He knew it was not intentional. He knew that by the time the error had been caught, it was too late, as fencers were already fencing in the semi-finals. He just kind of wished he had known about the mistake earlier.

So there were lots of lessons that day. Lessons we take through life. Monkey kept his head about him and kept his cool, despite the fact that he got a bum rap. He understood his disappointment wasn’t so much about the losing so much as it was losing the opportunity to do his best. That was the frustrating thing for him. (And I’m guessing next time, he’ll be the kid hovering around whomever is holding the clipboard.)

There were lessons for this trophy-seeking momma, too. I have to admit, my first instinct was to feel anger. I felt Monkey had been gypped. Privately, I wanted the coaches to go all the way back in the seeding to where the error was made and start over. I didn’t care if it meant another grueling two hours for the fencers; I wanted justice! I was surprised by how quickly my inner Tiger Momma wanted to pounce: claws bared, teeth clenched. I wanted apologies and a free year of private lessons. I wanted someone to publicly acknowledge my child’s amazing composure. For the love of Pete, I wanted to scream, Someone mention that you guys screwed up and my kid did not really come in 7th place!

Of course, I didn’t.

I squished these urges down, but it wasn’t easy. But I took my cue from Monkey, and I rode the tide. And just so we’re all clear, I’m not a great tide-rider. But on that day, I had to be. We all did. Because sometimes life really does just happen and — even if you have a sword — sometimes you just have to put it away and prepare to battle another day.

17 thoughts on “Lessons From Losing

  1. Monkey also set a wonderful example. To question authority appropriately, he remained calm and composed and handled himself well amongst the adults with clipboards. This is most difficult in a competitive situation, even for some adults. Monkey rocks!

  2. I think we can all learn a lot from Monkey. Please tell him that his cousin is very proud of him – for his outstanding fencing skills, for keeping his composure, and for his professional attitude.

    Everyone who counts know how well he did. Hopefully this incident won’t diminish any of the fun he has while practicing and participating in fencing tournaments in the future.

    1. Thank you. He is still pumped and even more ready to poke somebody with his sabre next month. No damage done. As far as praising him, I think he has heard enough of that from us: any more and his head may explode. So I will just say thank you on his behalf.

      He is a piece of work, that kid. I should just follow him around all day and take notes. But, somehow, I don’t think he would appreciate that. At all. 😉

    1. I like to think so. But I am beyond biased in this area. All I can say is he procrastinates when it comes to brushing his teeth and his fencing coach does bonk him on the head once in a while, so let’s not make him an angel. 😉

  3. So proud of you both! I’m a mellow mom, a “take it all in stride and learn something” kinda gal, but in a situation like this one, my inner tiger mom would’ve been in overdrive. Unfortunately, we’ll all have a similar situation sometime in our lifetime. Not that it makes anything any better, but perhaps your son just got his out of the way earlier in life!

    1. When G-d was handing out mellow, I think I got confused and got in the “freak-out” line twice. 😉 Thank goodness Monkey is there, like Buddha, to show me the way because – believe me, husband is not good with this stuff either.

      1. Maybe all that mellow “fire circle music” you were listening to while you were pregnant somehow seeped in. 😉

  4. Ugh. Heartbreaking.

    I get all up-in-arms if my kid doesn’t get passed the ball enough. I should probably learn to curb my enthusiasm before he’s old enough to be thoroughly embarrassed by it.

    1. No Buttram! (It’s still really hard to write that without laughing!) You should SAVE your enthusiasm UNTIL he’s old enough to be thoroughly embarrassed by it and then bring it on. Knowing you can embarrass your child in public at any time can be an amazing Super Power. You just have to harness it and use it for good and not evil. 😉

  5. Of all the MamaBears I’ve gotten out of the way for (think Cliff Huxtable when Mrs. Huxtable finally snapped), I imagine you may be one of the fiercest Tiger Mommas out there!

  6. I think I may have borrowed my son’s sword and done some damage. Good job reigning in your control. You know when to pick your battles, I suspect, and you’re right: this wasn’t one of them.

    Now, what is a fencing sword called? An epee? Foil? Stick? Hmmm.

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