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.
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.