Pinewood Derby Defeat
I’m cooking dinner and I hear the door slam and the sound of my 9 year old’s feet stomping up the wooden stairs. I’m his mom, so I know the emotion behind his every stomp. I know his happy dancing like Michael Jackson stomp. I know his angry because the kids on the street won’t play with me stomp. And I know his Mom! Look what I found in the back yard! I think it’s real gold! stomp. But this was the dejected stomp of defeat. It was pinewood derby night at scouts – the night where they race the cars they’ve spent weeks making. And judging by the sound of his steps, it was not the stomp of victory. I was not surprised. I saw his car. He was lucky if it would go forward.
As a mom I want to protect my son from all the hurts in the world. His fears and his pains multiply inside my heart. If I could stand in front of him and shield his every blow I would. But I couldn’t shield him from the pain of the ribbon he waved in front of me. The ribbon that instead of saying “First Place” or second, or third, said “Participant”. Sucker punch. The boy got an award for simply showing up. And while I’m a motivational speaker, and I do believe that half the battle in life is simply showing up – I knew he wouldn’t see it that way. I gave him my “we’re not all winners” speech, and then went and yelled at my husband for letting him lose.
“Why didn’t you make his car better?” I asked. “How could you let him lose?” I gave him my best it’s your fault he’s going to end up on a street corner strumming the guitar for quarters look.
“It was his project. His responsibility. He slacked off. Not my fault.”
“But Kevin’s dad is an engineer,” I said. “And Marty’s dad is a contractor. And that other dad with the beard, well he just looks like an artist! And you left the whole thing up to our son, who shoved a bean up his nose just to see what would happen, and who would never brush his teeth again if we let him? Why don’t you leave school up to him too? Let’s just see how that would turn out. You know full well this isn’t a competition among the kids, it’s a competition among the parents. And you lost.” I huffed off to give him the silent treatment.
Post Traumatic Rejection Flashbacks
While my son sat in his room, drowning his sorrows in sour gummies and Spider Man, I was in my room remembering all the rejection I had faced in my life, for my son’s defeat had dredged up all of mine.
I’m seeing myself racing across the finish line at field day in third grade, while the other racers and their parents are waving to me from their cars as they leave the parking lot, and I’m still running. My parents had long stopped yelling “Win Kelly, Win!” and instead were just yelling “‘Finish Kelly, Finish!”
I’m remembering the time I wore my new purple velour tunic to school, just sure that it would be the very thing that would make Sonny Grant notice me. I was right. He did notice me, and so did a hundred other kids who saw me trip down the stairs on my way into the cafeteria. I still can’t look at velour.
I’m remembering the time I didn’t get that job I really wanted. Or the other one. Or the other one. I’m seeing all the rejection letters from publishers, and the look of pity from my college professor when I told him I wanted to be an author – the same look my mother gave me when I told her I wanted to be a cheerleader.
I’m seeing every slammed door and every “no” and every “we picked somebody better” that lined the yellow brick road of my life.
But I’m Also Seeing The Other Doors That Opened
When I have the luxury of looking back on life and the lessons learned, I see more than just the defeats. I also see the victories. I see the guy I did get after the ones I didn’t. I see the doors that were opened into something even better than the one that closed. I see that what turned out to be, was really pretty great too.
Are Losses Really Losses?
This time I’m looking back and seeing how each rejection made stronger. I’m seeing how losing taught me to get back up. I see how adversity sharpened my inner strength. And life forced me to develop my sense of humor. Suddenly these don’t look like losses anymore. Suddenly they actually look like wins.
My Husband Was Right (But Don’t Tell Him)
Yes, hubby was right to let my son go out there on his own. He was right to step back and let him fall. He knew that teaching him to do it on his own, even if it meant he would come in last, was a far better lesson. Sometimes shielding our kids isn’t really protecting them in the long run.
So now I’ve got to go convince my son that his loss is really a win. Not sure he’ll see it that way today. But maybe one day he will.
Sometimes we have to lose our dream to get our dream.